NASHVILLE — Vice President Mike Pence jumped Friday into Tennessee's race for governor and endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black in the Aug. 2 GOP gubernatorial primary.
In a tweet, Pence praised Black, describing her as a "strong supporter of #MAGA agenda of tax cuts, military $$ & a champion of right to life policies.
"There are great candidates running but Diane has been my friend for years, we served together in the House, & she has my support!" Pence stated.
A delighted Black, a Gallatin congresswoman who has been hoping for a White House blessing from President Donald Trump and/or Pence, quickly capitalized on the endorsement in a news release.
She said she was "honored" Pence "would choose to support me in a state like Tennessee that overwhelmingly supported him and President Trump in 2016.
"Even before he became Vice President, Pence was an exceptional leader for the state of Indiana, leading with his faith and values," Black added. "I am proud to call him a friend and honored to have him behind me in my race for governor."
Recent polling has shown Black in a tight race with her three major opponents or starting to fall behind.
Pence's endorsement comes only a day after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, said he hoped that Trump and Pence, who is a friend of Haslam's, would not wade into the race to succeed him.
The vice president's endorsement comes as early voting in Tennessee's August election ends today. So far, some 500,000 voters already had cast ballots, a majority of them Republicans.
Trump has praised Black but has not endorsed her. And it's not clear if he will. The president did do a last-minute endorsement of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in Georgia's GOP gubernatorial primary to succeed incumbent GOP Gov. Nathan Deal.
Kemp beat Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the GOP primary runoff in what Kemp called a "clear, convincing victory." He credited Trump for having "poured gasoline in the fire" that fueled his victory.
That Pence favors Black is not a complete surprise. Last year, for example, the vice president's PAC gave $4,000 to her gubernatorial campaign and he also wrote a letter praising the congresswoman.
During a trip to Chattanooga and Cleveland last weekend to promote Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, Pence also lavished praise on Black for her "great leadership" in supporting tax cuts and also referred to her as "a champion for life" for her anti-abortion stances.
Still, that was short of an actual endorsement. Meanwhile, Trump had previously weighed in on behalf of Kemp tweeting his "full and total endorsement" of him.
According to their latest filings, Tennessee Republican and Democratic candidates running for governor have spent $45 million.
Other major candidates in the GOP primary are Knoxville businessman and former state economic commissioner Randy Boyd, state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee.
Major Democratic candidates are former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.