Five Republicans enter 8th District congressional campaign

Within hours after U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher announced he won’t seek reelection to the 8th Congressional District seat, five prominent West Tennessee Republicans announced they would go for it, reports Michael Collins.

They are, so far: state Sen. Brian Kelsey, former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, Memphis radiologist George Flinn, Shelby County Register of Deeds Tom Leatherwood and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar.

Roy Herron, former state senator and Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, who lost to Fincher in 2010, says he’s thinking about a run on the Democratic side.

“Yes, I’m in,” Kelsey announced on Twitter, complete with a logo that declared “Kelsey for Congress.”

In an interview, Kelsey, who has served as state senator for the past nine years and was in the state House for five years before that, said he is running because he wants to shake up Washington.

“I think the people of the 8th District really want someone who’s going to go to Washington to shake things up, and I think I have a solid record of having done that in Nashville and of accomplishing things in Nashville,” he said.

Kustoff, who served for two years as U.S. attorney for West Tennessee before stepping down in 2008, said in a statement that the 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.”

Flinn, who ran for the seat in 2010 but lost to Fincher, also announced his candidacy on Twitter, saying “the people of our community deserve great leadership.”

Flinn also ran successfully against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2014 and against Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District two years before that. He said in an interview that the country is heading in the wrong direction, and he wants to change that.

Leatherwood, who served in the state Senate and has been the Register of Deeds for 15 years, called himself “a tested conservative.” He ran in the 7th Congressional District in 2008 but lost to Marsha Blackburn.

Basar, who had considered a run in the 9th District, said he wants to work to bring better job opportunities to Shelby County and that with so much partisanship in Washington, he will be able to work with both sides of the aisle. “I do that now on the Shelby County Commission,” he said.

So far, no Democrats have jumped into the race. But Roy Herron, a former state senator and Democratic Party chairman who lost to Fincher in 2010, said he has gotten a lot of calls from people encouraging him to run and he will “make a decision in the near future.”

Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said Democrats have always had deep roots in West Tennessee and are excited about the race.

Fincher’s district takes in much of West Tennessee, including Memphis’ eastern suburbs. The primary election for the district is set for Aug. 4.