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VOL. 127 | NO. 198 | Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Flinn’s Challenge

‘Vigorous, aggressive campaign’ enlivens 9th Congressional race

By Bill Dries

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Dr. George Flinn has been running for office for 10 years now and running in a style that continues to evolve.

Dr. George Flinn works the phones in his campaign office with volunteers Mykia Davis, Tanya Malone and political director Katherine Newsom. Flinn is challenging Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

His bid for the 9th Congressional District on the Nov. 6 ballot may be the most convincing proof that Flinn’s style isn’t orthodox.

Flinn’s campaigns since his 2002 debut in which he won the Republican nomination for Shelby County mayor have been expensive and heavy on television advertising.

Flinn acknowledges he’s not the best at speeches. His campaign opening in September didn’t come with a speech to a room of more than 100 supporters in East Memphis. Instead Flinn circulated, talking one on one with supporters and posing for pictures with them. It’s not an unusual political approach. But in Flinn’s case it was another ingredient in which he is becoming more comfortable campaigning his own way.

“It’s going to be about the problems we have and that is primarily jobs and health care,” Flinn said, defining his pitch to voters. “What I’ve seen happen is we’ve got extremists. We have extremists on the right and extremists on the left. And these extremists keep arguing with each other so much and are such loud voices that the people that are in the middle get left out. And that’s the majority of people.”

Even though he lost the general election for county mayor in 2002 to Democratic nominee A C Wharton Jr., Flinn reached out after the loss to local Republicans who had been divided in the primary campaign. The result was a winning campaign later for the Shelby County Commission.

Two years ago, Flinn ran in the Republican primary for the 8th Congressional District although he lived in the 9th district.

This time around, he still lives in the 9th district. But the boundaries of the district have changed: It has lost a lot of its East Memphis territory to the 8th district and picked up the North Shelby County territory that was once in the 8th.

“About one third of the voters to the district are new. This is primarily Millington, Raleigh, Frayser and some in Cordova,” Flinn said. “That’s where I did very well against (U.S. Rep. Stephen) Fincher. … I’ve got great support in that area. That support has continued. They urged me to run. This may be the time.”

Flinn is also walling off his campaign from the national general election campaign for president.

“I don’t care who else is in office,” he said. “I don’t care who is in the congressional seat next to us. … I’m going to work with them so I can bring home some benefits for our people.”

To his critics, the television ads are a sign of an impersonal campaign. To Flinn, nothing could be more personal and more direct.

That was the case with the Flinn campaign jingle this month from rapper Al Kapone. The hip-hop moment is certain to live in local political lore long after the Nov. 6 election is decided. The ad isn’t airing on TV but instead on YouTube. It went viral after a controversial debut in which two people pictured in the ad, University of Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner and soul singer Al Green, pointedly said they are not endorsing Flinn. Green added that he is backing Cohen.

The opening salvo of campaign-sanctioned ads that ran during the run up to the August GOP congressional primary were an introduction to Flinn that were heavy on images of him working in his medical practice.

“You can’t watch television without watching an ultrasound test,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, the Democratic incumbent Flinn is challenging in the Nov. 6 general election, joked during the primary campaigns.

“It’s not like I have great concern about beating him,” Cohen told The Daily News editorial board. “But I want to win the first time after redistricting with the highest numbers possible. He’s going to spend ungodly amounts of money. For the first time, I’m outspent.”

While the new waves of TV ads are as plentiful as the primary wave, they don’t mention Cohen. Flinn’s yard signs refer to him simply as “Dr. Flinn.” And by the week before early voting began they were sprouting in East Memphis and in Midtown, where Cohen’s appeal is considered strongest and longest. That includes signs that promote Cohen as well as President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Local Democrats are not taking Flinn lightly in a Shelby County effort that has already conceded the state to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“We haven’t forgotten about what happens here locally,” said Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Van Turner. “Dr. Flinn is running a vigorous and aggressive campaign that I think we should respect. We have to, on the ground here, support Congressman Cohen and his efforts to be re-elected.”

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