published Sunday, August 12th, 2012

How did Fleischmann beat 'two big names'?


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.

AT A GLANCE

• Scottie Mayfield would have won the race if not for the Chattanooga area. Runner-up Mayfield lost Hamilton County by 6,769 votes, surrendering the overall district to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann by 6,172. Mayfield won the other 10 3rd District counties collectively by 597 votes and 2 percentage points.

• Weston Wamp played well where Zach Wamp represented, but nowhere else. The 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp squeaked out a 101-vote victory over U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Hamilton County. Overall, in counties his father represented at some point, Weston Wamp pulled 32 percent of the vote. He got 13 percent everywhere else.

• McMinn and Monroe counties didn't give one candidate the advantages he expected. Turnout wasn't as high as election officials predicted. That hurt Mayfield, an Athens, Tenn., resident who captured a smaller victory margin in his home county of McMinn (29 percentage points) than neighboring Monroe (34 points.)

• Do the Democrats have a chance in November? Despite contested congressional primaries for both parties, conservatism reigned as districtwide Republicans outvoted Democrats by a 3-to-1 margin.

When they voted for their nominee, six out of 10 Republicans in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District chose someone other than U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

Worse yet, the incumbent lost Hamilton County to a 25-year-old and surrendered half the district's other 10 counties to East Tennessee's most popular milk and ice cream man.

Nevertheless, Fleischmann won the nomination. But his victory was a little more predictable than it may seem.

A 61 percent anti-incumbent vote doesn't mean as much when "two big names" — as Fleischmann described Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp on election night — split almost all of it. Pulling to a virtual tie in Hamilton County and winning four other counties by sizable margins, Fleischmann took advantage of his opponents' stumbles and emerged with an 8-point victory at 39 percent.

Interviews and a Chattanooga Times Free Press review of the vote count reveal that Wamp may have dumped too many resources into Hamilton County and Mayfield too few. Partly because of that, Fleischmann avoided a dubious distinction that seemed realistic a few months ago -- becoming only the third Tennessee congressman since 1966 to lose a contested primary.

•••

In the 10 counties outside Hamilton, Mayfield collectively took 41 percent of the vote to Fleischmann's 39 percent.

Mayfield benefited from being a popular guy in new political territory, making his first run for office after redistricting plunked his home of McMinn County in the 3rd Congressional District. The dairy executive performed like a king there and in four other new counties, winning 54 percent of the vote to Fleischmann's 32 percent.

Fleischmann didn't carry a majority in a single county — Anderson County's 49 percent was the highest he got anywhere — but Mayfield captured at least 50 percent of votes in McMinn, Monroe and Scott counties, and he easily won two more in Campbell and Polk.

Still, Hamilton County accounted for nearly half the district's 76,000 ballots, and Mayfield came in last. He lost Hamilton County by 6,769 votes and the district by 6,172.

A week after his third-place showing where it mattered most, Mayfield was second-guessing his Chattanooga-area efforts.

"I'm going to say I probably spent time equally everywhere," he said. "It's just that half the voters are in Hamilton County, and so I should have spent half my time there instead of one-tenth of my time."

Asked if he blamed his consultants for steering him toward equal time among the counties, Mayfield said, "I am ultimately responsible for what happened in this campaign."

•••

Weston Wamp positioned himself on the opposite side of the urban-versus-rural spectrum. Short on experience but having watched his father win eight straight 3rd District races, he knew that a strong Hamilton County presence would pay off. But the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp relied on hometown connections a little too much.

In an interview Friday, the younger Wamp cited more media outlets, more debates and more voters in explaining why he poured most of his time and money into Chattanooga with ads, appearances and interviews.

"The race was taking place in Hamilton County -- that's where people seemed to care; that's where the media cared," Wamp said.

But the results indicate he didn't do enough anywhere else, specifically the seven counties in the Knoxville media market. Excluding Hamilton County, where he beat Fleischmann by 101 votes, Wamp finished third in every county and garnered 19 percent districtwide. Records show he lost Monroe and Scott counties by 5-to-1 margins and six other counties by at least 20 percentage points.

Wamp's built-in name recognition didn't translate in places his father never served.

In Anderson, Bradley, Hamilton, Morgan, Polk, Roane and Union -- the counties Zach Wamp represented at some point -- Weston Wamp pulled 32 percent of the vote. He got 13 percent everywhere else.

"It was just a different feeling when you went into those counties," he said. "My belief was that a lot of people in Hamilton County would vote, but a lot of people in the rural places voted, too."

•••

As Mayfield decided how he would spend $802,000 in campaign contributions and Wamp mulled over options for his $626,000, Fleischmann sat on $1.1 million. The difference? More than $435,000 of the congressman's largesse came from incumbent-friendly political action committees — resources his challengers could not depend on.

"We were the only ones that ran a full-spectrum campaign across the entire district," Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell said, adding that meant a steady stream of broadcast, cable, direct mail and radio ads in Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Things weren't always so rosy. According to Fleischmann chief of staff Chip Saltsman, internal polling taken in early April showed Mayfield "literally up 50 points" in several counties.

"Mayfield was crushing us. Destroying us," he said. "Basically he was the incumbent."

Mayfield's well-known stumbles — a reluctance to debate and his son's tire-slashing episode with a Fleischmann aide among them — didn't help the dairyman's cause. But Fleischmann advisers say their planning and the congressman's hard work won it in the end.

Staying competitive in Hamilton County as Mayfield floundered here, Fleischmann picked off wins in Bradley and Morgan counties. The congressman easily won Anderson County, which houses Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a swath of federal jobs and money. Fleischmann also captured neighboring Roane and Union counties, where many Oak Ridge workers live when they're off the clock.

"Being the incumbent helps. Folks have seen a lot of him up here in the last couple years," Anderson County Republican Party Chairman Alex Moseley said. "But the other two campaigns were almost nonexistent in this area. That was a big key."

Looking ahead to November, when Fleischmann takes on Democrat Mary Headrick and independent candidate Matthew Deniston, experts don't see a contest.

Third District Republicans outvoted Democrats 3-to-1 in the primaries. The most extreme example: Nine times as many Republicans as Democrats voted in Bradley County — 3,423 to 364.

Headrick is a first-time candidate, and a Democrat hasn't won the district since 1992.

"Those Democratic candidates don't even get on the radar screen," Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said. "The district is safely Republican."

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement

Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.