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VOL. 133 | NO. 4 | Thursday, January 4, 2018

Candidates in August State and Federal Primaries Start Pulling Petitions Friday

By Bill Dries

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Contenders for the May Shelby County primaries are still coming out of the political woodwork. And starting Friday, Jan. 5, candidates in the August state and federal primaries can begin pulling qualifying petitions for the second of three elections in 2018.

The deadline for candidates in the county primaries to file with the Shelby County Election Commission is noon Feb. 15.

Those running in the August state and federal primaries have until noon April 5 to file their paperwork.

The August primaries will feature 14 state House seats that represent Shelby County in Nashville and four of the six state Senate seats that cover Shelby County.

That includes an anticipated special primary on the August ballot for the District 32 state Senate seat currently held by Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

Norris was nominated by President Donald Trump last year to be a U.S. District judge. His nomination cleared the U.S. Sen. Judiciary Committee last month and is awaiting a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

In state Senate District 29, Democratic incumbent Lee Harris is running for Shelby County mayor and is not seeking re-election.

The open Senate seat has created a potential ripple effect for new faces in the Shelby delegation. District 91 Democratic state Rep. Raumesh Akbari announced last month she is exploring a run for the Senate seat. That was followed by Young Democrats activist London Lamar announcing she is exploring a run for Akbari’s House seat.

The two other state Senate incumbents from Shelby County – Democrat Reginald Tate and Republican Brian Kelsey – are each expected to seek another four-year term in the upper chamber.

In the 2016 elections, Democrats posted a net gain of one seat in the Shelby County House delegation when Democrat Dwayne Thompson upset Republican Steve McManus in state House District 95, which takes in part of the predominantly Republican suburbs outside of Memphis.

The Democratic victory means the Shelby House delegation consists of 10 Democrats and four Republicans.

Thompson is a long-time member of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s executive committee. Local Democrats have been preaching that Thompson’s unexpected win is a path to making inroads in the suburbs and other areas Democrats in recent years have not even tried to compete.

“Dwayne worked his butt off. Dwayne knocked on doors. Dwayne knew that community,” said Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong. “Dwayne understood the demographics. In Cordova, a lot of those people now know Dwayne Thompson because he’s come to them consistently. We are going to try to expand that and scale that up across the county with good candidates.”

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lee Mills agrees that Thompson outworked McManus, who prior to seeking re-election in 2016 had thought out loud about not running for another two-year term.

But beyond that, Mills says there are some important distinctions that make the victory one of a kind.

“They got a lot of outside influence from the national party, from the state party,” Mills said. “They did it right because they won.”

But Mills says some of that was the element of surprise.

“They were blind-sided,” Mills said of Republicans. “They didn’t expect so much resistance as they got. And Democrats took one from us. But I think we can take that one back.”

Republican leaders, including Mills and Tennessee Republican Party chairman Scott Golden, were vocal in 2017 that Republicans would have to be vigilant in last year’s special election to fill the District 95 state House seat made vacant by the sudden resignation of Republican Mark Lovell of Eads.

Lovell, who upset Republican incumbent Curry Todd in the 2016 elections, resigned six weeks into his term of office in 2017 after he was accused of sexually touching a women in Nashville. Lovell has denied any wrongdoing. But a House investigation before his resignation concluded he did what he was accused of doing.

Mills and Golden warned Democrats would use the scandal to make further inroads.

Democrats put a lot of effort behind the candidacy of Democrat Julie Byrd Ashworth in the 2017 special election. But Republican Kevin Vaughan of Collierville won the special general election handily in the district that includes Collierville, Germantown and Eads.

Allan H. Creasy, who was a field organizer for Byrd-Ashworth’s campaign and a canvasser for Thompson’s effort, has already announced he will be running in the Democratic primary for state House District 97, the seat currently held by Republican Jim Coley.

There are likely to be some primary challenges on the August ballot as well, particularly in the Democratic primaries after the party’s reorganization last year.

Veteran District 86 Democratic state Rep. Barbara Cooper is being challenged in the August primaries by political newcomer Amber Huett-Garcia, whose background before coming to Memphis including working in Illinois state government.


Topping the August primary ballot are statewide contests on the ballot this year – the race for Tennessee governor and the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Bob Corker.

Corker announced last year he would not be seeking re-election. Incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is term limited in his second term of office as governor.

The Republican primary for governor is a six-candidate affair so far. And it mirrors a hard-fought three-way GOP primary for governor in 2010 that Haslam emerged from to win the general election.

The Republican cause elsewhere on the ballot could benefit from a strong turnout to decide that contested primary.

By contrast, the U.S. Senate race looks in its early stages to be narrowing to a November general election contest between Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. The race is one of several Senate races nationally that could determine whether the narrow Republic majority in the Senate remains or becomes a Democratic majority.

Also on the August ballot are primaries for the two congressional seats covering Shelby County, with Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen of Memphis in the 9th District and Republican incumbent David Kustoff of Germantown in the 8th District expected to seek re-election.

Cohen’s district is completely within the boundaries of Shelby County. Kustoff’s district includes parts of East Memphis and eastern Shelby County as well as 14 counties in rural West Tennessee.

Kustoff is serving his first two-year term in the 8th District. Cohen is currently serving his sixth term in the 9th District.

Joining primary candidates on the August ballot will be winners of the May county primaries and those running for nonpartisan judicial vacancies that have been filled by interim appointments by the governor. Additionally, candidates running for four of the nine nonpartisan positions on the Shelby County Schools board are on the ballot in this even-year election cycle.

Friday is also the first day for candidates in suburban municipal races on the November ballot to pull petitions. Candidates in those races in Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington have until noon Aug. 16 to file their qualifying petitions.

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