October 7, 2022

2022 Tennessee Election
Andy Ogles speaks to supporters after being declared the winner in the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District on Aug. 4, 2022, in Franklin, Tenn.

Mark Humphrey / AP

Andy Ogles, a far-right county mayor, won Tennessee’s crowded Republican primary on Thursday in a redrawn congressional district in left-leaning Nashville that the party hopes to flip in November. In a warning ahead of the general election, he said: “Liberals, we’re coming for you.”

Ogles, the Maury County mayor and onetime leader of the state’s Koch-backed chapter of Americans for Prosperity, emerged among nine candidates after a tight primary for the state’s 5th Congressional District. The seat drew a lot of interest from Republicans after GOP state lawmakers carved Nashville into three districts, prompting incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper to announce his retirement.

“We are at war. This is a political war, a cultural war and a spiritual war,” Ogles said in his victory speech. “And as we go forward, we must return to honoring God and country.”

Ogles will face Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell in November. The new district favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 12 percentage points in 2020.

Voters in Tennessee’s primary also voted for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate to face Republican Gov. Bill Lee in November. The Democratic primary remained too early to call Friday morning between Nashville physician Jason Martin and Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr.

Smiley would be the state’s first black candidate for governor. Martin, a young politician, said he was motivated to run by Lee’s seamless response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee will have a strong advantage in November in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006. He defeated a Democratic challenger by 21 percentage points in 2018.

In the congressional race, Ogles won the endorsement of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and overcame the fundraising advantage of his top rivals, former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Tennessee National Guard Brig. General Kurt Winstead. He also benefited the most from third-party groups, which ran TV ads touting his opposition to the COVID-19 mandates and smearing his opponents as insufficiently conservative.

Ogles described the GOP primary as “establishment versus the conservative wing of the party,” saying voters are getting a “true conservative” in his candidacy. He didn’t shy away from inflammatory comments during his victory speech, calling for the impeachment of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as treason charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorca over the administration’s handling of immigration.

In a debate in July, Ogles accused the Biden administration of “deliberately and intentionally” attacking Americans by “weaponizing COVID” and “destroying our energy policy.”

“It’s time to blame ‘Slow Joe.’ It’s time to impeach Kamala Harris and it’s time to get rid of Nancy Pelosi,” he said.

Campbell, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, said the race was “symbolic of the crossroads” the country is at.

“One where we move forward together, protecting our working families, our freedoms and our future — or where extremist politicians turn our backs, controlling our lives and governing for the rich few,” he said before the GOP primary for Ogles.

The redrawn congressional districts helped put Tennessee among the states where Republicans hope to flip a seat in a push to regain control of the U.S. House. Tennessee held its only statewide election on Thursday.

In the other two Nashville-area districts, Republican incumbents had no primary challengers. The new maps weight their territories in their favor.

In the new 6th District, which includes most of the city, Republican U.S. Rep. John Rose carries a huge general-election fundraising advantage against Democrat Randall Cooper, who defeated a primary challenger. In the new 7th District, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green ran unopposed and will face Democrat Odessa Kelly, who was also unopposed.

But at least in Nashville, anyone who turned on a television was more likely to see ads for a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District than a candidate for anything else.

The election marked the first time voters had a say in a seat that had undergone months of Republican political gerrymandering.

Political wrangling over the carefully drawn six-county district has led the state GOP to drop three candidates from the ballot, including Trump’s pick, former State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus. One of the candidates, video producer Robby Starbuck, was attempting a write-in campaign.

A local competition stood out on Thursday.

In the Shelby County District Attorney’s race, Democratic challenger Steve Mulroy led incumbent Republican Amy Weirich, who gained national attention when she prosecuted. Pamela Moses, a black woman, for falsely registering to vote, resulting in a six-year prison sentence that was later dismissed. Weirich has been criticized for not saying clearly whether or not she will prosecute doctors who perform abortions. Mulroy said he would make abortion prosecutions “an extremely low priority.”

Lee, meanwhile, is the first governor to avoid a primary challenge since Democratic Gov. Ned McWhorter in 1990, Tennessee lawmaker Eddie Wicks said.

Weeks said he could not find an African-American candidate for governor, Democrat or Republican, in the state’s history. However, he noted that in 1876, William Yardley, an African-American Knoxville official who was later elected to the county court, ran as an independent when the Republican Party refused to nominate a gubernatorial candidate. Democratic Governor James Davis Porter won re-election that year.

Tennessee only had a Black Democratic candidate for US Senate in 2020.

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