“Hi, I’m Dr. George Flinn,” he says on the video, in a Superman costume.
“It makes it fun for you,” Flinn, a millionaire radio mogul who became wealthy through a radiology practice, explains, “You say, ‘what is he going to do next?’ Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to do next!”
This week, what is next for Flinn is a quixotic run for senate in Tennessee, where he entered the GOP primary against incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander and state Rep. Joe Carr in the twilight hours leading up to the state’s filing deadline, with virtually no groundwork and no announcement.
However, dig further into Flinn’s bid, and it is even more puzzling than his “Superhero University” video.
To start with, it is not clear that Flinn has any serious policy or political differences with Alexander, the incumbent he is supposedly running against.
“I mean, we’re friends. I like him a lot,” Flinn says in an interview. (He calls, Flinn-like, at 10:30pm on Sunday night). Flinn donated $2,000 to Alexander in 2007. He even held a furtive meeting with Alexander in Memphis days before announcing his bid against him. Flinn, Alexander’s office, and others have provided various explanations for what transpired at the March 28 session.
The unusual circumstances have convinced Tea Party activists in the Volunteer State that Flinn’s candidacy is a setup–that he’s a “spoiler candidate” helping out Alexander by splitting the conservative vote. Carr, they note, has been gaining steam in recent polls–and Alexander’s moderate record leaves him vulnerable.
Lorie Medina, a conservative activist who co-founded an organization dedicated to Alexander’s defeat, says Flinn “called me out of the blue on Monday,” resulting in a bizarre conversation that left her convinced something was awry.
After asking questions with obvious answers for a few minutes (“Did the establishment attack Ted Cruz?” was one), Flinn asked for Medina’s thoughts about about him running for in the senate primary.
“I said, ‘George, if you want to get in this race, I said first of all, you don’t have time to do that,'” Medina recalls. “‘Secondly, you don’t have the relationships with the grassroots. Joe Carr does.’ He wouldn’t agree with me, and so I was trying to understand this whole thing — it’s so weird. So then he says, ‘Well I just don’t back down from a fight.’ He sort of mumbled it, so I said: ‘What?’ And he repeated: ‘I don’t back down from a fight.’ He said so many people were calling him telling him not to run against Lamar, so that means he has to run. He said, ‘Lamar came in and met with me and told me not to run.’ But he said, ‘I have to run against him.'”
With the exception of a successful 2006 bid for Shelby County supervisor, Flinn has lost every political campaign he ever mounted–two U.S. house campaigns in 2010 and 2012, and a 2002 bid for Shelby County mayor.
His top political hand–to whose firm Majority Strategies he paid tens of thousands of dollars for the losing 2010 campaign–was one Ward Baker, now the political director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee–the GOP’s official campaign arm which is working to reelect Alexander.
So what did Flinn, a perennially losing candidate with ties to Alexander, discuss at their recent meeting?
Flinn told Medina that the senator tried to talk him out of running. Others suspect Alexander orchestrated the meeting to schmooze Flinn into the race so he would split the conservative vote in the Aug. 7 primary.
Jim Jeffries, Alexander’s spokesman, said it was just an amiable chat about Flinn’s health care policy vision.
“Dr. Flinn and Sen. Alexander have known each other for a long time and they had breakfast in Memphis last Friday to discuss Dr. Flinn’s ideas on health care,” Jeffries said in an email on Friday.
Asked specifically whether the two discussed Flinn’s candidacy, Jeffries said: “Dr. Flinn’s decision to run or not to run is entirely his and Sen. Alexander respects that.”
Flinn’s account is that he and Alexander “tried to come to an agreement where we could propose [my] healthcare agenda and really get some inertia behind it.”
“We just couldn’t do it,” Flinn said. “I mean, we’re friends. I like him a lot. He may like me, he may not. But I just think I would go there and push it hard. I won’t quit. I just will not quit.”
Flinn confirmed they did discuss the race at the meeting, but said “it was mostly about the healthcare plan. But he and I were catching up on family things. He was getting to know a little bit more about my family and I was getting to know a little bit about his. He’s a very nice person.”
“The circumstances around Dr. Flinn’s petition filing are curious to say the least,” said Carr in a phone interview. He’s been trying to track the various stories going around, that Alexander wanted him in the race or that Ward Baker might have something to do with this.
Carr notes that in contrast to his cozy meeting with Flinn, “I have never met with or spoken with Lamar Alexander since I’ve got into this race on Aug. 20,” Carr said. “And his staff has never asked to speak with me.”
Flinn “was brought in to be the spoiler,” Carr concludes.
When asked why he is running, and why he is jumping into the race so late in the game, Flinn said he wants his people to focus on his healthcare plan.
“Well, the healthcare system is broken,” he said, touting his PatientCenteredHealthPlan.com website.
And I’m not talking about just for doctors, I’m talking about for patients primarily. What we’re doing is we’ve just got this system that doesn’t work–and there is a fix for it, I’ve got a plan to fix it. I’m out promoting this plan. It’s called patient-centered plan. I’m running for this plan to try to get attention to the fact that we can do something about this.
“No matter what you write, we’re going to be friends,” he concludes, offering to rendezvous in Washington this week. “I tremendously appreciate getting to talk to you.”