Shelby County GOP state office candidates outnumbered, but outspending Democrats

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 18, 2022 9:50 AM CT | Published: July 18, 2022 4:00 AM CT

Despite being outnumbered more than two to one, Shelby County Republicans running for the state House and Senate are spending more money and have more campaign cash than Democrats ahead of the Aug. 4 primary election.

The 18 Democratic candidates have raised more money in recent months, according to an analysis by The Daily Memphian, of each candidate’s most recent campaign finance disclosure. But the seven Republicans are spending faster and have more cash on hand.

The analysis reflects each candidate’s most recent report; most of them cover the second fundraising quarter, from April 1 to June 30. Some candidates missed the most recent deadline, and their reports cover the period from Jan. 16 to March 31.

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The GOP candidates had a total of $743,167 on hand, while the Democrats had $510,563. They have outspent Democrats $142,076 to $123,336.

That’s due primarily to Republican Brent Taylor, who has loaned more than $420,000 to his Senate campaign, and had $438,576 on hand.

Taylor and state Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington), the only House Republican facing a primary challenge, were the top two spenders. The top 10 candidates in cash-on-hand and spending were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats comprised seven of the top 10 in fundraising.

There are very few competitive races for General Assembly seats, with most incumbents either running unopposed or facing token opposition.

Incumbents have big advantages, with more than 10 times as much cash as challengers — $742,307 to $69,742. Those numbers exclude Taylor and his opponent, Democrat Ruby Powell-Dennis, who are running for an open seat being vacated by state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown.

<strong>Kevin Vaughan&nbsp;</strong>

Kevin Vaughan 

State Rep. Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville) is the only other state legislative candidate with six figures on hand. On the Democratic side, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) has the most in the bank — $89,202 — but reported raising and spending no money.

Campaign finance reports show who gives money to political candidates and where they spend their money. They offer insight into power networks and alliances, giving the public a look at which established lawmakers are throwing their weight behind which newcomers.

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The reports show Democratic incumbents tend to give less financial support to their allies’ campaigns in Shelby County and across Tennessee, which could be a bad sign for the party’s efforts to flip red seats in a General Assembly with an overwhelming Republican supermajority.

Find what state House, state Senate or congressional district you live in here.

Top races

Leatherwood faces Lee Mills in the only contested GOP primary for a state legislative seat in the county.

Mills, a commercial airline pilot and former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, almost didn’t make it onto the ballot after a dispute over whether he lived in Shelby County or Fayette County. Mills reported spending only $88 in his most recent report, for bank fees.

Leatherwood, a reliable vote on Republican leadership’s priorities, unsuccessfully sponsored legislation to create a new type of common-law marriage that excluded gay couples this spring. Leatherwood has a stark fundraising advantage, raising $14,661 and spending $22,618 during the second quarter, ending with $46,304 on hand.

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It’s not their first time competing against each other. Leatherwood beat Mills in the 2020 Republican primary with two-thirds of the vote. In 2018, they both sought appointment to the seat after former state Rep. Ron Lollar’s death, and Leatherwood won.

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Longtime state Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) is the only other incumbent facing a serious primary challenge. She’s facing Will Richardson, a motivational speaker who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council in 2019.

Cooper, 92, has faced primary challengers multiple times since she first assumed office in 1996, but has held onto her seat comfortably. She won the 2020 Democratic primary with 66.3% of the vote and the 2018 primary with 78%.

Cooper reported raising $16,750 and spending $16,160 in her most recent report, landing at $6,517 on hand. Richardson, who has given his campaign more than $21,000, raised $5,960, spent $4,417 and ended up with $25,028 on hand.

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There’s only one contested Senate primary in Shelby County, but it’s not likely to be competitive.

State Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis), who was appointed to the Senate in March after the expulsion of former state Sen. Katrina Robinson, has two Democratic challengers, RhonnieBrewer and Marion Latroy Alexandria-Williams Jr. Brewer reported $0 in raising, spending and cash on hand, while Alexandria-Williams has not filed a report.

In the November state general election, Lamar would face Republican Frederick Tappan and Independent Hastina Robinson. Tappan is well-funded, but the district is heavily Democratic. Robinson reported having no money.

Running unopposed

The following candidates are running unopposed in the primary and general elections. Asterisks represent candidates who have a listed challenger who hasn’t filed a report, or who reported no fundraising or spending.

  • State Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)
  • State Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis), the House minority leader
  • State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis)
  • State Rep. Larry Miller (D-Memphis)
  • State Rep. Dwayne Thompson (D-Memphis)
  • State Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis)
  • State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis)
  • State Rep. Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville)*
  • State Rep. Joe Towns Jr. (D-Memphis)*
  • State Rep. Jesse Chism (D-Memphis)*


Tennessee General Assembly Barbara Cooper Tom Leatherwood Brent Taylor Kevin Vaughan G.A. Hardaway Lee Mills Will Richardson London Lamar Rhonnie Brewer Marion Latroy Alexandria-Williams Jr. Frederick Tappan Hastina Robinson
Ian Round

Ian Round

Ian Round is The Daily Memphian’s state government reporter based in Nashville. He came to Tennessee from Maryland, where he reported on local politics for Baltimore Brew. He earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland in December 2019.


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