In rapid-fire succession on Monday, the outlook for this year’s race for the 8th District congressional seat transformed itself from a ho-hum incumbency-reelection effort into what is certain to be a hard-fought free-for-all.
First came word from Washington that the surprise announcement that incumbent Republican congressman Stephen Fincher would be bowing out after completing the present term, his third.
Said Fincher: “I have decided not to seek re-election to the 8th Congressional District seat this year,” the three-term Republican congressman said in a statement. “I am humbled by the opportunity to serve the people of West Tennessee, but I never intended to become a career politician. The last six years have been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am honored to have been given the chance to serve.”
Then, almost instantaneously, came an announcement from radiologist/radio magnate George Flinn, who has sought the seat before, that he would be a candidate in the 8th this year.
Said Flinn, a former Shelby County Commissioner who would confide that he had intended to challenge for the seat even before Fincher’s announcement of withdrawal: “I have been traveling in West Tennessee for the past few months and listening to citizens talk about their lives and what is happening in our community. The overwhelming facts are that Congress has not been doing enough to address our needs. I have heard all of our concerns and I am convinced that we must act. We are headed in the wrong direction, but we can fix things. That is why I am running for US Congress in the 8th District of Tennessee.”
And, within minutes of that announcement,came one from former U.S. Atttorney David Kustoff, who had previously sought the 7th District congressional seat:
"I want to thank Congressman Fincher for his service to our country and for fighting for conservative values in Washington. I strongly believe our State deserves a Congressman who will continue the fight for Tennessee values and principles, and that is why I will be candidate for the 8th Congressional District. "
And, not long after that, came word from Shelby County Registrar Tom Leatherwood, who had also previously sought election from the 7th.
Said Leatherwood: "I am throwing my hat into the ring for the 8th congressional seat. I believe I have a very strong, proven conservative record which will resonate in the district, having served two terms in the state Senate, where I helped kill a state icome tax twice. I also served on the Senate Finance Committee, where we had to tell people No in order to balance the budget. This is the type of discipline I can bring to Washington."
And, not too long after that, came word that state Senator Brian Kelsey and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar intend to seek the seat as well. It seems likely there may be more to be heard from other would-be claimants of the seat.
Neither Flinn's entry nor Kustoff's nor Leatherwood's might have been unexpected, given their prior attempts at congressional service. And Kelsey has long been expected to seek an open congressional seat. And Basar, who had already floated a trial balloon for a candidacy in the 90th District agaist incunbent Steve Cohen, a Democrat, said a race in the 8th, where his domicile is, seemed a more obvious route to Congress.
Besides running in the 8th District in 2010, when he finished third in a three-way GOP primary race, Flinn ran unsuccessfully in 2012 as the GOP nominee against 9th District incumbent Steve Cohen, a Democrat.
For his part, Kustoff sought the 7th District seat in a four-way GOP primary in 2002 that was won by current incumbent Marsha Blackburn. Reapportionment after 2010 transferred most of the Shelby County portion of the 7th district into the 8th.
Leatherwood points out that he won 62 percent of the Shelby County vote in a 2008 direct primary challenge to Rep. Blackburn and that his Senate district included Tipton and Lauderdale counties, which also are within the 8th District.
Stay tuned for more announcements and more updates from and about candidates.