NASHVILLE — Republican Diane Black struck the first open blow in Tennessee's GOP gubernatorial primary Wednesday, going up on the air with a statewide television ad charging that two of her top campaign rivals are too "moderate."
The 30-second spot is the first attack ad by an actual campaign in the 2018 Republican contest. It comes a little more than two weeks before Tennesseans begin going to the polls on July 13 for early voting in Aug. 2 state primary contests.
With some campaigns' internal polls showing a tighter contest, the ad seeks to raise questions among Republican voters about Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, a former state economic commissioner, and businessman Bill Lee of Franklin.
And it very well could set off a television-ad air war among at least three of the four major candidates.
The Black campaign ad begins by touting the National Rifle Association's recent endorsement of Black, a four-term congressman from Gallatin, Tennessee.
It also notes that House Budget Committee chairman Black "helped write Trump's tax cut" as it flashes a photo of Black and other congressional Republicans appearing with Trump in a White House ceremony in celebration of the measure's passage.
"Is Diane Black too conservative?" the narrator asks teasingly before turning to Boyd and Lee. "Randy Boyd says she is," the narrator says, alluding to a Tennessean article where Boyd had been taped during a conference call with a group of mayors, voicing concern that if Black became the GOP nominee "Republicans would be at real risk to lose" in November.
"But," the narrator continues, "Randy Boyd also disavowed Donald Trump in 2016" as the screen flashes a Nashville Post headline that said "Randy Boyd Disavows Trump."
The Nashville Post story cited a June 11, 2016, CNN piece about a Utah meeting hosted by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that Boyd attended.
The CNN story described Boyd as someone who had not been a long-time bundler of campaign funds but had raised money out of loyalty to Romney."He is somebody I would aspire to be like," Boyd was quoted saying of Romney. The article, which noted Boyd wasn't raising money for Trump, quoted him saying "the idea of putting my name on anything is anathema to me."
Boyd was not quoted by CNN nor in the Nashville Post article as specifically criticizing Trump.
Black's ad takes a final swipe at Boyd, charging he supported a proposed 15 percent property tax increase proposal in Knox County, citing a 2012 article in the Knoxville Sentinel in which he described himself as a "moderate."
The ad then turns its attention to Lee, saying "and Bill Lee's a moderate too. He pushed for a Nashville mayor who tried to make Nashville a sanctuary city."
"This race is simple," the ad concludes. "Two moderates or conservative Diane Black."
Boyd's campaign did not respond to two email requests to comment about Black's ad.
Lee campaign spokesman Chris Burger said in a statement that "it's not surprising Congresswoman Black is launching this desperate attack, it's what career politicians do when their campaigns are failing. We're confident Tennesseans will see through this."
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, the fourth leading Republican in the GOP primary, was not attacked. All four Republicans are millionaires.
Black herself has already been attacked by an independent expenditure political action committee. Most recently the PAC took her to task in a television ad over her support of a bill the spot said made it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain a Tennessee driver's license.
The ad was paid for by Tennessee Jobs Now PAC, whose main donor is a Boyd supporter. A lawyer for Black sought to get the ad pulled.
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley are running in the Democratic primary.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.