NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Stephen Fincher hasn't yet joined the Republican field running for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee, but that's not keeping him from drawing a stark contrast to a former congressional colleague who wasted little time jumping into the race to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Corker.
Fincher, a gospel-singing farmer from the rural West Tennessee community of Frog Jump, is wrapping up a statewide tour to discuss whether he should run for Senate. A decision is expected as soon as Tuesday.
If he runs, Fincher will face Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a suburban Nashville Republican who jumped into the race with a polished campaign video within an hour of Gov. Bill Haslam's announcement that he would not run.
Fincher said in an interview that he didn't feel the same kind of pressure to immediately get into the race.
"This is not the kind of decision you can make in 15 minutes," he said. "The way I'm looking at this is: I'm a Tennessean and I want somebody that's going to go stand up for me and fight for me, and not get in the trenches of this is just another wrung in the ladder or a notch in the belt to finish a 25 to 30-year career."
Fincher was a political novice when he was elected to the House in 2010. He served three two-year terms before surprising many observers by announcing his retirement in 2016. Blackburn was elected to the state Senate in 1998 and has served in Congress since 2003.
Fincher said he decided to leave the House before a self-imposed six-term limit because he had to attend to a family cotton farm while his brother was struggling with an illness.
"The good Lord has taken care of my brother and he's doing great now, or I couldn't even think about this," he said.
Fincher said he's ready to hit the ground running if he decides to join the race that he likened to a sprint to the August 2018 primary. And he said he's prepared for the inevitable attacks that he expects from outside groups supporting Blackburn.
"Marsha's very conservative, and so am I. Our records are very similar," Fincher said. "But our style of governing — if we decide to do this, people will be able to see a big difference in what we accomplish and what we go to Washington to do."
Fincher already has quick answers at the ready for issues on which he has faced criticism from the tea party wing of his party, such as his work to renew the charter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a credit agency that helps overseas buyers get financing to purchase American exports.
Fincher said the criticism is unwarranted because more than 100 Tennessee companies have used the bank, and that thousands of jobs have been created or protected in the process.
"President Trump is for it and President Reagan was for it, and it creates jobs and doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime and returns money to the Treasury?" he said. "Wow, really?"
Fincher said voters are frustrated by the dysfunction in Washington even though Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
"Instead of making the decisions that's right for the country and the state, they're worried about what Fox News is going to say or how they're going to get on CNN," Fincher said.
Blackburn is a regular fixture on cable and television news shows.
Fincher declined to say whether he would support current Republican leadership in the Senate, and said that that's not something that regular voters care about.
"It's not rocket science, but we've allowed too many career people to get into that bubble and don't listen to average normal people out here that are electing them," he said. "They've lost touch."
Fincher said he supports Trump's goals of lower taxes, job creation and more affordable health care. The challenge will be putting those initiatives into motion, he said.
"We need adults up there that are going to stand up for Tennessee and govern," he said "President Trump has hit a nerve with a lot of people. They want something accomplished."