Dairy mogul Scottie Mayfield on Friday became the second unexpected challenger to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who has spent four months waging a primary battle against Weston Wamp, the 24-year-old son of his immediate predecessor.
Mayfield said he "filed the paperwork to be a candidate" Friday, turning Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District GOP money race into a three-way scrum. The players are Wamp, son of former Rep. Zach Wamp; Fleischmann, a 49-year-old attorney and freshman lawmaker; and the 61-year-old president of Mayfield Dairy.
"I have never served in the armed services, and I feel like this is something that would fulfill that obligation to our country," Mayfield said Friday.
"It's unusual for someone like me to want to do this. I think I'm the kind of person we need in Washington, D.C."
Getting there won't be easy. In fundraising figures released this week, Fleischmann reported more than $619,000 in campaign funds, and Wamp reported $285,000 in the bank. Mayfield said he'll begin raising money soon, adding that he hasn't decided whether he'll use his own money.
John Geer, chairman of the political science department at Vanderbilt University, said the "ante's been upped. If [Mayfield] self-finances, that could be a game changer."
Mayfield's game changed in January when the state Legislature moved McMinn County into the 3rd District as part of redistricting. Previously, the county was part of the Knoxville-based 2nd District, where Rep. Jimmy Duncan has won elections since 1988.
In an earlier interview, Athens resident Mayfield said the new boundaries "make the timing right" to run for Congress against Fleischmann, an incumbent in his first term.
Mayfield said he had a meeting scheduled with Fleischmann and Chip Saltsman, the congressman's chief of staff, a week ago to discuss his potential candidacy, "but something came up and I couldn't do it."
In a phone interview, Saltsman confirmed that account, and he said he hoped they could reschedule.
"We welcome him to the race," Saltsman said, declining further comment.
In a written statement, Wamp hinted that Mayfield would help "draw a greater contrast between what I represent and the status quo in Washington."
"If we're going to be serious about fixing what's broken in Washington, we don't need more people retiring to Congress," wrote Wamp.
Geer said Mayfield and Wamp could handicap each other's efforts, no matter how much name recognition they have.
"I'm sure Fleischmann would rather be running unopposed, but this splits the 'anti-Chuck vote,' so to speak," he said.
Mayfield said he would make a public announcement next week in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla and political science professor Jean Howard-Hill are also in the GOP race. Neither has raised nor spent the $5,000 necessary to require them to file with the Federal Election Commission.
Union County physician Dr. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor have announced bids for the Democratic nomination.
Brandon Puttbrese, a spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said Mayfield's announcement would lead to an intraparty "circular firing squad" and said, "It's going to be nasty there in the 3rd District."
"They'll try to out-tea party each other," he said. "We're going to be focused on talking about issues that are actually impacting people's lives right now."