MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The race for Tennessee Senate in District 31 in Memphis has eyes of political pundits in Nashville and Washington, D.C.
It’s a contest pitting Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey against a younger Democratic challenger, Gabby Salinas.
“I’m asking for peoples’ vote based on what I’ve done,” said Kelsey. “I banned the state income tax. I more than doubled the penalty for armed home burglars, and I’m increased public school funding.”
Kelsey is campaigning to keep his seat in Senate district 31, which he’s held since 2009. The district includes East Memphis, Germantown, and Cordova, a diverse makeup.
“They want safer communities. They want stronger public schools, and they want a supply of good paying jobs, and that’s what we are providing for them,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey, a 40-year-old attorney, enters the race with the name recognition that incumbency brings and the endorsement of outgoing Governor Bill Haslam. He’s fending off a Democratic challenge from 30-year-old Gabby Salinas.
Salinas is a cancer survivor and St. Jude researcher, with the endorsement of Marlo Thomas.
Salinas first came to Memphis from Bolivia to get treatment for cancer at St. Jude.
“I am homegrown. I've been here since I was 7. I went to college here. I went to school here. I grew up here,” Salinas said, “I am who I am because I'm a Memphian.”
Salinas said state lawmakers' failure to expand healthcare coverage to Tennesseans in 2015, despite the urging of Governor Bill Haslam, is the reason she's running.
“I came into healthcare policy in a unique way. I grew up before the time where the Affordable Care Act passed, when I was being discriminated against because I had a pre-existing condition,” she said.
The race hasn’t come without controversy. A mailer of Kelsey’s made headlines in the Huffington Post for saying, “He’s from here. He’s one of us.”
Critics construed it to be a dig at his opponent’s Bolivian heritage.
“It’s very simple. It means I live in Shelby County,” Kelsey said when asked about it.
Pundits have also noted the presence of outside spending in the race, like Tennessee Lt. Governor Randy McNally’s political action committee shelling out $300,000 for attack ads against Salinas.
“I cannot, and I will not legally have anything to do with those ads. What I can do is my part to run a 100 percent positive campaign, because political talk has gotten too divisive in this country,” remarked Kelsey, when WMC Action News 5 asked about the ads.
Salinas said she’s not taking the attacks personally.
“I want to be a unifying person in this race,” she said, “I believe how you get somewhere matters. He’s trying to get there dividing people, attacking me, and not running on the issues,” she said.
Voters will have the final say come November 6.