Democratic opponent not only one calling out GOP congressional candidate for refusing debate

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(WJHL) – Calls for Republican First District Congressional nominee Diana Harshbarger to debate her Democratic opponent are rising in pitch — and now include one of her vanquished Republican primary opponents.

Harshbarger told News Channel 11 Aug. 27 that due to what she called Blair Walsingham’s disparaging of law enforcement she wouldn’t “dignify that with a response in a debate.”

Blair Walsingham of Hawkins County is the Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s open First Congressional District seat.

Harshbarger, who won the GOP nomination with 19.2 percent of the vote in a crowded field, also skipped both primary debates — the only candidate among the top 10 finishers to do so.

After saying Aug. 28 that Harshbarger’s stance represented “a blatant disregard for the democratic process” and showed “she takes voters for granted,” Walsingham upped the ante Sunday by releasing a video “message … to Diana Harshbarger” on YouTube.

That message features video of two GOP candidates indirectly calling out Harshbarger’s absence during a primary debate and another former opponent, Nichole Williams, criticizing her directly.

Monday, Walsingham stuck to her previous message — voters should have the opportunity to see candidates for an office as important as Congress face each other on a debate stage.

First District Congressional GOP candidate Diana Harshbarger

“The best way for voters to truly understand is to have them side-by-side and let people hear it in real-time and to be able to compare, and talk and have these discussions out loud,” Walsingham said.

Walsingham’s position drew support from GOP primary candidate Nichole Williams, who criticized Harshbarger sharply during the primary and is featured on the Walsingham campaign’s video speaking directly on the subject.

Monday, Williams said while she has no intention of voting for Walsingham, she thinks Harshbarger’s refusal to engage in any debates doesn’t speak well of her respect for a basic tenet of American political culture.

“I would debate Blair,” Williams said. “I think every other GOP candidate would debate Blair, also.

“It’s just part of the American patriotic process to debate the other side and prove that you can argue your points and stand firm on your platform and be able to accomplish things by your words. Because, that’s what it’s about – you’re a voice for the people. If you can’t be a voice for the people, then why did you even run for the seat?”

Williams also suggested that if she wins a seat in Congress, Harshbarger will need to be capable of holding her own in debate-style formats.

Nichole Williams.

“If she can’t debate anybody here in the First District, then how is she going to debate any of the lifelong career politicians that are on the Democratic side, in Washington,” Williams said.

Walsingham said she wonders whether a refusal to debate could point to a lack of accountability to constituents should Harshbarger continue the 140-year run of GOP representation in the First District.

“I have no qualms talking to anybody from any side of the aisle, any background,” she said. “If you only represent one section of your people in your district, you’re not representing your district.” 

Meanwhile, the Harshbarger campaign didn’t move off its earlier position in a statement emailed to News Channel 11:

“The Harshbarger campaign will not be participating in any public debate with Mrs. Walsingham. We will not provide a platform for her attack on our nation’s police.

“It is deeply troubling that my opponent supports the radical left and rioters instead of our police heroes. I will not give that position any dignity by sharing a stage at a debate. I am taking this campaign directly to voters, visiting each corner of the district and talking with East Tennessee voters. I will also be sharing my policy priorities over the next few weeks so voters in Tennessee’s First Congressional District know I hear their concerns and am ready to fight for them.”

The Harshbarger Campaign

Walsingham, a military veteran, said Harshbarger has misrepresented her policy positions on law enforcement.

“She has said something about my policies, which was entirely untrue, and I’ve already commented about that. You can go to my website and read all my policies. It’s all out in the open.”

She added that refusing to debate an opponent over policy differences exemplifies an issue that is plaguing American politics in general.

“We have been fed this divide for so long, and we are capable of creating a better world and better opportunity here in East Tennessee.”

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