VOL. 131 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 8, 2016
Kustoff Victory Caps TV, Outsider Heavy Congressional Campaign
By Bill Dries
Former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff claimed the Republican nomination for Tennessee’s 8th Congressional district Thursday, Aug. 4, in a 15-county contest in which the eastern parts of Shelby County played a decisive role.
The low turnout election before the November ballot topped by the Presidential election also offered up a few surprises.
The overall voter turnout in Shelby County was 14.3 percent based on the 79,531 Shelby County citizens – out of 556,002 voters on the rolls – who voted in the Democratic and Republican primaries in the 8th and 9th Congressional districts. Together, the two districts cover all of Shelby County.
That is the lowest percentage turnout for the election since 2004 when there was a countywide turnout of 12.2 percent. That was also the last time the election featured a ballot with no statewide primaries for Governor and/or U.S. Senate, a phenomenon that comes along every 12 years.
The number of voters in the Congressional primaries was the highest turnout for any race on the ballot in Shelby County followed by the 79,090 voters in the race for General Sessions Court Clerk, the 74,131 voters in the race for Circuit Court Judge and the 71,493 voters in the race for Chancellor Part 3.
Of the 16 state senators and state representatives seeking re-election on the Shelby County ballot, only one incumbent legislator was upset.
District 95 Republican Curry Todd lost to primary challenger Mark Lovell. Lovell has no Democratic opposition in the November general election.
In the non-primary elections, sitting Chancellor Jim Newsom, who was appointed to Chancery Court earlier this year by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam lost to attorney Joe Jenkins.
Meanwhile, Kustoff will square off against Democratic nominee Rickey Hobson in the November Congressional general election contest for the seat now held by Republican Stephen Fincher. The district is heavily Republican.
Fincher’s surprise announcement in February that he would not seek re-election set in motion a field of 13 candidates in the Republican primary, seven of them from Memphis.
Kustoff’s closest competitor proved to be former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell the only other primary contender above 10,000 votes. State Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown finished fourth followed by Jackson businessman Brad Greer and Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood.
None of the elected officials running gave up their current positions to run for Congress.
Flinn, who self-financed his campaign to the tune of $2.5 million out of $2.9 million total he reported in his campaign finance report at the end of June, was in the lead as the first votes outside Shelby County began to roll in. But that changed dramatically when the Shelby County early vote came in with Kustoff leading, followed by Luttrell and then Flinn.
Flinn’s self-financed campaign which was dominated by television advertising that began early and continued as the other contenders joined the move to the airwaves, was a contrast to Kustoff and Kelsey who each reported raising under $1 million to the end of June.
When a Nashville-based “dark money” group called “Power of Liberty” entered the campaign in its later stages with attack ads and mailers on Flinn, Kelsey Greer and Luttrell, the public face of the campaign took a turn from ads in which each candidate claimed political outsider status.
With all precincts in the 8th District reporting, the unofficial totals are:
•Kustoff 16,886 (27.4 percent)
•Flinn 14,197 (23 percent)
•Luttrell 10,878 (17.6 percent)
•Kelsey 7,941 (12.9 percent)
•Greer 6,819 (11 percent)
•Leatherwood 2,620 (4.2 percent)
“This race is half over,” Kustoff said Thursday evening, referring to Democratic nominee Hobson, a Delta Air Lines employee from Somerville. “We’re not going to take anything for granted.”
But total turnout in the Democratic primary contest between Hobson and Gregory Alan Frye was 14,185 compared to a turnout of 61,522 in the Republican primary.
This is Kustoff’s second bid for Congress. He ran unsuccessfully in the 2002 Republican primary in the old 7th Congressional district that then included parts of Shelby County. The 2002 campaign featured several other Shelby County candidates who cancelled each other out at the ballot box with Williamson County Republican Marsha Blackburn claiming the primary and the seat in the general election.
In the 9th Congressional District, which is all within the borders of Shelby County, incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen coasted to victory in what was the easiest campaign he has had since claiming the open Congressional seat in 2006.
Shelby County Commissioner Justin Ford was Cohen’s closest competitor with Cohen claiming 35,628 of the 41,703 votes cast in the Democratic primary.
Cohen meets Republican nominee Wayne Alberson of Memphis in November. Alberson ran unopposed in Thursday’s GOP primary in the heavily Democratic Congressional district.
Curry Todd’s 18-year run on Capitol Hill in Nashville came to an end just two days after he was arrested on a theft warrant – accused and recorded removing Lovell’s campaign signs in Collierville weeks earlier. Lovell, the founder of the Delta Fair and other fairs across the country as well as trade shows, posted Todd’s bail.
Todd has said he had permission from the property owner to put his campaign signs on the property and also had permission to remove the signs of rival candidates.
Todd was vulnerable because of an earlier drunk driving and firearms arrest in Nashville in 2011 to which he pleaded guilty.
There were other challenges within the Shelby County delegation that were won by incumbents.
The closest was the State House District 90 Democratic primary in which incumbent John Deberry beat Tami Sawyer, a Black Lives Matter activist who led the city’s original BLM protests in 2014. Deberry won by 639 votes in a race that drew 4,824 votes.
Deberry has no Republican opposition in November.
State House District 85 Democratic incumbent Johnnie R. Turner easily beat primary challenger Keith Williams in a nearly 5,200 vote contest. Turner has no Republican challenger in November.
Same song, second verse for State House District 98 Democratic incumbent Antonio Parkinson who defeated challenger Johnnie Hatten handily in a 3,609 vote primary. There is no Republican candidate in the November general election in District 98.
And State Senate District 30 Democratic incumbent Sara Kyle easily defeated former state Sen. Beverly Marrero in a 10,000 vote contest. Kyle has no Republican challenger in November.
The nonpartisan race for Chancellor Part 3 was a hard-fought campaign in which Newsom had the endorsement of the local Republican Party. Jenkins campaigned hard, including radio advertisements that are not commonly used in judicial races and a hand-to-hand campaign presence in the summer heat that was hard to match.
Attorney David Ferguson was also a factor, competing with Newsom for the Republican vote.
Jenkins serves through the 2022 “big ballot” judicial elections, completing an eight-year term of office.
Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Smith, another Haslam vacancy appointee this year, also serves through the 2022 elections after easily defeating Michael Floyd in a contest that drew 74,131 voters countywide.
Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton won another four-year term of office Thursday defeating Republican challenger and Probate Court Clerk’s office accountant Richard Morton as well as independent perennial independent candidate William Chism in the only countywide election that was not a race for judge.
Stanton won the Democratic nomination and Morton the Republican nomination in March.
The only one of the five Shelby County Schools board races on Thursday’s ballot that was contested ended with the re-election of District 3 incumbent Stephanie Love over Sharon Fields by 990 votes in a contest that drew 5,438 voters.
And Bartlett Municipal Court Judge Tim Francavilla easily won election Thursday over challenger Henry Miller in a 6,430 vote contest.