Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell immediately burst out laughing Thursday when asked point blank, “Do you want to run for Congress against Jim Cooper?”
“I don’t know how this got started,” said Harwell. “I think there is a survey that was sent out. I have not seen the results of that. But that’s not something I’m looking at right now, and I don’t know if someone will. I don’t know that answer.”
The subject surfaced in Nashville this week when Pat Nolan, who writes the Capitol View Commentary for NewsChannel5.com, reported on a telephone poll being taken about a potential Harwell-Cooper race for the 5th District congressional seat. Nolan speculated that the source might be the Republican Party putting up trial balloons to see who might give Cooper a strong run.
Harwell, a Republican from Nashville, is in her first term as Tennessee’s speaker of the House, the first woman to hold that office. She was first elected to the General Assembly in 1988 and is a former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party.
Cooper is a moderate Democrat and one of only two Democratic congressmen in the state to hang onto his seat in the Republican onslaught of 2010.
Except for saying people have often talked to her about the potential of running for higher office, Harwell did not sound like a likely congressional candidate Thursday.
When another reporter asked, “So you’re ruling it out?” Harwell laughed again.
“What, you guys want the jump or something?” she asked. “I haven’t even thought about it. We’re so focused on what we’re doing here. I’ll give it some thought, but it’s not something that’s high on my agenda right now.”
Harwell attempted to draw attention back to the business at hand.
“I’m excited about state government, and I feel good about the state Legislature and where we’re going.
“I think the answer to our nation really is to return a lot of these programs back to the state level, because I think Congress has proven itself inept.”
Cooper, a moderate Democrat and member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has served the 5th District since 2003. He previously served as Tennessee’s 4th District representative.
Cooper defeated Republican newcomer David Hall last November with 57 percent of the vote to Hall’s 42 percent. Hall ran a surprisingly strong race, collecting 71,843 votes, behind Cooper’s 97,834, in what has historically been a safe Democratic seat. Hall emerged from a crowded field in the Republican primary.
The 5th District seat, like other Democratic seats in the state at both the state and federal level, has been the subject of speculation over redistricting and how the district’s lines will be drawn.
Currently, three members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation are former state legislators. They are 6th District Rep. Diane Black, 7th District Rep. Marsha Blackburn and 9th District Rep. Steve Cohen. All three were state senators. Black and Blackburn are Republicans. Cohen is a Democrat.