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Tennessee’s 8th district GOP primary is shaping up to be more than just an unusually expensive intraparty fight. It’s become a marquee race that carries high risk and the potential of a big reward for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

First, the risk.

Farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher (R), who has become a poster boy for NRCC recruitment efforts this cycle, is locked in an extremely competitive race in the western Tennessee seat of retiring Rep. John Tanner (D).

Fincher, a first-time candidate whose very first visit to Washington, D.C., came in December after Tanner announced his retirement, has been hailed by national Republicans as a modern day Mr. Smith. He wants to go to Washington to take the government back from overreaching and overspending Democrats.

“This guy embodies the spirit of what I think this election is going to be about,” NRCC Recruiting Chairman Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said of Fincher in a Washington Post story in January.

Fincher was an early beneficiary of donations from top GOP leaders and was named to the highest level of the NRCC’s three-tiered candidate program in late June.

If, after all that, Fincher loses, he will go down beside Idaho Republican Vaughn Ward as another much-hyped candidate who couldn’t make it through primary season. It would be an embarrassment to national Republicans, regardless of the fact that Fincher is facing a pair of well-funded primary challengers who have each dwarfed the total spending in the Idaho primary that state Rep. Raul Labrador (R) won.

Now, the reward.

If Fincher can hang on, and internal polls from Fincher and his two top competitors show him leading or tied for the lead, than the NRCC will declare Fincher a major recruiting success story this cycle.

In a race that a year ago looked like a safe Democratic seat, the NRCC will have taken a first-time candidate with zero name recognition outside the West Tennessee gospel community and shepherded him to the nomination. At that point, Fincher’s victory would be enhanced by the fact that his primary opponents and outside interest groups spent more than $5.5 million trying to defeat him.

“If he does win, it will give [the NRCC] a ton more equity next year in races that look tough from the start,” one GOP consultant said Wednesday.

The NRCC tried to tamp down expectations on Wednesday.

“Stephen probably has the edge, but anything can happen in primaries,” spokesman Andy Seré said Wednesday. “He’s run a remarkably resilient campaign despite being outspent more than 5 to 1 by the rest of the field. Should he come out on top next week against all odds, this race will instantly become one of our top pickup opportunities in the country.”

Democrats say that regardless of what happens in the Aug. 5 GOP primary, they’ll have the upper hand in November with state Sen. Roy Herron, who has socked away $1.2 million for the fall campaign.

“Fincher’s loss would clearly mean the NRCC is stuck with a nominee that they think can’t win,” said Jesse Ferguson of the DCCC, “and his victory would mean they’re stuck with a broke nominee tarred by millions of dollars in hard-hitting negative attacks on his character and credibility run by other Republicans.”

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