Voting underway in Tenn., posing tests over abortion, support for Trump – The Washington Post


Voters in Tennessee on Thursday will nominate a slate of midterm candidates, including those in new congressional districts drawn to create a Republican advantage. And in the state’s most populous county, a race for prosecutor has become a partisan showdown over abortion rights and voting rights.

Thursday’s primaries will set the stage for races up and down the ballot. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has no primary challenger and national Democrats haven’t targeted his reelection race in the conservative-leaning state; three candidates, including Memphis city councilman J.B. Smiley Jr., are seeking the Democratic nomination. Early voting, which ended last week, was off 24 percent from the same period in 2018, when Lee won a chaotic Republican primary.

Lee and the Republican supermajority in Nashville enacted a broad conservative agenda, including a trigger law that will ban abortion in the state following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Lee also signed off on a congressional map that nudged Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) into retirement, by splitting up his traditionally liberal 5th Congressional District.

“I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville,” Cooper said in January, when the map was finalized.

Rep. Jim Cooper announces he will not run for reelection, accusing GOP of ‘dismembering’ his Nashville district

The new 5th Congressional District stretches from Nashville to take in deep-red counties south of the city; in 2020, President Donald Trump carried the new seat by double digits. Nine Republicans are competing for what’s now a safe red seat in Congress, while Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell is unchallenged for her party’s nomination.

Trump has stayed out of the GOP primary since Morgan Ortagus, a veteran of his administration’s State Department, was removed from the ballot over residency issues. Beth Harwell, a former state House speaker, has outraised the field and adopted the Trump brand, emphasizing that the former president put her on the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“I respect a lot of what Donald Trump did, but his endorsement is not what I want,” Harwell said at a June 27 debate in one of the conservative counties newly added to the district. “I want the endorsement of the people of the 5th Congressional District.”

Support for Trump was a major theme of that debate, as it had been throughout the race. Onstage with Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Nogles called the Biden administration “a criminal enterprise,” adding that the president and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should be “impeached and then tried for treason.”

Stewart Parks, a real estate agent who joined the crowds in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, the day a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, and was later arrested in connection with his appearance there, went further than Ogles, embracing false claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. “I’m the only candidate in this race that has not called him president,” Parks said of Biden. “He is not the legal president of United States of America.”

While Harwell has raised more from individual donors than her rivals, most of the on-air spending has focused on Nogles. Conservative super PACs have spent nearly $1.3 million on pro-Nogles advertising, and anti-Nogles PACs have tried to match it. One of them, Conservative Americans PAC, has spent more than $700,000 on TV ads that call Nogles a “phony” over his support for a gas tax increase.

The winner of the primary will begin as a favorite in the November general election.

In Shelby County, Thursday’s vote will determine who becomes district attorney. Amy Weirich, a Republican appointed in 2011 and then elected to an 8-year term, faces Democrat Steven Mulroy, who has criticized her handling of a voter fraud case and said he wouldn’t prioritize abortion cases if he got the job.

While President Biden carried the county by 30 points in 2020, turnout in midterm year primaries has historically been low, which helped Weirich eight years ago. Both candidates have tried to mobilize their partisan bases and nationalize the campaign.

Weirich has run a TV ad that splices together a photo of Mulroy at a Starbucks unionization rally with an unrelated clip of protesters marching to “defund the police.” Mulroy’s ads link the incumbent to Trump, with images of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to dramatize the point: “Both break the rules and are out of control.”

Mulroy’s campaign has garnered support from racial justice advocates in other parts of the country, including the family of George Floyd and the singer John Legend. Weirich, who has been endorsed by local police and sheriff organizations, has warned that Mulroy would let criminals out of jail and add to a crime rate that has risen since 2020.


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