Congressional candidates battle on stage a week before primary

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SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – One of the key races being watched in the August 6th primary and general election is the Tennessee 1st Congressional District Republican primary.

Thursday, 11 of the 16 candidates gathered for a debate put on by a high school senior in Sevierville.

The debate covered a range of topics from the pandemic, its impact on the economy and even the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But some of the candidates were quick to call out the front runners in the polls and campaign spending — two of whom didn’t come to the debate.

“Timothy Hill, he’s a nice fellow. In the past when he’s been here at some of these events, he always shares his cell phone with everyone,” said former Kingsport Mayor John Clark. “So, I think it’s appropriate tonight that we share his cell phone and have everybody who’s watching out there just give him a call and ask him why he’s not here.” Clark then proceeded to give out his number.

Also not there — early front runner Diana Harshbarger.

“She’s a pharmacist, right, why won’t she tell us the truth about hydroxychloroquine. What’s the truth? She’s running for congress,” said Nichole Williams. “That’s her job to answer questions about medications but she’s not here tonight. She’s silent. She won’t answer questions for anybody. She just wants to throw a bunch of money at the election and try to buy her way in.”

A hot topic this campaign season — spending and where that money is coming from.

“I haven’t taken a single penny of outside money, of D.C. money, of Nashville money, of special interest money, of PAC money,” said Josh Gapp. “I’m not bought and paid for. I can vote my conscience and I will vote my conscience. I’m only beholden to you.”

Gapp was targeted during the debate for living outside the 1st District.

“His kids do not go to our schools, his family does not pray in our churches. He doesn’t support our nonprofit organizations, he’s not from our area yet he thinks he’s going to represent us,” Clark said.

Other points of discussion included the pandemic and how it’s being handled.

“We do need to foster relations with other countries so that if there is a next time, we’ll be able to better know what the warning signs are and have better information coming our way,” former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden said.

Another question was brought up about COVID-19 has impacted the economy.

“We need legislation to put together what we did in World War II.,” said state Sen. Rusty Crowe. “We need stimulus bonds. Let the people of this country pay back those trillions. That’s a great idea.”

The winner of the Republican primary next week will face Democratic challenger Blair Walsingham in November, who backed out of the debate due to the rising coronavirus cases.

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