Tennessee Republicans on Thursday chose self-funding pharmacist Diana Harshberger as their nominee in the deep-red 1st District, boosting the odds the House GOP will increase its female ranks in 2021.
Currently, only 13 of the 198 Republicans in the House are women. And two, Indiana’s Susan W. Brooks and Alabama’s Martha Roby, are retiring.
Harshberger was leading a crowded 16-candidate field with 19 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race Thursday night at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time. State Sen. Rusty Crowe was in second with 17 percent, followed by state Rep. Timothy Hill with 16 percent.
The candidates, who tried to put as little separation as possible between themselves and President Donald Trump, were running for the East Tennessee seat left open by Republican Rep. Phil Roe’s retirement.
Harshbarger, a political newcomer, spent over $1.3 million of her own money during her campaign, emphasizing her outsider status while attacking Hill and Crowe for their records in the state Legislature. Hill raised $230,000, partly thanks to a $30,000 loan from himself.
Harshberger attracted endorsements from several groups seeking to get more female Republicans in Congress. E-PAC, a group established by New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, named her to its “Women to Watch” list.
The race occurred in the shadow of the expensive Senate brawl, but received about $858,000 in outside spending from the anti-tax Club for Growth to support Hill and oppose Harshbarger and Crowe, Federal Election Commission data shows.
The group’s ads highlighted a 2013 prescription drug fraud scandal involving Harshbarger’s husband. Harshbarger denied any involvement in the scandal.
Air Force veteran Blair Walsingham won the Democratic primary Tuesday, ensuring that the 1st District will have its first congresswoman since Republican Louise Goff Reece served a partial term in the early 1960s. Walsingham faces long odds against Harshberger in a district that has reliably sent Republicans to the House for over a century. Trump carried the seat by 57 points in 2016.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.