George Flinn, who has waged several long-odds political races since he entered active politics a decade ago, relishes being an underdog. "I like the position, because it gives me fight. It gives me motivation. This is the United States. Everybody roots for the underdog."
Flinn, the well-known radiologist/radio magnate, is now preparing to square off for a fall race against 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, and he is sure to enjoy underdog status once more against an incumbent who has dusted off his last several opponents, both Democratic and Republican, at ratios of three or four to one.
Flinn has had his successes, of course. In 2004, he succeeded in convincing the members of the Shelby County Commission that he, and not any of several other worthy applicants, was the right choice to fill a commission vacancy. And in 2006, Flinn had the satisfaction of being one of the few commissioners to be reelected without opposition. But before and after those milestones, he took on some serious challenges, indeed. As a political novice in 2002, GOP nominee Flinn lost badly to Democrat A C Wharton in that year's race for Shelby County mayor.
In 2010, Flinn, a late entry in a GOP primary contest that main rival Stephen Fincher had a full year's head start in, finished out of the money — perhaps not the most apt metaphor, given that the independently wealthy Flinn spent some $3 million-plus of his own resources in a mainly self-financed race.
That three-way primary contest involving Flinn, Fincher, and Ron Kirkland may have been the nation's most heated in 2010. It certainly was the most expensive, as all three main candidates unloosed abundant cash.
Many things are different for Flinn in 2012 — beginning with his profession of having become "fast friends" with first-term congressman Fincher, whom many thought he might challenge again, considering that the latest redistricting brought the 8th District down into wide swaths of eastern Shelby County. "I look forward to going to Congress and working with people like Stephen," Flinn said.
And Flinn, whose son Shea Flinn is a member of the Memphis City Council and a Democrat, is unlikely to employ the partisan rhetoric against Cohen that was characteristic of that 2010 GOP donnybrook. Though it has been shorn of huge hunks of East Memphis, the 9th District is still based on Midtown, hardly a Republican stronghold, and African Americans, historically Democratic voters, still constitute some 61 percent of the district's population.
Does Flinn really think he can win in the 9th, where he now maintains his residence? "The new 9th District is a different ball game. I've looked at it. I wouldn't be in this if I didn't think I could win. This is going to be about issues." And his main issues are going to be the need for serious health-care reform, the district's high unemployment, and the need to buttress small business.
"Republicans and Democrats and independents in the new District 9 are all concerned about these things. And who better to deal with them than somebody who is a doctor and has been a small businessman himself?" Flinn said.
And he believes that the addition of significant portions of Cordova to the 9th, along with the district's expansion into parts of northern Shelby County that Flinn served as county commissioner from District 1, give him fertile new territories. Meanwhile, Flinn has an opponent in the Republican primary — Charlotte Bergman — who is making her second run in the 9th. Cohen, too, faces opposition in the Democratic primary from Tomeka Hart and possibly from Thomas Long.
Presuming that Flinn and Cohen get past their primary challenges, the stage would be set for another high-profile contest in the 9th Congressional District, which has seen its share over the years.