KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The first person to announce she would run in the Tennessee First District Congressional Republican primary, former Phil Roe intern Nichole Williams, may have her candidacy disallowed by the state Republican Party.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden informed Williams that her Republican bona fides were being challenged on the grounds of not having voted in at least three of the four most recent GOP primaries.
Williams has only voted in one of those primaries, she said. “I’ve got three kids and was running a couple small businesses and didn’t think about it,” Williams said, adding that she’s always held Republican views. She said she believes some of the other candidates consider her a serious enough challenger to try and oust her from the primary on a technicality.
“I volunteered for Marsha Blackburn and Bill Lee’s campaign in 2018 at the Sullivan County Republican headquarters,” Williams said.
“I’ve hardly raised any money. I’ve raised about $5,000. Why do they even care about me if I’m not competition for them?”
Without a challenge, Williams would still be allowed to join the 13 other candidates in the crowded field. Roe announced in early January he wouldn’t seek a seventh term.
Williams, who interned for Roe in 2012 while a community college student, actually began campaigning in late 2019.
Now, she has until April 16 to find a Republican official to “vouch” for her status as a bona fide Republican. Additionally, any official’s submission on her behalf still must be approved by the state chairman, Golden.
Williams said the challenge was an eventuality she heard might be coming back in February.
“Based on the Tennessee party bylaws, that’s why I did the right thing and had this endorsement lined up in case this happened.”
“At that point I asked a couple different people to vouch for me, including (State Rep.) Timothy Hill,” she said. Williams provided text messages of that conversation, to which Hill replied “I will consider it.”
In the event, a Hancock County party official, Bobby Johnson, sent Golden a letter but Williams said it wasn’t accepted.
“He (Golden) told him he couldn’t endorse a candidate,” Williams said. “Johnson said he wasn’t endorsing me.”
The relevant rules are spelled out in Article IX of the party’s bylaws.
“I will not go quietly,” Williams said, adding that she’s continuing to seek people to vouch for her in a method that Golden will accept. She also referred to a “Tennessee Star” article that reported Golden’s acceptance at a Saturday GOP meeting of Cecil Mannis, who is running for the Tennessee House as a Republican.
Mannis has voted in just two of the last four GOP primaries and declared as a Democrat in the March presidential primary. He also contributed $1,500 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean in 2018, according to the Star.
“If something crazy does happen and I’m not allowed to be on the Republican ballot I’ll probably run as an Independent,” Williams said, adding that she’s continuing to request elected or party officials to vouch for her.
The challenge rules are below:
Section 2. If a person’s bona fide status is challenged, the challenge shall be made to the State Chairman from at least two (2) individual registered voters within the district in which the challenged candidate has filed to run. Such a challenge must be made no later than five (5) days before the deadline for removal of a candidate’s name from a ballot under TCA Section 2-5- 23 204 or otherwise, or any other applicable deadline. The State Chairman may require sufficient proof of the challenged individual’s status as a bona fide Republican, and the SEC hereby delegates to the State Chairman the authority to make the decision as to whether or not the challenged individual shall be considered a bona fide Republican for the purposes in question.