With a lead of just more than 1,400 votes, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann kept his job in Tennessee’s 3rd District Thursday over Republican challenger Weston Wamp.
In the 4th District next door, incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais was 35 votes ahead of state Sen. Jim Tracy and The Associated Press said the race was too close to call.
Unofficial numbers at press time showed Fleischmann had 43,830 votes, or 51 percent, over Wamp’s 42,386 votes at 49 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.
To a room full of supporters chanting “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,” Fleischmann acknowledged the close numbers, and appealed to Wamp and his supporters’ forces.
“I want to congratulate Weston on a well-run race. It was a close race, and I hope the Wamps will join me to continue to make the 3rd District better,” Fleischmann said.
At Wamp’s headquarters, campaign manager Marshall Brock said Wamp had called Fleischmann to concede.
Brock said, “45,000 people, nearly half this district, liked what [Wamp] was saying and he hopes they stick with it and be louder.”
Vowing to continue his conservative effort to change the tone in Washington,D.C., Fleischmann said Republicans need to come together.
“We have got to come together as Americans. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States has been and will continue to the be the greatest nation the world has ever seen,” he said.
He also asked for continued support against Democratic candidate Mary Headrick in November.
Headrick won 22,178 votes in the 3rd District Thursday. She had no opponent in the Democratic primary.
Action in the 3rd District Republican primary kicked off in March, when former McMinn County dairy executive Scottie Mayfield voiced his support of Fleischmann. Mayfield was one of three Republicans who opposed Fleischmann in 2012, along with Wamp and Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla.
Days later, Wamp announced he would travel the 11-county district in an RV to drum up support in the rural areas.
Wamp captured Hamilton County in 2012, and gaining support from the surrounding counties could be a boon to him in a two-man race.
But shortly there after, Wamp campaign took a hit, when Mayfield told media Wamp had secretly recorded a conversation the two had at Mayfield’s home. At the time, Wamp said he was recording chat to protect himself from expected negative ads from the Fleischmann campaign.
It took a few months, but in July, the attack ads came. In mailers, and radio and television ads, Fleischmann attempted to paint Wamp as a Democrat in disguise, claiming he supported amnesty for undocumented immigrants, had no stance on 2nd Amendment rights and was supportive of President Barack Obama.
Many of the ad messages were built on partial quotes from Wamp, and were misleading or false.
Wamp responded by criticizing the incumbent for taking the campaign negative.
The 4th District race was just as intense.
With 100 percent of the district’s 242 precincts reporting, the state Division of Elections counted 34,787 for DesJarlais and 34,752 for Tracy.
The lead had fluctuated through the night and about 11 p.m. EDT, Tracy was feeling confident.
“We’re going to win it,” the Shelbyville state senator said in an interview with the Times Free Press. “We feel really good. It’s been a heck of a campaign. There’s no way he can catch up.”
Tracy said his tallies show him up 2,256 votes. The bulk of the uncounted votes, he said, are in 18 precincts in Rutherford County, which he once represented. That left Grundy County and five precincts in Warren County for DesJarlais.
He noted he has already taken all the other counties in Rutherford, the most populous county in the district except for one in which DesJarlais only beat him by seven votes.
There was no immediate comment from DesJarlais.
This was the third straight race where DesJarlais had to address revelations arising from his bitter 2002 divorce, including that he supported his ex-wife’s two abortions and advised a patient with whom he’d had an affair to have an abortion.
DesJarlais, meanwhile, accused Tracy of being insufficiently conservative. But hampered by low fundraising, DesJarlais had problems getting his message out.
Tracy had no such problem. He had outspent DesJarlais by better than 3-to-1 as of last month. And in early July Tracy began hitting the personal revelations hard in direct mail and on television.
The winner of the primary, which includes part of Bradley County as well as all of Rhea, Marion, Sequatchie counties and then moves west to Rutherford, will face Democrat Lenda Sherrell, a retired certified public accountant.
Sherrell who was unopposed in her party’s primary, earned 22,854 votes.
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...