Harshbarger wins GOP primary in open Tennessee US House race

Friday, August 7, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 32

NASHVILLE (AP) — First-time political candidate Diana Harshbarger emerged victorious Thursday among a crowded field of Republican contenders vying to secure a rare opening for a U.S. House seat in northeastern Tennessee.

Harshbarger, a pharmacist from Kingsport, secured her party's nomination for the 1st Congressional District against 15 opponents, including longtime state Sen. Rusty Crowe and state Rep. Timothy Hill. Harshbarger poured nearly $1 million of her money into the race to outpace her opponents.

She is vying to replace incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn't pursue a sixth term.

In November, Harshbarger will face Blair Walsingham, the only Democrat who actively campaigned for the seat after two other candidates dropped out. Walsingham is a U.S. Air Force veteran who has been endorsed by former Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang. The last time a Democrat held the seat was during the Civil War.

Harshbarger has raised eyebrows after campaigning that she supports putting "America first by holding China accountable" for the coronavirus pandemic. Her husband, Bob Harshbarger, was sentenced to four years in federal prison in 2013 for distributing a misbranded Chinese-made drug that was given to kidney dialysis patients.

The Republican has said she had no involvement with her husband's company at the time. She later took over as the registered agent for his company, American Inhalation Medication Specialists Inc., after he was sentenced. The company dissolved in 2018.

Tennessee's 1st District has been represented by just eight people — all Republicans — for nearly 100 years. While Tennessee is known for long-serving members in most of its congressional seats, District 1 has the unique distinction of being home to two of Tennessee's longest-serving House members ever.

B. Carroll Reece held the seat for all but six years from 1921 to 1961; Jimmy Quillen served from 1963 to 1997.

In other races Thursday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen soundly defeated former Shelby County Democratic Party chair Corey Strong in the 9th District. Cohen has won his past six general elections by 74% of the vote or more. Strong, who is Black, is a U.S. Navy veteran who was vying for an upset.

African American candidate Charlotte Bergmann ran unopposed in the Republican primary. She has lost three previous general elections to Cohen in the 9th district.

In the 5th District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper — a white lawmaker with a reputation as a moderate Democrat — defeated Keeda Haynes, a Black public defender. Haynes served four years in federal prison for a drug-related crime she has maintained she didn't commit.

Cooper has held his Nashville-area House seat since 2003. Before that, he served in the House from 1983 to 1995.

Scott DesJarlais won the GOP primary in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District. DesJarlais is seeking a sixth term in Congress. He's a physician from Jasper, has survived cancer and a series of revelations that included affairs with patients.

DesJarlais also urged a mistress to seek an abortion and once held a gun in his mouth for hours outside his ex-wife's room. He has since said he opposes abortion rights.

The Republican will face Democrat Christopher Hale in the November general election. Hale won the Democratic primary against two other challengers.

In the 8th District, Erika Stotts Pearson won the Democratic primary. She will face Republican incumbent Rep. David Kustoff, who ran unopposed, in November.

Pearson has worked as a sports agent and an educator. She currently operates a health care provider and a logistics company, according to a biography posted on her Facebook page.

In the 2nd District, Renee Hoyos won the Democratic primary. She'll face Republican Rep. Tim Burchett, who also ran unopposed, in November.


Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.