The floodgates have burst on attack ads in Tennessee’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
New TV ads keep hitting the airwaves after U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s commercial this week that labeled former state economic development chief Randy Boyd and businessman Bill Lee as moderates. All four leading Republican contenders have touted their conservative credentials throughout the campaign, and now Black and Boyd are trying to pick each other’s claims apart.
Boyd’s first campaign attack ad calls Black “D.C. Diane” and shows her in a March 2016 interview saying, “first of all, you can’t build a wall, that won’t work,” when she was asked about then-candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and make Mexico pay for it.
The ad blasts several Black immigration-related votes, including ones mentioned in a previous ad by a third party-group fueled by a Boyd donor.
Black’s campaign responded by again calling Boyd and Lee moderates.
“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,” said Black campaign spokesman Chris Hartline. “But Tennessee conservatives can see through their lies.”
Boyd has said he is “not for negative ads.” His campaign responded that it will defend when attacked.
“Randy 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,” said Boyd campaign spokeswoman Laine Arnold.
Touting her own National Rifle Association endorsement, Black also released a new ad that questions Boyd’s record on guns and hunting, saying he hired an anti-hunting group’s lobbyist. Boyd’s invisible fence company hired an ex-Humane Society of the United States official to oversee animal welfare in 2011. The employee no longer works at Boyd’s company, Radio Systems Corporation, which employs more than 700 people.
The ad also points to a handful of Humane Society annual reports in the early 2000s that list a Boyd company as a corporate partner.
Boyd used a different new ad to bolster his credentials on guns. He drafted his cousin, a gun store owner, to praise his pro-gun stances and fire rounds at the range in the commercial.
“As a gun owner, lifetime member of the NRA, and holder of a Tennessee Lifetime Sportsman license, Randy strongly supports the Second Amendment and also strongly supports the rights of hunters in our state,” Arnold said.
Boyd also looked to a top endorser, ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, to defend against Black’s initial attack, which called into question Boyd’s support of Trump.
In an ad, Huckabee criticizes “professional politicians” and says Boyd voted for Trump, attended the inauguration and supports his agenda.
Boyd’s immigration ad hits Black again on a 2001 vote for immigrant driver’s licenses for people without Social Security numbers, a program that was limited in 2004 with Black’s support and suspended in 2006.
It cites a March vote against the massive $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill that included $1.6 billion for the first steps of Trump’s wall, short of the $25 billion Trump wants. She has proposed crowdfunding for the wall.
It also cites Black’s 2014 vote for a $1.1 trillion spending bill opposed by some conservative groups for not challenging or undoing then-President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Hartline, Black’s campaign spokesman, repeated criticisms that Boyd gave $250,000 in 2016 to Conexion Americas, though only to help expand its commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs. The group opposes recently passed state legislation that mandates local police comply with federal immigration detainers.
Hartline again criticized Lee, who is calling himself the race’s only conservative outsider, for donating to former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.
Attack ads haven’t targeted candidate House Speaker Beth Harwell.
On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh have clashed somewhat during a recent candidate forum and a debate.
Early voting starts on July 13 and the primary election is Aug. 2.