Rusty Crowe

Air war intensifies as 1st District race concludes

The free-for-all in the GOP primary to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) in the 1st Congressional District is reaching its final hours.

A poll commissioned by WJHL-TV indicates a tight race. The survey conducted by Spry Strategies has the race as:

  • Rusty Crowe: 16.1%
  • Diana Harshbarger: 15.8%
  • Josh Gapp: 11.7%
  • Timothy Hill: 10.4%
  • Steve Darden: 9.3%
  • John Clark: 8.9%
  • David Hawk: 6%

The poll of 665 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The Club for Growth has been advertising heavily in support of state Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville while also attacking Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, and Knoxville dermatologist Josh Gapp. A Club for Growth poll had Hill leading the race, with Harshbarger and Crowe within the margin of error.

Harshbarger has her own ads out attacking Hill, Crowe and former mayors Clark of Kingsport and Darden of Johnson City.

“I try to love all God’s creatures, but I’m sorry, I just hate snakes,” Harshbarger says in one ad. “And if you release a snake in the swamp, it’s never coming back.”

Crowe has his own spots out, highlighting his affable nature as a contrast to the attacks going on all around him.

“As a veteran, I know when you’re taking fire you’re over the target,” Crowe says in the spot. “And the Washington, D.C., swamp is firing on me.”

“Ignore the attacks and join my fight to give D.C. a good ole’ dose of Tennessee,” he says.

Gapp, who lives outside the district boundaries, has poured $1.2 million of his own money into his bid. His ad includes images of the candidate wandering through a set tipping over a Planned Parenthood sign, wielding an AR-15 rifle, and pledging to let Nancy Pelosi know that “in Tennessee we celebrate Easter, Christmas, our flag, our national anthem, and we always will.”

Big outside money flows into Senate, 1st District races

While Bill Hagerty’s and Manny Sethi’s campaigns slog it out against each other, a series of outside committees are also spending heavily in hopes of influencing the outcome of the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

The biggest player among them has been the Protect Freedom PAC, a group linked to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has endorsed Sethi. The PAC has spent $1.47 million on ads backing the Sethi. Another group called Conservative Outsiders’ PAC has spent $1 million attacking Hagerty.

Meanwhile, a super PAC called Standing with Conservatives has poured $1.3 million into the race, nearly all of it to oppose Sethi. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s America One PAC has spent another $375,000 to oppose Sethi. The Arkansas Republican is backing Hagerty.

The primary to decide the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) is also experiencing heavy independent expenditures. The Club for Growth, which has endorsed state Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), has spent $945,000 so far. About $425,000 has gone toward ads supporting Hill, while the rest has gone toward attacking GOP rivals Diana Harshbarger ($366,000), Rusty Crowe ($132,000), and Josh Gapp ($22,164).

The House Freedom Fund has kicked in $16,000 to support Hill and the delightfully named Bless Your Heart Coalition has spent $15,000 to oppose Harshbarger.

Crowe to attend session despite attending conference with coronavirus patient

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), seated at right, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) has received clearance to come to this week’s meetings of the Tennessee General Assembly despite recently spending time at a conservative conference outside Washington that was attended by a confirmed coronavirus patient.

The Nashville Post’s Stephen Elliott reports that while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is staying home this week in self-imposed quarantine because he interacted with the patient at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Crowe is not being urged to stay home.

Here’s a statement from Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s spokesman Adam Kleinheider:

While Senator Crowe did attend the most recent CPAC conference to accept an award on behalf of the Senate, he does not believe he came into direct contact with any infected individual and has shown no symptoms to date. When Senator Crowe became aware of news reports of possible coronavirus exposure at CPAC, he contacted Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy. Commissioner Piercy advised him that because he has been entirely symptom-free for ten days no testing or quarantine would be necessary. Speaker McNally believes no additional precautions are required past those measures everyone is advised to take which include frequent and thorough handwashing and maintaining significant social distance whenever possible.

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp interacted with the coronavirus patient at the event, but said he hasn’t shown any symptoms. Schlapp also interacted with Crowe at the event, according to the senator’s comments to colleagues last week (though it’s unclear whether that was before or after Schlapp met with the patient). Here’s what Crowe told Republican colleagues on Thursday:

I went up to DC when I was invited to CPAC. I was standing in line with the other senators from the other states. And Matt Schlapp comes up and pulls me out of line, and I was like ‘What the hell is going on?’ So he pulls me up front and makes it very known that they were so proud to designate Tennessee as the most conservative state in the nation. So you can be very proud of that. And it meant a lot to him and the ACU.

The long hello: Crowe officially joins 1st District congressional race

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), right, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Rusty Crowe has officially announced his candidacy for the 1st District Seat being vacated by the retirement of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a fellow Johnson City Republican.

Here’s the release from the Crowe campaign:

Jonesborough — State Senator Rusty Crowe (R) picked up his petition to officially join the race to represent Tennessee’s open First Congressional District seat Thursday. U.S. Representative Phil Roe (R) announced in January he will retire rather than seek a seventh term. 

Crowe said he is running for Congress “because Tennessee’s on the right track and D.C. needs a good dose of Tennessee.”

“I’ve spent my life serving Tennesseans as a volunteer for the Vietnam War and then as a citizen legislator in the Tennessee Senate,” Crowe said. “Today, Tennessee is thriving because we’ve applied common-sense conservative principles to achieve extraordinary results.”

Crowe noted Tennessee is now the top state for fiscal stability with the lowest debt as a percentage of personal income and leads the nation in business climate, advanced industry jobs, and small business growth.

“It Matters Who Governs,’ and it matters how Republicans govern when they get the chance,” Crowe continued.

“In Tennessee, we’ve done exactly what we campaigned on, but the last time Republicans controlled Congress, they broke their promises to the voters, especially regarding federal spending, Obamacare, and border security and immigration. Sometimes you have to hold your own party to its principles. When a Republican governor tried to impose an unconstitutional, job-killing state income tax on Tennesseans, my decisive opposition was what stopped it dead in its tracks once and for all.”

“The current Speaker of the House and her socialist colleagues want to fundamentally transform our nation into something our Founders never intended and obstruct President Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda,” Crowe said. 

“With the House and the Senate so completely polarized, President Trump under relentless partisan attack, and a socialist likely to be leading the other party in the general election, D.C. has never needed a good dose of Tennessee as badly as it does right now,” Crowe concluded. 

“That’s why I’m officially running for Congress. It’s about personally serving the people of Northeast Tennessee, supporting our president, and protecting our fundamental constitutional rights.”

Crowe will appear on the August 6, 2020 GOP primary ballot to serve as the Republican nominee for the First Congressional District.