GOP Takes Aim at Fincher’s Primary Opponent in Tennessee

Posted April 2, 2010 at 5:00am

Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., who have spent months lauding the candidacy of farmer Stephen Fincher in Tennessee’s 8th district are now beginning to attack his primary opponents in the battleground open-seat race.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who was in west Tennessee to campaign with Fincher this week, on Thursday criticized physician Ron Kirkland (R) for what he believes to be Kirkland’s conflicting views on the recently passed health care bill. He also panned Kirkland for not having the courage to get into the 8th district race until after Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) announced he was retiring. The National Republican Congressional Committee, where Westmoreland serves as a vice chairman, recruited Fincher to run well before Tanner made his retirement plans known in December. a

Westmoreland’s comments came on the same day that Fincher released his first television ad of the campaign. The 30-second spot, complete with inspirational music, is an introductory piece that discusses the need to repeal “Obamacare” and shows Fincher at a rally discussing how he wasn’t afraid to stand up to Tanner. Fincher doesn’t mention either of his primary opponents in the ad, which is running on cable television district wide and on network television in the Jackson market.

Fincher’s opponents say that they are noticing a pattern and that Fincher is letting his supporters in the state party and on Capitol Hill do his political dirty work for him on the campaign trail.

“I don’t understand why the candidate is not speaking,” Kirkland said Thursday. “Congressmen and political kingmakers in Jackson are speaking for him.”

But Westmoreland indicated that Kirkland should worry more about his own words and deeds.

“It seems this Dr. Kirkland was for the health care plan before he was against the health care plan,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland was referring to comments Kirkland made at a July 4, 2009, tea party event in Jackson, where Kirkland indicated he was in agreement with “most of what’s contained” in the version of the health care bill that was working its way through the Senate Finance Committee at the time with “the singular exception of the public health care option.”

“If I was a doctor, it would be hard for me to explain to my patients why I was willing to put the government between me and them,” Westmoreland said.

Kirkland said he had several concerns with the Senate Finance Committee version of the health care bill when he made his speech at the tea party rally but that he didn’t have the time to touch on them all.

“I was allotted five minutes, and that’s not a long time, and the public option was No. 1 on the hit list,” Kirkland said.

Kirkland also pointed out that the version of the bill that was passed in the House last month is not the same bill that he was discussing at that speech.

Westmoreland also hit Kirkland for some of his previous political donations including thousands of dollars in contributions to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) made by the American Medical Group Association when Kirkland was chairman of the organization.

“AMGA wants to be close to all the leaders in Congress who are making the laws of the land,” Kirkland said when asked about the contributions.

Westmoreland’s focus on Kirkland is likely a sign that party strategists view him as the bigger threat to Fincher in the primary than Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, who is also in the GOP contest. Kirkland is expected to show a strong quarter after raising more than $365,000 for his bid in January.

A primary reason Fincher became one of the NRCC’s top recruits this cycle is that he’s proven to be a prolific fundraiser. Westmoreland said that Fincher — who had raised more than $627,000 for his campaign as of Dec. 31 — will show more than $1 million raised in his upcoming Federal Election Commission report.

Fincher, a political newcomer who is best known for his family gospel singing group, will likely need all the cash he can get to introduce himself across the sprawling district that covers multiple media markets.

The winner of the GOP primary is all but certain to face state Sen. Roy Herron (D), who ended his gubernatorial bid to run for Tanner’s seat.

Kirkland said he believes the national party’s increasing involvement in the primary will eventually backfire on Fincher.

“Congressman Westmoreland is a Washington insider who is bringing himself to west Tennessee to try to tell west Tennesseans how to vote, and I don’t agree with that,” he said.

Asked if his comments Thursday should be construed as being the official position of the NRCC, Westmoreland said, “I’m speaking on behalf of myself and the other Members of Congress who have contributed to Stephen’s Fincher’s campaign.”

Among the Members who have given to Fincher through their political action committees are House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and NRCC Vice Chairman Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).