Tennessee’s new 5th congressional district features Trump Republican vs. progressive Democrat

By: - October 4, 2022 6:02 am
Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, in her legislative office at the Cordell Hull Building. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, in her office at the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Buildong (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Trump Republican and liberal state senator are facing off in a battle for the new 5th Congressional District seat where lines are drawn to turn Tennessee’s delegation even redder.

Republican Andy Ogles, the former Maury County mayor and former director of Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee, and Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell, the first female mayor of Oak Hill, are polar opposites on the political spectrum heading into the Nov 8 election. Early voting starts Oct. 19.

Ogles defeated former House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead in the Republican primary, capturing the conservative vote to vault into the position as the favorite to capture an eighth Republican seat of nine positions in the state’s congressional delegation. The Republican-controlled Legislature split Davidson County into three congressional districts this year as part of the redistricting required by federal law every 10 years, pushing Congressman Jim Cooper to opt out and putting Republicans in the driver’s seat for the once firm Democratic post.

Campbell, still in her first term as a state senator, opted to take up the mantle for Democrats and claims to have a 3-point lead on Ogles based on a survey she commissioned. 

But in the newly-drawn 5th, Davidson County Democrats are likely overmatched by Republican voters from west Wilson, Williamson, Maury, Marshall and Lewis counties.

Ogles, who declined to be interviewed for this article, also is tapping into former President Donald Trump’s popularity in the new 5th District and condemning President Joe Biden. Early in his campaign, Ogles used a flame-thrower to show his disdain for Biden’s policies.

In August, Ogles attacked the Department of Justice for “weaponizing” the FBI in the raid on Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home, for a raid that turned up classified documents, some of which are reportedly considered at the highest level of secrecy. The matter is locked up in court.

Flanked by family members, GOP congressional nominee Andy Ogles told supporters Thursday he's ready to "get DC out of Tennessee." (Photo: John Partipilo)
Flanked by family members, GOP congressional nominee Andy Ogles told supporters at his Aug. 4, 2022 election party that he’s ready to “get DC out of Tennessee.” (Photo: John Partipilo)

“The Biden Department of Justice increasingly looks like a banana republic you would find in a third-world cesspool where political payback and partisan persecution have replaced a fair and just system operating under the rule of law,” Ogles said in a statement published by the conservative Tennessee Star. “Targeting political enemies to advance the interests of a failing presidency is not the way we expect our leaders to behave. Frankly, it’s a disgusting overreach that deserves the outrage of all decent and law-abiding Americans regardless of political affiliation.”

Ogles, a Culleoka resident and father of three, is staunchly anti-abortion, as well, and in a recent speech said he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to do the same thing with same-sex marriage as it did with Roe v. Wade and abortion rights, stand “firm” on the 10th Amendment and turn the decision over to the states so Tennessee can outlaw gay marriage. He also commends the high court for rejecting New York State’s gun restrictions, even though that overruled a state law.

“Next thing we need to do is go after gay marriage. We need to revert that back to the states so each and every state can decide their destiny,” he said.

Ogles also said in an August tweet he would propose reassigning 87,000 new IRS agents to the Border Patrol or else fire them in reaction to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Republican nominee Andy Ogles, who did not respond to requests for interviews, has said he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn federal protections for same-sex marriage and return decisions to the states, much as the court did with Roe v. Wade.

In addition, Ogles wants to turn away federal dollars from the state and repeal the Affordable Care Act, which offers some form of health-care coverage for 35 million people, including 21 million through Medicaid expansion, which Tennessee has refused. 

Consequently, ultra-conservative talk show host John Fredericks labeled Ogles one of the “few true America First MAGA candidates” he has met in the country and gave him his full endorsement.

“He’ll finish the wall, defend police + FIGHT the Establishment pig trough Uni-Party RINO’s in DC1,” Fredericks said in a tweet.

Campbell couldn’t give voters a much different option than Ogles. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, her campaign has taken on an even more personal tone.

Making her case

When she started running, Campbell said three things could happen that could change the race: Roe v. Wade could be overturned, Trump could be “held accountable to some degree,” and she could get a “far-right, crazy opponent.”

“And all three of those things have happened, and I think that significantly shifted the prospects on this race,” Campbell said in a recent interview. “I don’t just think that. I know that.”

While out campaigning, Campbell is pushing “freedom.”

She joined fellow Democrats in a press conference shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision to decry the loss of women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies. Legislation is likely to be filed in advance of the 2023 General Assembly’s session but will have a difficult time moving against a Republican supermajority.

Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, announcing her congressional bid in April. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, announcing her congressional bid in April. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“Our freedoms are being taken away from us. Democracy is in big trouble. And for people who have not spent time in autocratic countries … living in a country like that is not fun,” Campbell said.

Campbell points specifically toward the state’s “trigger” law that outlawed abortion in Tennessee when the overturning of Roe v. Wade took effect. It provides no exceptions for rape or incest and enables authorities to charge doctors with a felony for performing an abortion to save the life of a mother. 

Congress should pass legislation to make abortion legal at the federal level, she said. 

One of the biggest strikes against the Biden Administration is inflation, at 8.3% in August. The energy index jumped 23.8% over the previous year with gasoline costs up 25.6%.

Campbell said the “narrative that Democrats aren’t fiscally responsible” isn’t true, calling it a “convenient” political tool for Republicans.

She contends the current inflation is a “global phenomenon” that is beyond the responsibility of elected leaders but said she is committed to combating it.

Democrats hold a 224-214 majority in the U.S. House. Critics of Tennessee’s redistricting say it is part of a plan to return the House to Republican control.

It’s bizarre, but it’s going on across the country. Republicans have decided to opt for the strategy that not campaigning is their best option right now because they don’t want to have to answer the kinds of questions we’d be asking.

– Sen. Heidi Campbell of Nashville, Democratic nominee for U.S. House District 5

Campbell calls the national political outlook a “real horse race.”

“Hopefully, the news cycles are not going to blow against us on this … because a lot can change” in the next few weeks, she said.

Campbell hasn’t been aggressive with TV advertising but said she is saving her ammunition for the final weeks of the campaign. Instead, she’s focusing on an “organic grass-roots campaign” and hoping people will shift support from the Republican and independent side.

Neither has Ogles, who benefited in the primary from super PACs that ran ads against Harwell and Winstead. By all measures, Ogles has kept his head low in recent weeks, especially compared to his primary rhetoric. His campaign manager also declined to answer questions for this article.

“It’s bizarre, but it’s going on across the country. Republicans have decided to opt for the strategy that not campaigning is their best option right now because they don’t want to have to answer the kinds of questions we’d be asking,” Campbell said.

The Republican candidate took a few lumps in the primary but won handily. For instance, he announced in March he raised $453,000 in the first 30 days of his campaign but then filed a late report with the Federal Election Commission showing he brought in only $264,400. He reported a loan of $320,000 to build up his numbers and spent $301,063.

Ogles also was late on Williamson County property tax payments several times, according to reports, and he faces a show-cause hearing before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for failing to file a mayoral campaign report on time. He has declined to answer questions about his late filings.

Campbell questioned her opponent’s contention that the American people are “at war” with each other. Instead, she said one of the nation’s problems is that multinational corporations have too much power, creating a struggle between “love and greed.”

Campbell raised $329,015 by mid-July, using no loans, and spent $81,087. She had $247,928 on hand at the end of the first filing period. 

She’s shooting for $1 million by the end of this fundraising period. 

Campbell touts endorsements by Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Moms Demand Action, the Sierra Club and several unions.

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.