MEMPHIS, Tenn. — U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher already has raised more than $900,000 for his re-election campaign, while Democrats are targeting his 8th District seat as they wait for a candidate to come forward.
Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, is wrapping up his first year in the GOP-controlled House. The freshman congressman has voted mostly along Republican party lines and received a prestigious committee promotion, while also building a bank account that places him in a strong position heading into the 2012 election.
With Tennessee's Republican-controlled General Assembly in charge of redistricting, Fincher's hold on the northwest Tennessee seat could get even tighter if lines are re-drawn to accommodate more Republicans and fewer Democrats in the district.
National Democrats, however, say Fincher can be beat in 2012. They claim he has turned his back on his soybean, corn and cotton farming district by moving from the Agriculture Committee to the big-bucks Financial Affairs Committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has blasted out several email attacks on Fincher, setting the groundwork for next year.
"Fincher Opposed $300,394 To Hire Tennessee Cops," says the headline of one e-mail. "Representative Fincher's Failure Creating Jobs," says another.
Fincher, who voted for House Speaker John Boehner's debt reduction bill and the repeal of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, doesn't agree that he's vulnerable.
"We'll have the funds we need to run a successful and aggressive campaign — which is why the Democrats won't target the 8th," Fincher wrote in an email interview with The Associated Press. "The same folks that brought me to the dance are continuing to support me."
During his campaign, Fincher played up his background as a farmer and church singer, portraying himself as the antithesis to the entrenched Washington politicians that tea party supporters disliked. He promised to come back to the district as much as possible while working to rein in government spending and fight tax increases in Washington.
Fincher also faced questions about his finances during the campaign after he was accused of misreporting the source of a $250,000 loan as coming from his personal funds, rather than from Gates Banking and Trust Co. He filed new information showing the loan was obtained from the bank after he won last November.
The Federal Election Commission deadlocked in July on whether Fincher should be penalized, but did agree that he improperly reported the loan. Republican members of the committee said campaign loan reporting is an issue that trips up many candidates.
The incident provided fodder for another Democratic email attack.
As of Sept. 30, Fincher has raised $943,564 for his re-election campaign, and currently has $765,231 cash on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The top three industries that have contributed to his campaign committee are crop production and basic processing, commercial banks, and insurance.
The total PAC money donated so far has been $303,973, with the most money coming from the finance, insurance and real estate sector.
"Congressman Fincher has been handsomely rewarded ever since he left the Agriculture Committee to do the bidding of the big banks," Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an email statement. "But Tennesseans understand that Congressman Fincher can't be trusted to look out for them and they are going to hold him accountable next fall."
Fincher justified his committee switch by saying that farmers are concerned about getting loans and having the ability to finance their operations in the face of rules that have clamped down on small community banks and their ability to provide credit.
"This is incredibly important to family farms and their ability to hire new employees, purchase seed, fertilizer, and fuel, all of which create economic opportunity and subsequently produce jobs," Fincher said.
The DCCC also is attacking Fincher on some of his votes.
Blast e-mails from the committee say Fincher and House Republicans have repeatedly voted against bills that would create jobs.
They also criticize Fincher for voting against an amendment to increase funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, Hiring Program. The program, which benefits smaller cities such as Millington, gives funds directly to state, local and law enforcement agencies to hire officers and increase their crime fighting ability.
The amendment passed in a close vote, enabling Millington to receive funding.
Such votes, plus Fincher's joining the Financial Services Committee, put the 8th district in play, Hodge said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee says Fincher's voting record and fundraising capabilities make him a strong incumbent.
"Take one look at his impressive fundraising and you can see that Tennessee middle-class families are responding to his efforts to create a better environment for job creation," said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
Democrats are looking ahead to 2012, but they still don't have a candidate. State Sen. Roy Herron, the Democrat from Dresden who lost to Fincher last year, is a possibility.
Herron told The AP that he has not set a timetable for a decision.
"I am just as committed to the people and just as passionate about the issues that are hurting people as I've ever been," Herron said.
Republican political consultant Layne Provine said that any Democrat will have trouble convincing 8th district voters that Fincher has neglected them. Provine said Fincher is one of the best fundraisers in the Tennessee delegation.
"I don't see any great vulnerability there," Provine said. "No one is going to be able to 'out-farm' Stephen Fincher."