The Pigeon Forge nurse has limited funds to launch an expensive advertising campaign, has virtually no political experience or connections to aid him in his run and his platform leans more to the left of his opponent at a time when most incumbents are more worried by challenges from the extreme right.
“Statistically, Phil Roe has a 90 percent chance of going back in, and if I were him, I wouldn’t worry too much about me,” Hartley said Friday during a phone interview. “But that 10 percent is where I operate. I believe people may be just fed up enough and tired of voting in professional politicians that they may look to people like me who know what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes.”
But with the country currently in the throes of a shutdown of non-essential services and workers, the statistic Hartley said may swing votes to his side is Congress’ dwindling approval rating, which fell to near 5 percent this week.
“The American people are slipping through the cracks,” he said. “Congress needs to put aside their disagreements and realize that the American people are their beneficiaries.
“If the government shuts down, they send 1 million-plus home without a paycheck, and we can’t afford to take that hit,” Hartley added. “Here in my area, the (Great Smoky Mountains National) Park is closed at a time when we have millions of visitors coming through here, and we’re losing million of dollars because the government has closed the park.”
Hartley, who professed his votes for every GOP presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, said he can most accurately be described as a moderate Republican.
He strongly believes in Americans’ protected right to gun ownership, and is morally opposed to the practice of abortion, but said he wouldn’t challenge its legality if elected.
“I don’t think we should legislate morality,” he said. “We shouldn’t put ourselves in the position to be making emotional decisions that threaten others’ rights.”
His most radical goal if elected is his plan to fight for the institution of single-payer health care, paid for with a new federal sales tax.
“Everybody would pay the sales tax equally across the board, so no one group would be subsidizing another,” he said. “I don’t have access to the same information that the members of Congress do, but I’d like to see more research on it to see if it would work out for America.”
Hartley also believes strongly in the need for congressional term limits, a move that he said would encourage more participation from the public in political discourse.
If he takes the seat from Roe, it will be a major political upset. Hartley is the underdog, and he knows it.
Since announcing his candidacy last month, he has made a few appearances in Sevierville and Morristown, but said his goal is to hold at least one town hall meeting in each county in the 1st District.
“Right now it’s a grass-roots campaign, and it has to be,” he said. “I’ve started some fundraising, but people don’t know me, I’m a nobody, and I’m not a sure bet. People don’t want to invest in someone that they know doesn’t have much of a chance.
“But if I get out there and do the best that I can to give the people a realistic choice, then I’ll be able to say I did my part.”