The AP Report on 8th Congressional District Race

By Adrian Sainz
JACKSON, Tenn. — Democrat Roy Herron has gone small-town as he distances himself from President Barack Obama in his campaign for the open congressional seat in West Tennessee’s 8th district.
Herron likes to tell voters he’s a truck-driving, shotgun-shooting, Bible-reading, family-loving country boy.
Republican Stephen Fincher — a farmer, gospel singer and political newcomer — has worked to tap into voter disapproval of Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He’s been airing a television ad that shows Herron’s photo sandwiched between pictures of the two Washington Democrats, with the statement “He’ll make things worse.”
Herron says he hasn’t asked for the president’s support, nor does he expect it. He says he won’t vote for Pelosi for House speaker.
“My opponent wants to run against a woman from California and an African-American from Chicago, but Stephen Fincher ought to man up and run against a country boy from Weakley County, Tennessee,” Herron said.
Fincher and Herron are both running against Washington as they seek to fill the seat being vacated by 11-term Democrat John Tanner, who is retiring. The race is being closely watched. The district, which covers many small towns, is one of about 50 that elected a Democrat to Congress while backing Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.

Like many Democratic congressional candidates in the South, Herron has sought to show his independence from party leaders as recession-weary voters appear to be souring on the Democrats.
Herron, 57, portrays himself as the ideal candidate for small-town voters, but he’s also a lawyer and longtime state senator from Dresden.
Fincher, meanwhile, stresses that he’s a farmer and businessman who lives in the tiny community of Frog Jump and sings gospel music at church. The 37-year-old criticizes “career Washington politicians” and supports term limits, yet he is getting support from the National Republican Congressional Committee and recently told voters he plans to serve for 12 years.
Two independent candidates are also running: Donn Janes, a computer consultant and tea party favorite who could draw votes from the Republican, and Mark Rawles, a businessman who says he’s against big government.
According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Herron had taken in $2.47 million as of Oct. 13 and had $426,600 on hand and $250,000 in debt. Fincher had taken in $2.52 million and had $326,600 on hand and $250,000 in debt.
Herron has criticized Fincher for loaning his campaign $250,000 but listing no major assets on his congressional candidate disclosure forms. He argues that the paucity of details, plus Fincher’s refusal to debate, show a lack of transparency.
“If you send me to Washington … I won’t be afraid to debate, I won’t be afraid to be open and honest with you,” Herron told about 50 people at a candidates forum in Jackson, which Fincher did not attend.
Fincher says he’s filled out all the documents “in good faith,” and says Herron is desperately attacking him because he’s behind in polls.
“It is a fair question from the voters to know who their candidates are and for them to be clear and up front, and I will address all the questions that my opponent has charged me with” after the election, Fincher said. “The loan is legal.”
On the issues, Herron and Fincher agree jobs is a big concern. The Democrat says he will seek to improve infrastructure in West Tennessee and introduce legislation to repeal or reform the 16-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which he says exports too many jobs abroad.
“As this economy comes back, and it will, I am most optimistic and extraordinarily hopeful that West Tennessee will be a great place for job creation,” Herron said before the Lane College debate, which Janes and Rawles attended.
Fincher’s answer to job creation in rural Tennessee is less government. He said he opposes financial bailouts and over-regulation of small businesses.
“It’s our government, just leave us alone and … let the free market create the jobs,” Fincher said before a chicken dinner with Republicans in Brighton.
The health care overhaul is another issue in the district. Fincher wants it repealed, saying it costs too much money and is unconstitutional. He’s accused “big-shot congressmen” of creating a health care plan without listening to the right health care professionals.
Herron says he supports some of the reforms, including the provision barring insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
He also accuses Fincher of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” when it comes to health care, though Fincher does acknowledge the benefit of the pre-existing condition provision.
Like some other Republican candidates, Fincher backs abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. He says he favors shifting control of schools to states and local school districts.
Herron supports the federal government’s “Race to the Top” program, which is delivering $500 million to Tennessee to improve failing schools.
Both candidates are focusing on their personal stories. Despite his experience in courtrooms and more than two decades in the Legislature, Herron plays up the country boy image, telling a reporter that his family began farming in Tennessee in the 1800s. He also has the National Rifle Association’s endorsement.
“I’m just as rural as he is,” Herron said. Then he makes a point about a notable gaffe by Fincher, who indicated to a reporter that he didn’t realize a sliver of Memphis is in the district. “I’ve also spent enough time in places like Clarksville and Jackson and Memphis to understand the problems of people who live in these cities.”
Fincher, whose slogan is “plow Congress,” prides himself in being a political neophyte. In his Brighton speech, Fincher said he was recruited to run for the seat by a friend and then by Republican operative Tommy Hopper.
Fincher says his opponent has been attacking his finances to avoid talking about issues — and falls short in another category.
“He’s trying to out-country me, and that’s impossible,” Fincher said. “He’s trying to be conservative now.”

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