published Sunday, August 10th, 2014

How Fleischmann eked out a win: Turnout, spending called key to his victory

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., talks to supporters at Kitchen at Union Square after his victory over Weston Wamp. His wife, Brenda, left, and sons James, Charles and Jeffery stand with him.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., talks to supporters at Kitchen at Union Square after his victory over Weston Wamp. His wife, Brenda, left, and sons James, Charles and Jeffery stand with him.

HOW THEY VOTED

COUNTY FLEISCHMANN // WAMP

Anderson 5,215 // 4,822

Bradley 1,997 // 1,426

Campbell 2,357 // 2,464

Hamilton 19,655 // 19,571

McMinn 3,911 // 2,954

Monroe 3,598 // 3,289

Morgan 1,342 // 1,664

Polk 1,099 // 1,033

Roane 4,010 // 4,024

Scott 2,033 // 1,350

Union 2,211 // 1,784

Source: Tennessee Division of Elections

Thursday was a bitter loss for Weston Wamp. But political minds say it was an equally bitter win for his opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

"Fleischmann still hasn't been able to make this a safe seat. This is a result that doesn't scare off potential challengers. Fifty-one [percent] to 49 [percent], that's not comfortable," said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.

"You'd think after four years, you would have solidified the district, at least in your own party's primary."

Fleischmann won Thursday's Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District by 1,681 votes, complete but unofficial state records show.

He garnered 46,745 votes over Wamp's 45,064 districtwide. Fleischmann won Hamilton County -- with 19,655 votes -- and six of the other 11 district counties -- Anderson, Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, Polk and Union.

Wamp, a 27-year-old communications director for a Chattanooga start-up incubator, took four counties -- Campbell, Morgan, Roane and Scott -- and lost ground in Hamilton, the only county he won when he faced Fleischmann and two other candidates in the 2012 Republican House primary.

Fleischmann did not return repeated messages requesting an interview Friday.

But on Thursday he said his staff "worked hard, through lots of adversity."

Oppenheimer said from the start that the winner would be the candidate who spent the most money and mobilized the most voters. In this case, that was Fleischmann on both counts.

Preprimary reports show Fleischmann spent more than $900,000 before Aug. 7. Wamp had spent upward of $500,000, but he also had help from $390,000 in independent support from Character Counts, a Fairfax, Va.-based political action committee.

Turnout was also a big factor in both races, Oppenheimer said.

In the 2012 contest between Fleischmann, Wamp, former McMinn County diary executive Scottie Mayfield and Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla, 76,649 voters went to the polls.

But this time, 91,809 Republicans -- and many claim cross-over Democrats -- came to the polls.

Oppenheimer said the up-ticket tea-party challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander likely energized the Republican establishment and ultraconservative voters alike.

But Oppenheimer expected those who supported state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and his bid to unseat Alexander to go with Fleischmann. That did not appear to be the case.

"It could just be a pro-Republican establishment vote. Just vote for the guy who's in there now," he said.

Wamp also believes that his age and Fleischmann's attack ads played a role in his defeat.

Still, Oppenheimer questions why Fleischmann had such a battle.

"Why, after three go-rounds, is he still struggling to make this a safe district for him in the Republican primary? And maybe he has now," Oppenheimer said. "But if I were an ambitious Republican state senator, or county official, I'd think about giving it a run."

Wamp said Friday he did not anticipate running for political office again "in the near future."

He was disappointed not to capture his home county, but he was pleased with support from the northern reaches of the district where he had anticipated weakness.

"The numbers were surprising, and I'm really grateful to the people further from my hometown that believe in what we were doing," Our best county was Howard Baker's home county. We got 60 percent of the vote in Scott County," Wamp said.

Baker was the state's first popularly elected Republican U.S. senator. He was known for crossing the aisle and finding consensus with Democrats and Republicans alike. He died in June.

Fleischmann will face Democrat Mary Headrick in November. She received 23,581 votes in her unopposed primary.

Contact Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

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 ...

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