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Political Roundup: Early voting, Cohen & Kustoff, Memphis mayor’s race

By , Daily Memphian Updated: November 05, 2022 10:09 AM CT | Published: November 02, 2022 8:37 PM CT

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Early voting ends Thursday, Nov. 3, in Shelby County with a lower turnout that is a little more than half of early voting turnout four years ago in the same midterm election cycle.

Almost 40% of the early vote through Tuesday came from the seven early voting sites in the counties six suburban towns and cities.

Harmony Church in Bartlett, New Bethel Baptist Church in Germantown and Collierville Church of Christ were the top three locations by turnout, in that order, of the 26 early voting sites across the county. That likely reflects a high level of interest in the mayor’s race in Bartlett and school board and alderman races in Germantown and Collierville.

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Shelby County voters can vote up to 7 p.m. at 25 of the 26 sites Thursday regardless of where they live and the precinct they vote at on election day in past or future elections. The early voting site at the Downtown Election Commission office at 157 Poplar Avenue is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.

Through Tuesday — the 12th of the 14 days of early voting — figures from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office show 89,153 early voters countywide compared to 152,541 at this period in early voting four years ago.

In 2018, the ballot was topped by general election races for Governor and U.S. Senate — neither race with an incumbent seeking reelection.

The 2018 ballot features a race for Governor in which incumbent Bill Lee is seeking a second term — something voters have not denied any incumbent Tennessee governor since the ban on serving consecutive terms was lifted in 1978, and a limit of two consecutive terms replaced it in the state constitution.

The ongoing early voting totals compare to 56,337 at this point in early voting in 2014 for the same election cycle.

The daily total of 11,127 for Tuesday in Shelby County was the heaviest daily total thus far with equivalent or higher daily turnouts expected for Wednesday and Thursday.

The 89,153 early votes are the highest total for any of the state’s 95 counties that have the same 14-day voting period. Davidson County was the closest, with 69,258 through Tuesday.

The Shelby County early vote turnout accounted for 12.9% of the total state turnout of 688,001.

Congressional midterm prospects

The city’s two representatives in the U.S. House — Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis and Republican David Kustoff of Germantown — are heavy favorites to win reelection in the national midterm congressional races.

But each is watching the national map closely, which will determine if Democrats remain the majority in the House, and which party controls the Senate.

Cohen and Kustoff have each taken turns being in the majority party and the minority party in the House.

“The Senate is tight but in the last several days we’ve seen some of the races turn in the Republican favor,” Kustoff said last week at the end of a campaign bus tour across the counties of his 8th District — which covers most of West Tennessee and parts of Memphis and suburban Shelby County.

He also predicted a Republican majority in the House with a 15-20 seat gain for the GOP.

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Cohen isn’t saying one way or the other.

“I just know it will be bad for the country,” he said Wednesday after announcing one of several federal grants in the city. “It’s bad for my constituents, bad for democracy. I just hope it doesn’t happen.”

But Cohen is already preparing to maneuver with two more years of the Biden administration in the White House, even if he goes from the majority party to the minority party in the House.

“If you have the administration, being a minority is not so bad,” he said.

Cohen secured a $525,994 National Institutes of Health grant for newborns and maternal care for Serenity Recovery Centers through the administration that had been blocked in Congress.

“When you are not the party in power, you can still get things done through the amendment process if you have friends on the Republican side who are chairmen of appropriations subcommittees,” he told The Daily Memphian. “I’ve had that in the past. That’s where I got the extra $8 million two Congressional sessions running for rape-kit testing programs.”

“You can get money in the appropriations bill but you can also get money through the administration,” he said.

Kustoff, campaigning in Germantown on the bus tour last week, said President Joe Biden has some decisions to make about his next two years in office if Republicans take the House and the Senate remains close.

“Does he want to stay and try to govern from the far left corner or does he take a page from Bill Clinton in 1995 when Republicans took the House and the Senate?” Kustoff asked.

“Bill Clinton decided he wanted to work with Republicans to try to get things done for the country,” he said. “I hope in that scenario that Biden decides he wants to try to govern for the good of the nation and work with Republicans to tackle these problems.”

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Kustoff is among House Republicans running on a “Commitment to America” agenda similar to the “Contract with America” that the Republican House majority of 1995 adopted under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The new agenda includes a goal of hiring 200,000 more police nationally, repealing funding approved this year for more employees at the Internal Revenue Service, a “parents bill of rights” for education, legislation that would ban transgender athletes from competing, “safeguarding” Second Amendment rights to gun ownership and codifying statewide bans on abortion in federal law.

The agenda includes plenty of rhetoric about “soft on crime” Democratic policies that make any kind of bipartisan agreement unlikely.

“I think that it is boiled down and what we are talking about is so simple that people can understand it — that people like me can talk about solutions to a lot of these problems and come January we are ready with some solutions,” Kustoff said.

Memphis mayoral debate notes

The first forum featuring multiple contenders in the 2023 race for Memphis Mayor was dominated by concerns about what a large field could do for the chances of a Black contender.

But there were other topics raised during the Oct. 27 forum by Shelby County Young Democrats.

Former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown called several times for the use of electric power generators that would be put in the Mississippi River current to generate power for Memphis Light Gas and Water Division.

Former County Commissioner Van Turner and Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Young expressed reservations about MLGW entering into another 20-year contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide electric power to the city-owned utility.

“Maybe not 20 years,” Turner said of the recommendation the MLGW board is scheduled to vote on later this month.

Young called on MLGW to become a partner in economic development efforts, a role that is currently left to the TVA in the MLGW-TVA relationship.

Young said the partnership could be in dealing with red tape that developers frequently complain about when it comes to approving utility connections for new or renovated developments.

Young and Turner also said they favored a move to relocate utility lines from overhead to underground to reduce power outages.

Smaller Shelby County ballot yields lower early voter turnout so far

Turner said the Memphis Police Department should have its own crime lab instead of more state funding for the existing Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Jackson, Tennessee.

He also said city government should “get right back in the middle of funding education” — a reference to the city returning to an annual funding role for Memphis-Shelby County Schools which ended with the merger of public education in Shelby County in 2013.

Young expressed reservations about a return to annual funding which the city would be required to maintain year after year by the state’s “maintenance of effort” law. Instead, he suggested city funding that is not a “direct investment but alongside” county funding for the school system.


Nov 8 2022 election early voter turnout Steve Cohen David Kustoff 2023 Memphis Mayor's race

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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