Two Democratic hopefuls made their entrance into the 2022 Tennessee governor’s race official in recent days.
Jason Martin, a critical care physician, officially announced his bid outside Nashville General Hospital on Monday after setting up an exploratory committee late last month. Casey Nicholson, an ordained minister with a counseling practice in Greeneville, announced his own bid last week. Both candidates emphasized COVID-19 and incumbent GOP Gov. Bill Lee’s response to it in announcing their campaigns.
Martin lamented “13,000 empty chairs at the dinner table, 13,000 broken families,” in reference to the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state.
“It did not have to be that way,” Martin said outside the hospital where he once treated patients and taught medical students. “If only we had stronger leadership, some of those people would have survived.”
Martin now works at a hospital in Sumner County, where he treats COVID-19 patients. The daughter of a former patient who died of COVID-19 introduced Martin at the event Monday.
Any Democrat who secures the nomination will face long odds as Lee moves toward re-election with a healthy bank account and the built-in advantage of Tennessee’s reliably Republican voters.
Martin said he has raised $100,000 since establishing the exploratory committee, mostly from friends and family.
Nicholson has been involved in politics before, having run unsuccessfully for state House and served as chair of the Greene County Democratic Party. He said he is running for governor in response to “Lee’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to a release, he was ordained in 2005 and worked in churches in Mississippi and East Tennessee before starting his counseling office in 2017. Nicholson said that as a leader of a regional church organization he has helped draft COVID-19 guidance for congregations.
“I believe I am a legitimate candidate, and a legitimate contender to win the election," Nicholson said. "My background working in churches and church administration makes me qualified for the job. And I’m confident that when the people of Tennessee get to know me, they will want to turn out to vote for me in 2022. I’m in this to win, and I believe I can win or I wouldn’t be running.”
Another Democrat, Carnita Atwater of Memphis, is also running, though she has not responded to an interview request.