Politics

Only Woman in Crowded Tennessee GOP Primary Touts Her Combat Experience

Ashley Nickloes, candidate in 2nd District, released her first ad Thursday

Tennessee Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes, a Republican running for Tennessee’s 2nd District, is touting her experience as a combat aviator. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats aren’t the only ones with female veterans who are dipping their toes into politics for the first time year by deciding to run for Congress. 

Republican Ashley Nickloes, a lieutenant colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard, is highlighting her combat aviation experience in her first TV ad that debuted on broadcast Thursday in the Knoxville media market. The starting buy is 550 gross ratings points.

Nickloes is running in the crowded primary for the open 2nd District in Eastern Tennessee, a Solid Republican race. Current GOP Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. announced last year that he wouldn’t run for a 16th full term, marking the first time the seat won’t be held by a Duncan family member in more than 50 years. 

Nickloes, the only woman in the seven-way GOP field, has the support of Winning for Women, a new group that supports Republican women and has made small independent expenditures so far in GOP primaries. Two more established candidates, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, have attracted the most attention and have engaged in the most public sparring. Early voting starts July 13, and the primary is Aug. 2.

“A lot of career politicians are a bunch of yahoos. Me, I fly missions across the globe as a combat aviator,” Nickloes says in the ad’s opening scene.

“I’ll work with President Trump and put America first just like I always have,” she later says.

The text on screen calls her an “America First conservative” and ticks off her support for building Trump’s border wall and her opposition to abortion rights.

Nickloes filed for office on Feb. 23 but was then deployed to the Middle East in March for an aerial refueling mission. Being on active duty meant she could not engage in any campaign activity. Her husband and kids even selected her campaign logo for her. She returned from her eighth deployment in April, months after her primary opponents already had their campaigns up and running.

That’s given her a shorter timeline to raise her ID across the district and fundraise. Nickloes didn’t report raising any money in the first quarter and hasn’t yet released her second-quarter numbers. Burchett on Thursday announced raising $225,000 in the second quarter.

Nickloes is not the only Volunteer State congressional candidate this year who’s been in the usual situation of trying to mount a campaign while legally unable to contribute to that effort. In the 7th District, Democrat Matt Reel announced his candidacy last December, but was deployed just after New Year’s. He couldn’t legally campaign until June, when he returned.

Nickloes is a KC-135 aircraft commander. She serves as the deputy director of National Guard Bureau Patriot North and South Exercises, where she trains military personnel and civilians to respond to disasters.

When people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Nickloes would say she wanted to “fly for the airlines” because that’s what her father did, first for the Air Force and then for a civilian airline.

“And they’d say, ‘Oh, so, you want to be a flight attendant.’ And I’d say, ‘Um, no,’” she recollected in an interview at the Capitol Hill Club last month.

“‘Oh, you want to be a gate agent?’ ‘No,’” she’d respond.

“‘Well, Ashley, you don’t want to throw bags, do you?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m going to be a pilot,’” Nickloes recalled.

“And they said, ‘Oh, Ashley, girls don’t do that.’ And I was like, ‘Well, this girl does.’”

From the Archives: Already Small in Number, GOP Women Incumbents Could Be In Jeopardy

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