Campaign season brings change to congressional race; voter turnout increases

By Grace Ferrell

Thanksgiving will not be the only holiday on the minds of West Tennesseans this November as Election Day will end a historic campaign season for the state and its 8th Congressional District.

Rep. John Tanner’s, D-Tenn., resignation, after holding the seat since 1989, marked the beginning of the season’s turmoil. The country’s disfavor with current leadership was highlighted in the district as three strong Republican candidates emerged — Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland and George Flinn.

“Open seats do not come around often. With the unpopularity of Obama and the Democrats, Republicans thought they had a good chance of winning, which brings out strong candidates,” said Sean Evans, associate professor of political science and department chair.

Shortly into the season, the amount of money being put into each of the men’s campaigns started raising some eyebrows. Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District is distinctly rural and experiencing just as many financial problems during the current recession as any other part of the country.

Nevertheless, by the time the primary rolled around the district had spent more money on a U.S. House of Representative election than any other congressional district in the nation: $5.2 million.

Personal wealth aided the inflated sum, with candidates like Flinn donating as much as $2.9 million to his own campaign, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission.

“Fincher had Washington help in raising money, and Kirkland had strong ties to the establishment and could donate from his own wealth,” Evans said. “Plus, Kirkland’s brother, another millionaire, spent on his brother’s behalf in independent expenditures. Flinn is a multi-millionaire and could sell a radio station to fund his campaign.”

With the majority of the competition occurring between the Republican candidates, Democrat candidate Roy Herron was left to bide his time until the primary had past. However, as soon as Fincher was dubbed the Republican candidate on Aug. 5, Herron sprung into action with a TV ad running several times during the night.

“The Democrats would have had more candidates but Roy Herron had put together a campaign organization to run for governor and raised almost $1 million,” Evans said. “When he switched from governor to U.S. House, he brought those advantages to the race, which put him far ahead of those Democrats who would be starting from scratch.”

Negativity among candidates of the same party swiftly became another issue drawing attention to this season’s election. Each day, voters in the 8th district were bombarded with multiple mailouts and TV advertisements.

“All campaigns are negative. If you are behind, you attack to bring down support from the frontrunner.  If you are the frontrunner and someone is gaining on you, you attack to blunt their momentum,” Evans said. “It’s basic campaign strategy.”

State Republicans are eager to snatch up the governor seat as well with current governor Phil Bredesen facing term limits. Republican candidate Bill Haslam, current mayor of Knoxville, is battling for the position against Democrat candidate Mike McWherter.

Early and absentee voting turned out a record number of voters when 543,296 votes were cast across Tennessee, according to reports from the Tennessee Department of State. Republicans dominated the voting box with 344,063 votes being cast in favor of the Republicans versus 170,938 Democrat votes.

“This is a wave election — just like 2006 and 2008 — but this wave is pounding the Democrats,” Evans said. “The opposition to Democrats for going too far to the left will most likely cost them the 8th Congressional District.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.