NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidates Diane Black and Randy Boyd are slamming each other in new television ads as the four-person GOP primary barrels toward the start of early voting on July 13.
And negative attack flyers are now landing in voters' mailboxes, too.
The air and mail wars began in earnest for the Aug. 2 primary after Boyd, a Knoxville businessman and former state economic and community development chief, was hit earlier this week by U.S. Rep. Black's campaign in an ad questioning his support of President Donald Trump.
Now Boyd is up with his own 30-second spot returning the favor with an ad titled "D.C. Diane." It features footage of the Gallatin congressman being interviewed with several colleagues by journalist Katie Couric during the 2016 campaign.
Couric asks about then-candidate Trump's proposal to build a wall on the U.S.'s southern border and making Mexico foot the bill. Amid some laughter, the ad then features footage of Black saying, "First of all, you can't build a wall. That won't work."
A narrator quickly follows up, saying: "D.C. Diane, a typical 20-year career politician who says one thing in Tennessee but does another in D.C. The real D.C. Diane voted against funding border security, voted to give Tennessee driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and voted to give Obama a blank check for his amnesty."
The "D.C. Diane" slam borrows from ads aired earlier in the campaign by a third-party political action committee funded by a Tennessee businessman who is backing Boyd.
Boyd's ad cites a 2014 appropriations bill on the first claim and then a Tennessee bill on the second one. The legislation made it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver's licenses, a move officials at the time said was a safety measure intended to ensure they could drive.
Boyd's second ad, which also began airing this week, is a defense against Black's original attack that seeks to raise questions about Boyd's support of Trump.
His ad features 2008 and 2016 Republican presidential and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who has already appeared in one Boyd ad.
"Professional politicians and special interests falsely attack their opponents so they can try to hang on to power," says Huckabee, who endorsed Boyd last week.
"Randy Boyd's opponents know what I know. He voted for President Trump, attended his inauguration and supports his agenda to keep America safe and disrupt government as usual," Huckabee adds as the screen features a photo of Boyd and his wife posing with Trump. "And heck, I ran against President Trump in the primary, but we all moved forward to defeat Hillary Clinton and make America great again."
Boyd spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the candidate "is running a positive campaign and sharing his vision for Tennessee as a conservative businessman with a strong track record on key issues - but when falsely attacked, we will always defend ourselves."
Meanwhile, Black is now airing a second ad attacking Boyd, this one on guns.
"Where does Randy Boyd stand on guns? Randy Boyd hired his lobbyist from an anti-hunting organization," an announcer says, citing a news release from Radio Systems Corp., a pets product company founded by Boyd.
"Randy Boyd's firm gave big money to the lobbying group that would make hunting illegal," the announcer continues. "The NRA calls them an anti-hunting extremist organization. But Randy Boyd called them 'partner.'"
It urges viewers to "read about Randy Boyd's anti-hunting partner on the NRA website." And it asks them "to cast their ballots in the Aug. 2 primary "for the only candidate for governor endorsed by the NRA - Diane Black."
Black's campaign cites what it says is a licensing agreement with the Humane Society of the United States that allowed Boyd's company in the late 1990s to print the animal rights organization's name on company pet products.
The animal rights group later bowed out, citing pressure from members, according to a 2000 article in Whole Dog Journal, supplied by the Black campaign.
Black's campaign also cites a 2011 Radio Systems news release about the hiring of a former Humane Society of the United States lobbyist to work for the company as its director of animal welfare studies and education.
The congressman's original television attack ad also looped in a third Republican, Franklin businessman Bill Lee, on another issue.
Only one of the four major GOP candidates has been spared from attack, at least so far.
That's state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
Both Harwell and Lee are airing mostly positive ads about themselves, although Lee is touting himself as the only true outsider.
Chris Hartline, Black's campaign spokesman, said "when you have no conservative record, like moderates Randy Boyd and Bill Lee, the only option is to attack the true conservative, Diane Black, with lies."
"But," Hartline added, "Tennessee conservatives can see through their lies. While Randy Boyd was donating $250,000 to a group supporting sanctuary cities and Bill Lee was donating to a liberal mayor who supported sanctuary cities, Diane was fighting against Obama's amnesty and fighting side by side with President Trump to secure the border."
He said Black "is the only candidate with a record of conservative accomplishments, which is why she was endorsed by the NRA and National Right to Life and has an A+ rating from anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA."
Opening a second front, Black's attacks are also moving into voters' mailboxes, at least in Hamilton County.
One features a Photoshopped image of a man with his back to the camera, presumably Boyd, gazing into a mirror as an image of former President Barack Obama looks back at him.
The text says: "Randy Boyd does not reflect our conservative values."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550.