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VOL. 124 | NO. 239 | Monday, December 7, 2009

Analysts: Herron Has Slight Edge in 8th District

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - As a political battle begins taking shape in Tennessee's 8th congressional district, Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron's name recognition gives him a slight advantage over GOP newcomer Stephen Fincher, political analysts say.

U.S. Rep. John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat, announced Tuesday he will retire next year after 11 terms in Congress. Herron, of Dresden, told The Associated Press soon after that he was dropping his gubernatorial bid to seek Tanner's seat instead.

Other Democrats considering the seat include Sen. Doug Jackson of Dickson, former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, and former Rep. Phillip Pinion of Union City.

But the focus so far has been on Herron and Fincher, a 37-year-old Crockett County farmer and gospel singer whose only Republican challenger so far is network systems engineer Donn Janes of Brighton.

Herron's gubernatorial campaign said he's raised more than $900,000. Under federal law, Herron can't simply transfer that money to the congressional race, but he can refund it and let contributors decide if they want to give to his new race.

Herron, 56, informed gubernatorial contributors this week that he plans to give the money back and will be in touch with them after "getting legal and accounting advice."

Fincher made a quick start to his fundraising, collecting more than $300,000 in his first quarterly reporting period. But it remains to be seen whether he can keep up that pace, especially after getting maximum contributions from a small concentration of donors.

About half of Fincher's money was raised from people at 15 addresses.

In 20 instances, Fincher received at least four contributions from people sharing the same last name or from their companies. They accounted for $243,650, or about three-quarters of his total.

They included 16 contributions worth $24,600 from people named Jordan, 11 donations worth $23,700 from the Hughes family, and the Finchers gave six campaign checks worth $21,600.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Herron has "name identification because of the overlap of his state Senate district with the congressional district."

Herron represents or has represented eight of the 19 counties in the district.

"There are people who lived in that district who voted for him before," Oppenheimer said. "He does have visibility and that's clearly helpful."

John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Herron has a strong campaign organization in place that will benefit him as he attempts to fill Tanner's seat.

"I think this was a good move for Herron," Geer said. "His name recognition will be substantial."

However, the National Republican Congressional Committee has heavily touted Fincher, who said in a statement this week that his mission is about "stopping the Washington way."

"My roots run deep in Tennessee, not politics," Fincher said. "And this is a time for citizens and patriots, not politicians."

Despite what analysts say, NRCC spokesman Andy Sere said he believes Herron is at a disadvantage.

He said the state senator "represents a very small portion of the congressional district, so most west and middle Tennesseans have no clue who he is."

"I think his 23-year record in Nashville actually puts him at a huge disadvantage because it demonstrates how out of touch he is with this area," Sere said.

Washington, D.C., political analyst Dave Wasserman, House editor of The Cook Political Report, said he expects Herron to begin the race far ahead of Fincher. But he said Herron may eventually have a problem because of President Barack Obama's low approval rating in the district.

"And that's a significant obstacle for any Democrat trying to hold an open seat," Wasserman said.

However, Herron said statistics show Democratic success in the district. He said Tanner, considered a moderate to conservative Democrat, consistently won with around 70 percent of the vote. In the 2006 U.S. Senate race, Democrat Harold Ford Jr. narrowly won the district, even though he lost the state to Republican Bob Corker. Gov. Phil Bredesen won it with 55 percent in 2002 and 73 percent in 2006. Twenty percent of the district's voters are black.

"It's certainly not a district not willing to vote for Democrats," Herron said.


Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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