Will Black have to resign her seat in Congress? And if so, when?
Cong. Diane Black’s plane ride to Nashville from DC a couple of days ago was a rough one, with turbulence, barf bags, the whole bit. This comes from our sources on the plane (yes, RTP is everywhere) who said it was one of the worst flights she has ever been on. But it may have been something of an omen for the turbulence that Black found on the ground when she finally landed. The political ground may be shifting beneath her and other ambitious politicos looking to move up.
It was quite the scene yesterday down in the Capitol Grill at the Hermitage Hotel. There, huddling their heads around a lunch table, were Cong. Black, newly-minted consultant Ward Baker, State Sen. Jack Johnson and a staff aide (and yes, once again, RTP is everywhere).
Rumors have been circulating around DC and the Volunteer state for some time that (a) Black was going to become the chairman of the House Budget Committee and that (b) she was also going to run for governor. But events have a way of overtaking ambitions and that may be what is happening to Diane’s well-laid plans. For instance, late last night Cong. Tom Price was confirmed as the new HHS Secretary, opening the way for Black to be named House Budget Chair, something that could take place as early as today.
Some have questioned whether Black would have sought the Budget chairmanship if she were going to run for governor. Traditionally, congressional chairmanships are not sought by or offered to members who are about to exit the Congress. The rational offered by Black allies was that she could do both. They say the business of the Budget committee is usually over by May of each year and that after Black wrangles the Trump budget into existence, she could take a victory lap, get some grip-and-grin photos with the Donald then high-tail it back to Tennessee to run for governor. Easy-peezy.
But there are some emerging factors to complicate such a strategy. One is Speaker Beth Harwell. Harwell has barnstormed the phones the last few weeks, making it abundantly clear she is running for governor. Her interest in the race puts pressure on Black to make a decision earlier than Black may like on when to kick off her own governor’s race. Black would like to take her time in doing so. Harwell would like to force her into an early decision that could conflict with her duties as Budget chair. Harwell’s entry would also upset a key strategic advantage Black had been counting on — being the only woman in the race. Don’t think that is an important advantage? Just ask Marsha Blackburn if it made a difference in her first race for Congress (remember the “Marsha’s Our Man” bumper stickers?). One woman in the race is unique, interesting and provides a valuable contrast to the rest of the field. Two women in the race might just devolve into a catfight (meow).
Okay, gratuitous misogyny aside, there is another more compelling argument as to why Black may be considering a more immediate move on her race. According to RTP sources in Washington (yes, Rocky Top is everywhere), the White House is now privately telling congressional leadership that it is unlikely to send a budget to Capitol Hill until sometime in May. That would make it the latest budget proposal in memory and would mean that as Budget chair, Black would be completely absorbed in her congressional duties in Washington throughout most of the summer. Which, of course would leave Harwell, Randy Boyd, Mark Green and others a clearer playing field to gather supporters, endorsements, contributors, etc. Black’s people counter that Black would be getting all sorts of free media and would be the center of attention while the budget process was engaged. Really? Have you checked your Twitter feeds lately? Ain’t nobody getting any media attention as long as Donald Trump is President.
And then there is the whole “checkbook campaign” strategy. Everyone has assumed the large bank account of the Black’s would make her the biggest self-funder in the race. With Randy Boyd in the mix, Black may not even be the wealthiest candidate, much less write the biggest check. Boyd’s people are throwing around figures like $15-$20 million for a campaign budget.
All the maneuvering comes down to this: Black has an uncomfortable decision to make about leaving her seat in Congress. And her GOP gubernatorial primary opponents are enjoying her discomfort.
Keep those barf bags handy….