A few paid staffers for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann helped the incumbent topple his two primary challengers at the Anderson County Republican Party straw poll Tuesday night.
Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell confirmed that field representative Arch Trimble IV and caseworker Adria Tutton attended the straw poll, proved 3rd Congressional District residence and paid the required $5 fee to vote, along with “a few others who went on their own time.”
“There were staffers that went after work to support Chuck, but there were a lot of [other] people at that straw poll that voted for Chuck,” Powell said.
According to the Anderson County party website, Fleischmann won 65 percent of the vote, Jean Howard-Hill received 28 percent and Weston Wamp took home 7 percent.
But exact figures were unavailable. Anderson County Republican Party Chairman Alex Moseley estimated a crowd of 150 voted in a variety of races. He said “about 60 percent” were allowed to choose a House candidate after proving they lived in the 3rd Congressional District.
John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said early straw polls tend to be dominated by activists.
“It’s not a representative of the public, or even potential primary voters,” he said.
And because of low turnout, he added, a few extra people allow a campaign to “move the percentages around a little bit.”
“Fleischmann has a cadre of pretty loyal followers,” Geer said. “Some work for him, some don’t. That’s what showed up in that poll.”
Still, Fleischmann’s camp stressed that Howard-Hill and Wamp appeared at the straw poll, brought staff and made 10-minute speeches, facts the Times Free Press confirmed.
The congressman did not attend — he was in Washington — and while staff was present, no one made a speech on his behalf. It’s unclear whether Fleischmann’s campaign workers lobbied on behalf of their boss.
Wamp, the 24-year-old son of eight-term U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, said he brought his sister, one paid staffer and a campaign volunteer, adding that all four declined to vote. He called the $5 fee “a modern-day poll tax.” Moseley said the money paid for renting the event’s location.
“In my life I’ve seen all the political games there are,” Wamp said. “In this campaign, I’m going to choose not to play the political games. We’re not going to buy straw poll victories.”
Asked to respond, Powell said, “The results speak for themselves.”
Attendees could vote anytime during the four-hour event.
Howard-Hill said she wished the straw poll had been conducted after candidates made their speeches. She said she wasn’t surprised by Fleischmann’s 37-point margin of victory, but she stayed positive.
“He’s an incumbent — you would expect for him to get those votes,” Howard-Hill said. “But I do think if you look at the 28 percent that I got, that’s a good start.”
Howard-Hill, a political science professor, said she and two campaign volunteers attended and paid to vote.
Anderson County includes Oak Ridge, the third-largest city after Chattanooga and Cleveland in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District.