Harwell won't join final GOP gubernatorial debate unless Boyd reconsiders decision to drop out

Harwell won't join final GOP gubernatorial debate unless Boyd reconsiders decision to drop out

July 15th, 2018 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, who is running to be the GOP's 2018 candidate for governor, talks in her office in the Cordell Hull Building on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Yet a second Republican candidate is dropping out of the last televised Tennessee Republican gubernatorial debate scheduled for July 22 in Knoxville.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has told debate organizers, Tennessee-based television station affiliates of Nexstar Media Group, that she doesn't plan to attend the debate unless rival and Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd reverses his abrupt cancellation of plans to go to the four-person event.

"Speaker Harwell is committed to debating her opponents about the important issues facing Tennessee, but we believe that since it is the last debate before the Aug. 2 Republican Primary, the debate should be among all four candidates," said Beth Fortune, a top Harwell adviser, in an email to the Times Free Press.

Fortune said "we let the organizers of the debate know of our position and asked them to keep us posted on further developments after learning that all candidates may not participate."

But she also added that "if there is a debate that features all four candidates, Speaker Harwell will gladly participate."

In his surprise move on Friday, Boyd, who recent polls show is in a tight contest with U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin in the four-person GOP primary, said he would not attend. Both Boyd and Black are blasting each other in their latest television ads. Early voting in the contest began Friday.

The fourth major GOP candidate is Franklin businessman Bill Lee.

During a campaign swing in Upper East Tennessee on Friday, Boyd told Nexstar affiliate WJHL in Johnson City, Tennessee, that "we just have a scheduling conflict. I don't do the schedule so I can't tell you when it came up. But we've had a scheduling conflict.

"But again," the Knoxville entrepreneur and former state economic development commissioner added, "we're the only candidate that's done all 18 debates. And by the way, you know this last debate is going to be almost 10 days after early voting started, so half the people have already voted. So we're going to be out visiting with voters and working the crowds."

As rumors began swirling on Friday that one or more Republican candates might drop out of the debate, Black told reporters "we have it on our calendar."

Chris Walker, a Lee campaign aide, stated in an email Friday he was "not surprised" regarding Boyd's dropping out of the debate. "We're in," Walker added, "fully."

Nexstar, which has affiliates in Tri-Cities, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee, has already hosted two series of statewide debates for both the Republican field and Democrats Karl Dean, a former Nashville mayor, and Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.

Many of this year's public events have been forums featuring both the main Republican and Democratic hopefules.

But Black steadfastly refused to attend those, including one sponsored by the Times Free Press in Chattanooga last month. She said for the primary, she would attend Republican-only candidate events. She also said she expects to be the Republican nominee and will debate whoever emerges from the Democratic primary on Nov. 6.

Early voting in state and federal party primaries, as well as county-level office general election contests, continues through July 28.

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