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Fincher, Cohen Win Big in Tennessee

Updated: Aug. 6, 12:06 a.m.

Farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher cruised to victory Thursday in Tennessee’s 8th district GOP primary, setting up a November showdown with state Sen. Roy Herron in what is expected to be among the most competitive open-seat races in the country.

Fincher won 50 percent of the vote against physician Ron Kirkland and Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn in what has become the most expensive race in the country so far this cycle. Roughly $7 million was spent in the Republican primary among the candidates and outside groups. Flinn spent close to $3 million of his own money on the contest, and Kirkland benefited from well over $1 million in independent expenditures from a group run by his brother.

But Fincher, who hails from Frog Jump, Tenn., was recruited into the race early, and his fundraising was boosted by support from national GOP leaders and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The committee wasted little time before crowing about his victory Tuesday night.

“Stephen Fincher proved tonight why he’s one of the best candidates in the country — he was outspent by $5 million but prevailed by a two-to-one margin against formidable opposition,” NRCC spokesman Andy Seré said in a statement.

Fincher and Herron are vying to replace retiring Rep. John Tanner (D) in a conservative district that John McCain won by 13 points in the 2008 presidential election.

In the only other race that has the potential to be competitive this fall, Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) will face physician Scott DesJarlais (R) in the 4th district. DesJarlais defeated lawyer Jack Bailey and several other contenders.

Elsewhere in Tennessee primary results Thursday, Rep. Steve Cohen easily dispatched former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in the 9th district Democratic race. Cohen won 79 percent of the vote to 21 percent for Herenton.

Cohen, who is white, first won the majority-black, Memphis-based district in 2006, and race has been the focus of his two primaries since then. After handily defeating lawyer Nikki Tinker in the 2008 contest, this cycle Cohen got the endorsement of President Barack Obama and support from the Congressional Black Caucus, which saw some of its members aid Tinker in 2008.

Cohen is considered a lock to win a third term in the overwhelmingly Democratic district in November.

Meanwhile, the Republican primaries in two open-seat races Thursday essentially decided who the next Member will be in each district.

In the 3rd district, lawyer Chuck Fleischmann narrowly defeated former state GOP Chairwoman Robin Smith in the race to succeed Rep. Zach Wamp (R). Wamp finished second in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary.

While Smith led early on, Fleischmann later pulled ahead and won 30 percent to 28 percent for Smith. The contest was intensely personal and negative, and both Smith and Fleischmann drew endorsements from a wide variety of national GOP figures. Several GOP Congressional leaders, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), backed Smith. Fleischmann’s biggest endorsement came from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who also appeared in a commercial for his campaign.

In the open-seat 6th district race, state Sen. Diane Black eked out a victory over former Rutherford County GOP Chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik and state Sen. Jim Tracy. Black won 31 percent compared with 30 percent for Zelenik and 30 percent for Tracy.

The winner of the primary is the odds-on favorite to succeed retiring Rep. Bart Gordon and flip the Democratic-held seat to the GOP column. National Democrats have made no noise about making a serious attempt to hold this district in November.

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