Beth Harwell tells former Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman she's running for 2018 gubernatorial bid

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, June 30, 2016, about a health coverage task force's proposals for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. From right behind her are Republican Reps. Steve McManus of Memphis and Roger Kane of Knoxville. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - For well over a year, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has held her cards close over whether she will seek the 2018 GOP nomination for governor.

But the soft-spoken Nashville representative appears to have exposed her hand to former Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman Susan Richardson Williams, who dished Friday in a Facebook post.

"Just got a call from Speaker Beth Harwell to let me know she is running for Governor next year too!" wrote Williams. "Let the games begin! Wow!"

Asked to elaborate, Williams said in an email she had "nothing more than [Harwell's] call to let me know she was running" to share. "I congratulated her and said I was happy that we may have at least two women in the race. I have too many friends in this race!!!"

A Harwell spokesman did not respond to a Times Free Press email about Williams' Facebook post Saturday.

Harwell has more than $1 million in a campaign account she can draw on to run for governor. She has openly stated she's looking at a race, and many expect her to run.

The GOP field to replace term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam is shaping up as a fairly crowded affair.

Randy Boyd, a prominent Knoxville businessman and the recently departed commissioner of Economic and Community Development, barnstormed through the state last week holding "official" announcements in multiple stops.

Another announced GOP hopeful is state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a physician, businessman and West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army, later becoming a Special Operations flight surgeon and interviewed deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on the night of his capture.

Green is said to be under consideration by President Donald Trump for U.S. Army secretary.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a registered nurse from Gallatin, is eyeing a bid, as are state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Franklin businessman Bill Lee.

Except for Boyd, who lives in East Tennessee, and Norris, from West Tennessee, all the GOP candidates are from Middle Tennessee, with their own respective power bases.

On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean recently announced to his hometown newspaper, The Tennessean, that he is running.

State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, has told state Capitol reporters he is likely to launch a bid.

One potential Democrat who decided not to run is Nashville businessman Bill Freeman. He spent $3.5 million in an unsuccessful effort last year to succeed Dean as Nashville mayor. Freeman has endorsed Fitzhugh.

Harwell and Fitzhugh are likely to wait to announce officially until the General Assembly adjourns for its annual session in late April or early May.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.