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Tennessee Voter Guide for Thursday Primaries

Creative Commons

Tennessee voters go to the polls Thursday to decide the Republican and Democratic nominees for Congress and the state Legislature.

With the GOP holding wide majorities in both the congressional delegation and the Tennessee General Assembly, many of the most spirited primary contests are among Republican candidates.



Three-term U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher's decision to retire from his 8th Congressional District seat this spring set off a frenzy of activity to succeed him in the heavily Republican district ranging from suburban Memphis through rural northwestern Tennessee.

The most active candidates have been radio station owner George Flinn of Memphis, state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff of Germantown and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell of Memphis.

The race has also drawn spending from two outside groups: The American Conservative Union has spent about $130,000 to support Kelsey, while the Win for America PAC has spent about the same to oppose Flinn.

Flinn unsuccessfully ran for the 8th District nomination in 2010 and for several other offices since. He has mostly self-funded his bid with a $2.7 million loan to his campaign.


U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Diane Black are facing Republican primary challenges from candidates trying to position themselves to the right of the incumbents.

Former state Rep. Joe Carr has taken to conservative talk radio to denounce Black as being part of the establishment in the 6th District running northeast from the Nashville suburbs toward the Cumberland Plateau. Black has shot back that Carr doesn't live inside the district boundaries and that he has become a perennial candidate for any open public office.

DesJarlais has been considered vulnerable ever since it was revealed that he once urged a mistress to seek an abortion and that he once held a gun in his mouth for hours outside his ex-wife's room. DesJarlais, who defeated a 2014 primary challenge by just 38 votes, has denounced this year's challenger, attorney Grant Starrett, as an out-of-state "trust fund millionaire." Starrett has loaned his campaign nearly $900,000.


Voters will have the choice to retain or replace three new Supreme Court justices — Jeff Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger Page — and seven other appeals court judges. Only one justice has ever been unseated in a Tennessee retention election, and there has been no concerted effort this year to oust anyone from the bench.


Embattled state Rep. Jeremy Durham has suspended his campaign amid a flood of sexual harassment allegations outlined in a state attorney general's report, but he remains on the primary ballot. Legislative Republicans have begun to rally behind Durham opponent Sam Whitson, a retired Army colonel. The Williamson County seat is among 31 contested Republican races throughout the state. There are also 16 contested Democratic races.


There are seven contested Republican primaries in the upper chamber of the General Assembly and three contested Democratic primaries. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey's retirement from his northeastern Tennessee seat means there will be at least one new senator this fall. The Republican candidates include state Rep. Jon Lundberg, former state Rep. Tony Shipley and former University of Tennessee football player Neal Kerney.

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