Feb 25, 2022 - Politics

Beth Harwell enters District 5 congressional race

Former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell talks on a podium.
Photo: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

Former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell announced Thursday she is running for the newly-drawn District 5 congressional seat.

Why it matters: Harwell, a Nashville Republican, brings a three-decade track record and top name recognition to what is expected to be a bitter GOP primary.

  • Harwell touted her experience eliminating taxes, promoting school choice and balancing the state budget in her announcement.

The intrigue: Harwell's campaign describes her as "the only proven conservative leader and reformer" in the race.

  • Her opponents include political newcomers Morgan Ortagus, the former state department spokesperson, and conservative activist Robby Starbuck.
  • Retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead also announced he is also officially entering the primary race.

Between the lines: The specter of former President Trump hangs over the GOP primary after he endorsed Ortagus so early.

  • In an interview with Axios, Harwell mentioned her Trump bona fides, pointing out that she voted for Trump and contributed to his campaign. Trump also nominated Harwell to the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors.
  • "I probably agree with 99% of Trump's policy, but we differ in tone," she says. "With that, maybe that tone was necessary to get things done. But at the end of the day, this is an election about the people who live in this district, not outsiders."
  • "As far as I know, President Trump has never lived in the 5th congressional district."

Context: Harwell finished fourth in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, won by Gov. Bill Lee.

  • Representing the affluent Green Hills area in the state House, Harwell served as speaker from 2011 to 2018. She's the only woman in Tennessee history to hold the powerful position.
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