Jan 19, 2022 - Politics

Redistricting could lead to new congressional candidates

Illustration of scales of justice weighted down by an elephant
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Redistricting has put blood in the water for Tennessee's 5th congressional district.

  • Multiple Republicans have confirmed to Axios their interest in the seat, an emerging slate of viable candidates that sets the stage for a bruising primary battle between now and August.

Why it matters: The Republican primary for the 5th district has been a non-event for generations. But the redrawn map would create a much more favorable environment for conservatives to topple U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, the Democratic incumbent.

The latest: Robby Starbuck began running for the 5th district last year before the proposed lines were even announced. His campaign had about $100,000 on hand as of Sept. 30.

State of play: Former House Speaker Beth Harwell, one of the most recognizable potential Republican candidates, confirms to Axios she is leaning toward running.

  • Harwell says she is still "waiting on the final lines," which require approval from the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee.
  • Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, a former conservative activist with Americans for Prosperity, tells Axios he is interested in the job. Like Harwell, he is waiting for approval of the map and an anticipated legal challenge to play out before choosing to run.

Yes, but: The race figures to attract newcomers. One name to watch is Franklin attorney Kurt Winstead.

  • He retired from the Tennessee National Guard as a brigadier general and is married to influential state lobbyist Beth Winstead.
  • "The changing of the 5th is a unique opportunity for residents in the district to have a conservative voice in Congress at a crucial time when our country is at a crossroads," he says. "I have served our country before, and many friends, colleagues, and community leaders are urging me to run if redistricting is approved."
  • The newly drawn lines also create opportunities for Nashville candidates, such as retired Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain and Metro Councilmember Steve Glover.

On the other hand: Multiple sources tell Axios that Cooper is pondering retirement after Republicans unveiled a map that flips his district into one that favored then-President Trump by about 9 points in 2020.

  • "Jim is exploring every possible way to one, prevent the gerrymandering of Nashville, and one, in the event that we cannot stop gerrymandering, help Democrats (including himself) win in every one of the three districts in which Nashville is being fenced," Cooper spokesperson Christopher Jerrolds tells Axios.
  • Cooper has just over $1 million on hand and unparalleled name recognition.
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