published Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Chuck Fleischmann fends off GOP challengers (with video)


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga holds his wife's, Brenda Fleischmann, hand in the air during a victory party at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga late Thursday evening after winning the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga holds his wife's, Brenda Fleischmann, hand in the air during a victory party at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga late Thursday evening after winning the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary.
Photo by Dan Henry.
Fleischmann wins 3rd District race
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., prevailed to win the Republican primary for Tennessee's 3rd District on Thursday. Fleischmann faced tough competition from Scottie Mayfield, an Athens, Tenn., dairyman and from Weston Wamp, son of former Congressman Zach Wamp.

After a bitter, expensive campaign, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann defeated Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, winning Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary and dispatching two popular challengers with built-in name recognition.

"All across the 3rd District, I want y'all to know tonight, this is not just a victory -- it's a huge victory by over 8 percentage points over two big names," Fleischmann said at his victory party at the DoubleTree Hotel in Chattanooga.

Still, Mayfield did not officially concede, citing possible irregularities in Hamilton County. He said "someone may have made a mistake" in calculating his third-place finish there.

"In every county, I am first or second, except Hamilton County," Mayfield said. "Those are all East Tennesseans. It doesn't make sense. So I've got someone down in Chattanooga saying, 'Hey, this doesn't make sense.'"

But with 100 percent of 3rd Congressional District precincts reporting, Fleischmann led Mayfield by 6,000 votes districtwide.

The Associated Press called the race for Fleischmann about 10 p.m. Thursday, and Hamilton County Election Commission Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said "our totals are correct."

"There's no way they could be anything other than correct," she said. "They are what they are."

In the Nov. 6 general election, Fleischmann, 49, faces Dr. Mary Headrick, a 63-year-old acute care physician from Union County. She won the 3rd District Democratic primary, doubling Ooltewah businessman Bill Taylor's take.

The winner will take office for a two-year term beginning in January. Members of Congress make $174,000 annually.

"Fleischmann and I are different enough that the race can be issues-oriented," Headrick said. "It doesn't have to be smoke and mirrors and games."

Republicans have won the seat since 1994.

Victory for Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican, became something of a sure thing after he easily won five of the 3rd District's 11 counties, but he didn't win a majority of votes. Mayfield and the younger Wamp ended up splitting a 60 percent anti-incumbent vote, giving Fleischmann an eight-point plurality in the end.

By press time, Fleischmann had only won 39 percent districtwide to Mayfield's 31 percent and Wamp's 29 percent. Wamp barely led the congressman in Hamilton County, which Fleischmann also lost in 2010 while winning the overall GOP primary with 30 percent of the vote.

Athens resident and dairy executive Mayfield, 62, carried several sparsely populated rural counties -- Campbell, Monroe, Polk, Scott and his home turf of McMinn -- but finished nearly 20 points behind Wamp and Fleischmann in vote-rich Hamilton County.

Wamp, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Fleischmann's immediate predecessor, finished third in every county but Hamilton. A fourth Republican, Ron Bhalla, won 1 percent of the vote.

In Fleischmann's 2010 freshman run, he edged former state GOP chairwoman Robin Smith by 2 percentage points. He seemed relieved to put another close Republican election behind him after spending months embroiled in a sometimes nasty congressional primary.

Mayfield and Wamp spent more than $1 million combined on campaigns that took the fight to Fleischmann on generational themes and questions of effectiveness -- the congressman's six bills have stalled in committee and he wasn't able to secure federal funding for the Chickamauga lock.

They also took Fleischmann to task over depositions that cast his 2010 campaign in a negative light, but both challengers battled perceptions and difficulties beyond their control.

Not long after Mayfield released an internal poll showing him up 9 points districtwide, Kingston, Tenn., police in April charged his 33-year-old son with vandalism for slashing a Fleischmann staffer's tire.

About the same time, video emerged showing the elder Mayfield struggling to answer basic questions about his platform. And he skipped several debates.

After promising to run a positive campaign based solely on his business experience, Mayfield went negative, blaming Fleischmann for "voting with" President Barack Obama a few dozen times out of more than 900 House votes taken in 2011.

The criticism came at the same time Mayfield told a Chattanooga talk radio audience "we all agree" on most of the issues.

Wamp, a communications professional, struggled against the perception that he was too young and nothing more than a political extension of his father.

As he criticized Fleischmann for becoming part of "the status quo" in Washington, Wamp relied on the elder Wamp's former donors and staff members to convince voters that he could be trusted as an agent of change. Thursday's results indicate it was a tough sell.

But as Wamp said in an interview, anything could happen with his career -- after all, his father lost the 1992 election to U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd before winning eight terms beginning in 1994.

"The process is difficult, but I won't close the door, because I've got a lot of supporters who believe in what we're doing," he said. "I certainly don't feel defeated at all."

More than $2 million was spent on the primary, including a Beaufort, S.C.-based group that financed a $165,000 anti-Mayfield ad campaign in the race's final days.

Fleischmann, Mayfield and Wamp each raised more than $600,000 in individual contributions, but the congressman's commanding edge in PAC money -- $435,000, compared to $14,000 garnered by Mayfield and Wamp -- made the difference.

Headrick thrashed Ooltewah businessman Bill Taylor on his home turf, capturing more than two-thirds of Hamilton County's Democratic vote. Taylor's only win came in Polk County.

All vote totals, which include federally mandated provisional ballots, are unofficial until certified by the Tennessee Division of Elections.

Shelly Bradbury contributed to this report.

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