Rep. Dwayne Thompson making his endorsement at a fund-raiser for House District 97 candidate Allan Creasy.
One of the facts of life for Democrats, in Shelby County as elsewhere in Republican-dominated Tennessee, is that their primaries for state-government offices have tended to be lonely affairs, usually with only a single significant candidate, if any at all. Oh, Democrats may vie in an occasional intra-party contest for U.S. senator or governor, but most of the real competition, certainly in legislative races, has generally taken place on the other side, in GOP primaries. Once upon a time, that was the Democrats; now, unmistakably, it's the Republicans.
Except that, more and more often, there is a bona fide Democratic contest — as there was, for example, in 2018 between David Witherspoon and Gabby Salinas, a scientific researcher and former St. Jude patient, for the right to oppose Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey in a much-watched state Senate race. Salinas won that primary and went on to give Kelsey a serious challenge.
The same year, Allan Creasy, a manager and bartender at the Celtic Crossing Restaurant, ran a spirited race against GOP incumbent Jim Coley in state House District 97. Coley is retiring, and Creasy is taking another shot at the seat this year. But he has a primary opponent — the demonstrably formidable Salinas.
The showdown between two strong Democratic candidates from 2018 races makes the District 97 primary one of the most intriguing races in the state in 2020. To compound the watchability, two Republicans, Brandon Weise and John Gillespie, will simultaneously be competing in the GOP primary.
The intensity of the competition made it all the more interesting Thursday night when an established Democratic legislator, state Representative Dwayne Thompson, decided to cast his lot with one of his party's two entries. Appearing at a Creasy fund-raiser at the Starlight Event Center in East Memphis, Thompson stood alongside the candidate onstage and extended his endorsement.
Such intra-party endorsements are relatively uncommon, especially in primary races deemed as competitive as this one (although Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton is methodically racking up endorsements from fellow Democrats in his primary race for General Sessions Court Clerk).