MEMPHIS — Republican congressional candidate David Kustoff said Friday that he will work to improve national security and cut taxes for farmers if he is elected to the U.S. House in November.
Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney, won the GOP primary for the 8th Congressional District in Tennessee on Thursday. He defeated 12 other opponents who jumped at the chance to fill a House seat that opened up when Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher announced he would not seek re-election after three terms.
The 8th District stretches from suburban Shelby County through 14 other, mostly rural counties in west Tennessee. The 8th District seat is heavily Republican, presenting a challenge to the Democratic primary winner, Rickey Hobson. A loss by Kustoff would be a major upset, experts say.
The top four finishers in the Republican primary were from Shelby County — Kustoff, radiologist George Flinn, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and state Sen. Brian Kelsey. Kustoff won Shelby County and four other counties, with about half of his nearly 17,000 votes coming from Shelby County alone. Shelby County accounted for 40 percent of the votes cast in the GOP primary.
Kustoff insists he will continue to work hard ahead of the general election.
"We're going to be running the same campaign for November that we ran for August," Kustoff said Friday. "I take nothing for granted."
In the run-up to the primary, Kustoff ran television advertisements touting his "law-and-order" background. He served as U.S. attorney for west Tennessee from 2006 to 2008. During that time, his office prosecuted the Tennessee Waltz political corruption cases, which resulted in guilty pleas or convictions for 12 defendants including former state Sen. John Ford.
He returned to private law practice in 2008, but voters did not forget his role as U.S. attorney.
"As I traveled the district, the No. 1 issue people were concerned about was national security and law enforcement," Kustoff said. "Serving as United States attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, it gave me a good perspective on the challenges we face in the nation to protect ourselves, secure our borders and support the men and women who serve in law enforcement."
Kustoff received an influential endorsement from Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former presidential hopeful. Kustoff said he served as state director for Huckabee's 2016 presidential campaign and they are friends. The endorsement landed strongly with conservative voters.
James Murray, a 57-year-old who works for the engineering department in the city of Memphis, said he voted for Kustoff on Thursday.
"If Mike Huckabee endorsed him, then I voted for him," said Murray, who cast his ballot at a church in Eads.
Murray said Huckabee backed Kustoff "probably because he's honest."
"He'll run it straight down the line; he won't be bought by folks," Murray said of Kustoff.
Kustoff said another important issue for voters in the 8th District is the economy, including the lasting effects of the financial crisis that hit the nation in 2008. He will work to create jobs and reduce tax rates on individual citizens and businesses, including farms, Kustoff said.
"If we can reduce the tax rates on businesses across the board, for those in the farming community, they're going to have the ability to create more jobs, to invest, to pay better salaries and wages, to put more money into research, to buy equipment," Kustoff said.
In a statement, state Republican Party chairman Ryan Haynes called Kustoff a "thoughtful conservative" in the mold of Fincher.
Also running in the November election are independents Shelia L. Godwin, James Hart, Adrian M. Montague, Mark Rawles and Karen Free Spirit Talley-Lane.