Kustoff wins 8th District GOP nomination

Former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff defeated 12 opponents to capture the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 8th Congressional district Thursday night, all but guaranteeing that he will go to Washington to succeed Stephen Fincher in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

With all 15 of the 8th District’s counties reporting, Kustoff had 27 percent of the vote outdistancing the other candidates…. He’s expected to easily win the Nov. 8 general election in the heavily Republican district.

“I’m very proud of the campaign that we ran and the volunteers all across the 15 counties in the district. It’s very humbling,” Kustoff said in a brief interview late Thursday. “And I’m going to work hard to make sure that I’m the congressman for the 8th District come November.”

What set him apart? “Well, we had a good strong conservative message,” said Kustoff, 49. “We campaigned on national security, fighting terrorism, bolstering law enforcement, broadening the economy in the western district of Tennessee.”

Coming in second was George Flinn, a former Shelby County commissioner, radiologist and broadcast company owner who used millions of dollars of his own money to fund his campaign including purchasing significant amounts of TV airtime. He made a point of campaigning in rural areas and small towns. He picked up 23 percent of the vote districtwide.

Like many candidates in the race, Flinn, 72, positioned himself as a conservative. And he said his decision to fund his campaign meant he wouldn’t be influenced by special interests.

The result in the 8th Congressional District brought to a close a monthslong sprint in which candidates crisscrossed the West Tennessee district that includes much of East Memphis, area suburbs such as Collierville, and small towns and rural areas as far north as the Kentucky state line.

Fincher, the incumbent, is a farmer from a tiny community called Frog Jump in Crockett County. The dash for the Republican nomination began in February when Fincher announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. Within hours of Fincher’s announcement, candidates were leaping in to try for the open seat. The Republican primary matters because a redrawing of the district boundaries in 2010 made the district even more Republican-leaning.

Kustoff was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 as the top federal prosecutor in West Tennessee. He left in 2008 to return to private legal practice.

He was one of five candidates who raised enough money to buy TV ads, a factor that likely helped him stand out in the highly competitive race. His advertisements and public appearances portrayed him as a family man and law-and-order conservative. One Kustoff TV ad showed a tank flying a black Isis-style flag, then images of the recent mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

A narrator said, “Radical Islamic terrorism is invading our country and career politicians have done nothing. We need a strong, tough leader like David Kustoff who will fight back and keep us safe.”

A celebrity endorsement may have helped him as well: he campaigned shortly before the election with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had gained national recognition as a TV show host and presidential candidate. In one recent TV ad, Huckabee described Kustoff as “100 percent pro-life and 100 percent pro-gun.”

In third place was Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, with about 18 percent. He campaigned under the tag line “Honest. Dependable. Conservative.” He made a promise not to attack other Republicans in the race. He also worked to reach out to rural voters in the big district, highlighting his childhood and youth in places like Jackson and Bells, a small town.

Brad Greer, a Jackson businessman, campaigned to portray himself as the most serious candidate from outside Shelby County. But he won only 11 percent of the vote.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, likewise campaigned in rural and suburban areas and got 13 percent.

In the little-watched District 8 Democratic primary, Thursday, Rickey Hobson of Arlington defeated Gregory Alan Frye of Dyer County. Hobson faces long odds in November, as do the independent candidates in the race.

The independents are Shelia L. Godwin of Oakfield near Jackson, James Hart of Buchanan near the Kentucky state line, Adrian M. Montague and Mark J. Rawles of Jackson, and Karen Free Spirit Talley-Lane of Cedar Grove near Jackson.

Note: This updates, expands and replaces previous post.