Diana Harshbarger said she’s still fighting for votes, despite the obvious advantage of being the Republican nominee in a GOP stronghold.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” she said. “I haven’t done that my whole life.”
After winning the most votes in the Republican primary, Harshbarger said she’s continuing to campaign as an outsider who’ll support President Trump, another outsider candidate who translated business success into political power.
“The same people who elected President Trump are the same people who elected me,” Harshbarger said. “And they put me where I am right now as the Republican nominee.”
Harshbarger grew up in the Bloomingdale community in Sullivan County. The first in her family to graduate from high school, Harshbarger has been a pharmacist for more than 30 years and now owns Premier Pharmacy in Kingsport.
Why run for Congress?
“This is why I did it. I left the private sector and went into the public sector because our nation is at a tipping point. I can’t say it any plainer. And if we can go too far to the left, I don’t know that we’re ever coming back.”
She says her Christian faith played a big decision in her decision to run. “If I feel led by God almighty to do something, nothing is going to hinder me one bit.”
Harshbarger entered the First District Congressional primary as a relative unknown in political circles against a crowded field including several Northeast Tennessee political veterans. She went on to win the August GOP primary with just under 20 percent of the Republican vote despite becoming the focus of several negative political ads.
One ad targeting Harshbarger focused on her husband’s federal prosecution for using unapproved Chinese drugs. When asked if there was anything she wanted to say to clear the air with voters who may have lingering concerns linked to the negative commercials and campaign mailers targeting her, Harshbarger said the facts prove her innocence.
“If the federal government thought I had done anything wrong, don’t you think they would have taken my license and prosecuted me for anything,” she said. “I was never even questioned. There was nothing.”
Campaign finance records show Harshbarger spent $1.12 million through July 17th, much of that on a media campaign that accused her political competitors of being “snakes.”
We asked Harshbarger how she would respond to the accusation that she essentially bought the primary.
“People are going to say what they’re going to say,” she said. “When you believe so strongly you want to change the face of this nation and take your country back, it’s worth anything you have to put up. And that was my money. That was my choice to do that. And it was because of the precious people I’ve served for 30 years that I said, ‘that’s okay, I can do that.’ Because that gives me the freedom if and when I get to Washington to take care of those people. That’s the way I think. It’s my gift to them. Because I’m going to win.
“I can cast a vote and have a clear conscience. I don’t owe anyone anything.”
Harshbarger said she’s always been politically active, advocating for legislation as it related to her business and her customers. She’s never before sought public office, and according to county election records going back 26 years, Harshbarger hasn’t voted in any Kingsport municipal or Sullivan County local elections.
Records show she voted in all November general elections and voted in two presidential primaries — in 2012 and this year — and in this year’s Congressional primary. She didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential primary won by Donald Trump or any of the hotly contested First District Congressional primaries in 1996, 2006 and 2008, according to country voting records.
Diana Harshbarger on key issues
“If I couldn’t vote in a primary, my son would go every time,” she said. “If I had to work in the pharmacy, someone had to be here. But I voted for President Trump, and if you look I voted in every general election. I don’t know how much more bona fide you can get – an average American who says I want to make a change. I raised my hand and said, ‘Pick me.'”
If elected, Harshbarger said she hopes to make debt reduction a legislative priority.
“Somebody has to address it and say look, there’s got to be a better way of doing it,” Harshbarger said. “For God’s sake, we don’t do this in families. Why should government not be held accountable for the money that they spend?
Harshbarger said she’s a staunch supporter of gun rights and the defense of the Second Amendment.
She said she’ll work to advance President Trump’s “America First” agenda if both win election in November.
And she fully supports Trump’s immigration agenda.
“What did he say?” Harshbarger said, referring to the President. “He said, ‘Build the wall.’ We can stop a lot of what’s going on. The law is the law.”
Harshbarger said she’s “100% pro-life.” She said she fully backs law enforcement, and she cited her opponent Blair Walsingham’s support of law enforcement reform as the reason she refused to appear with her in a debate. “I’m not going to give her a platform in order to keep disrespecting our police force. I’m not going to do it,” Harshbarger said.
Walsingham said she’s never spoken in a disparaging way against police.
Her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement?
“In my opinion, all lives matter,” Harshbarger said. “I take care of anybody. It doesn’t matter what color they are. All lives matter. All those souls matter.”
“It’s not about color,” Harshbarger said. “All lives matter. And I’m here to protect anybody’s life. And I’m here to stand up for them. But as far as the movement goes, I’ll stand up for movements that are legitimate and that can show me that there is a problem with this or this is a problem with that.”
If elected, Harshbarger promises to be accessible, defending her decision to avoid candidate debates and calling herself “a new politician.”
“Politicians are used to getting on stage and giving canned answers,” she said. “I don’t have canned answers. I am someone who will sit here and talk to you one on one and be honest and give you answers and say hey – we’ll work on it.”
Harshbarger says her focus now is on uniting the Republican party ahead of the November election. She says she’s doing that by reaching out to every elected official in the district and focusing the party on what she considers the primary objective.
“The primary thing we have to do to unify the party is to get our president elected again,” she said. “And anybody with an “R” behind their name is who I’m aiming at. We have to come together to do that.”
- ‘I’m American above all else’: Democrat Blair Walsingham running for Congress in Northeast Tenn.
- ‘I don’t really fit in comfortably with either party’: Independent Steve Holder running for U.S. Congress in Northeast Tenn.