VOL. 131 | NO. 24 | Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Contenders Emerge for Fincher’s Seat
By Bill Dries
The line for the 8th Congressional District seat began forming within half an hour of incumbent Stephen Fincher’s announcement Monday, Feb. 1, that he would not seek re-election in the August primaries.
And it formed in Shelby County with a set of five contenders who almost certainly will be joined by challengers from elsewhere in the predominantly rural West Tennessee district.
Former county commissioner George Flinn was the first to say he would run for the open seat. His announcement was followed closely by four others – state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, attorney and former Shelby County Republican Party chairman David Kustoff, Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood and county commissioner Steve Basar – all within three hours of Fincher’s announcement.
Flinn, Kustoff and Leatherwood all have run for Congress before under different district boundary lines.
Flinn sought the 8th District seat in the 2010 Republican primary, a hard-fought contest that Fincher won before easily defeating Democratic nominee Roy Herron in the general election. Herron had planned to run for governor but switched to the congressional race after Democratic incumbent John Tanner announced he would not seek re-election.
Fincher’s election marked the first time since the 1950s that the 8th District seat had been won by a Republican.
Kustoff, also a former U.S. Attorney, and Leatherwood, a former state senator, ran alongside then-Memphis City Council member Brent Taylor in the 2002 Republican primary for the 7th District, which at the time included parts of Shelby County within its borders.
All three lost to Marsha Blackburn, the only major contender in the race who wasn’t from the Memphis area. Blackburn, who’s from the Nashville area, went on to win the general election, taking the seat that Republican Ed Bryant gave up to run for the U.S. Senate.
With the Tennessee Legislature’s reapportionment of congressional districts following the 2010 U.S. Census, the 7th District no longer includes parts of Shelby County. The 8th District takes in parts of East Memphis and Cordova, while the 9th District – represented by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen – covers the bulk of Memphis plus parts of northern Shelby County into Frayser that once were part of the 8th.
Kelsey isn’t risking his Senate seat by running for Congress since his Senate seat isn’t on the ballot again until 2018.
Basar, who had been considering a change of address to run in the Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District, decided to instead stay where he is and run in the 8th.
Like Kelsey and Leatherwood, Basar doesn’t give up his elected position in the bid.
“I’ve been looking at serving as a congressman as the next step,” Basar said of his entry into the crowded race, which he sees as an advantage. “I think it’s a good thing for me. It will make it a little more competitive and I’ll have to get out there and campaign hard.”