District 26: With early voting starting July 13, GOP hopefuls get ready to sprint

District 26: With early voting starting July 13, GOP hopefuls get ready to sprint

June 19th, 2018 by Judy Walton in Breaking News

Updated at 6:57 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 with more information.

Ron Harr

Ron Harr

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

This time, the House District 26 Republican campaign is going to be a real race.

Rep. Gerald McCormick's surprising withdrawal on Monday left the Republican nomination up for grabs just a bit more than three weeks before early voting starts.

By Tuesday, one potential candidate had already picked up papers. He is Ron Harr, former Chattanooga Chamber president and a retired vice president of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, speaks in September 2017 at Dominion Senior Living in Hixson, Tenn.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, speaks in September...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Three others said they are talking to each other — and hoping to talk to Harr, who was out of town — about settling on a consensus candidate and avoiding a contested primary. All said they expect to decide this week.

They are Robin Smith, former Tennessee Republican Party chair and two-time Hamilton County Republican Party chair who runs a consulting and project management company; Tony Sanders, an Unum executive and radio host who also served two terms as county party chair, and Greg Martin, a Realtor who holds the District 3 seat on the Hamilton County Commission.

All three told the Times Free Press on Tuesday they are considering a run. But Sanders said they all have a lot of decisions to make very quickly.

"It's a complicated situation for all of us. We didn't have time to plan for it," he said. "It's not that none of the three of us aren't capable, it's not that the three of us don't want to do it, it's that we're having to make a decision in a seven- to 10-day window. We all talked yesterday and agreed that a bitter primary wouldn't serve us well. We're hoping to put a name out there."

For instance, Sanders would have to give up his hard-earned seat on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency board, he said.

Smith said she would need clearance from the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance because her business does some political work.

Martin is seeking re-election to the county commission and has a young family.

All three said they've worked closely together in the Republican Party.

"We're great friends," Smith said "It's not going to benefit anyone to have a divisive primary."

Martin acknowledged the unity talks but had his own take on Smith's statement.

"People in politics love uncontested races but it's probably better for democracy when there's competition," he said.

And Smith added that "if [Harr] runs and I decide to run, we'll just have a spirited primary."

Interested candidates have seven days to qualify for the Aug. 2 primary ballot.

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McCormick, a former House majority leader, took everybody by surprise when he announced Monday he'd changed his mind about seeking re-election to the seat he'd held for nearly 14 years. The Times Free Press reported he will resign from the House on Oct. 1 and take a job with a Chattanooga firm that is expanding to Nashville.

Before his sudden change of heart, McCormick was vying with three other Republicans including Majority Leader Glen Casada for the position of speaker of the House. Incumbent Speaker Beth Harwell is running for governor.

McCormick said his decision had nothing to do with a recent question about whether he lives in District 26. His wife, Kim, is a top aide to Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings and spends most of her time in Nashville, and the McCormicks bought a house there in August.

The purchase caused a flap about his legal residency that McCormick blamed on Democrats. State Election Coordinator Mark Goins subsequently ruled that documents including property, tax and business records prove that he lives in Hamilton County.

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Whoever wins the Aug. 2 primary will face Democrat David Jones in the Nov. 6 general election.

Another Democrat, Jean-Marie Lawrence, is officially a candidate but has stopped campaigning because she is about to move out of the district, she said Tuesday.

Jones couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. But Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Khristy Wilkinson said Jones "has been running a really strong campaign since the beginning and will continue to run a strong campaign through to the end."

Asked what effect McCormick's withdrawal might have on Democrats' chances, Wilkinson said,"It doesn't change much on our end, we have a lot of hard work to do, and the county party has a lot of hard work to do, to win a number of districts in Hamilton County both at the county level and the state level."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.