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Tennessee’s Phil Roe won’t run for reelection in 2020

Roe’s retirement will open up a district Trump carried by nearly 60 points in 2016

Rep. Phil Roe is not running for a seventh term in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Phil Roe is not running for a seventh term in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, will not run for reelection in 2020, opening up a solidly Republican seat.

“As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career,” Roe said in a statement Friday morning. “After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.”

Roe, 74, was first elected to Tennessee’s 1st District in 2008, unseating freshman GOP Rep. David Davis in the Republican primary. During that campaign, Roe said members of the House shouldn’t serve more than 10 years

The former Johnson City mayor and retired OB-GYN was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer in 2017 and flirted with retirement ahead of the 2018 midterms, but ultimately decided to run for a sixth term, citing his role as Veterans Affairs Committee chairman as a reason to stick around. Roe won reelection by 56 points that fall, but he lost his chairmanship when Republicans lost control of the House.

As an Army veteran who served in South Korea, Roe fought for legislation  that extends VA benefits for Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam during the war. He also shepherded a bipartisan effort that allowed veterans to seek health care outside of facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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Roe’s announcement makes him the 22nd House Republican to retire this cycle, while six House Democrats are also retiring. The total number of retirements so far has already exceeded the average number of 23 retirements in recent election cycles. 

President Donald Trump carried Roe’s east Tennessee district by 57 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

An open seat here will generate lots of interest from ambitious Republicans. GOP operatives in the state have mentioned at least a dozen potential candidates, including Roe’s district director Bill Darden. It’s not yet clear who Roe’s choice would be. Darden’s brother, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, could also run.

Other potential candidates include Kingsport Mayor John Clark, former Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge and Douglas Jenkins, a chancery court judge and son of former Rep. Bill Jenkins, who represented the 1st District until 2007. 

Legislators who could run include state Sen. Jon Lundberg and state Reps. James “Micah” Van Huss, Jeremy Faison, who’s the chair of the state House Republican caucus, Timothy Hill and David Hawk.

Tennessee Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes, who ran for the open 2nd District in 2018, lives in Knoxville, which isn’t far from the 1st District, and just returned from her ninth deployment. The only woman in a seven-way primary, she finished third. Having backed Trump by about 35 points, though, the 2nd District is less conservative than the 1st. 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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