3rd Congressional District: It's big money in one corner vs. grassroots support in the other

3rd Congressional District: It's big money in one corner vs. grassroots support in the other

August 1st, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Weston Wamp and Chuck Fleischmann

Photo by

POLL: Can Weston Wamp beat incumbent Chuck Fleischmann?

Experts say the outcome of the Republican primary for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District will depend entirely on voter turnout.

And while incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has raised more money than challenger Weston Wamp, many of the incumbent's donors can't vote to re-elect him.

Most of Fleischmann's donors are doctors, lawyers, bankers and political operatives -- traditional Republican campaign contributors -- but the majority come from outside the state's 3rd Congressional District or are political action committees, considered people for the purposes of campaign funding, but not for voting.

The 11-county district comprises Anderson, Bradley, Campbell, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Morgan, Polk, Roane, Scott and Union counties.

The Ooltewah Republican's first- and second quarter and pre-primary campaign finance reports show that 206 of his contributors lived in the district. The remaining 280 donors were people who lived in or around Washington D.C.; Texas; New York and other areas outside the 3rd District or were PACs.

Those donors have given Fleischmann $1.2 million since Jan. 1, 2013 -- $699,952 from people, and $529,183 from political action committees.

He has spent $902,000 battling Wamp this cycle.

Wamp, on the other hand, has raised his money almost entirely in the 3rd District. The son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp hit the campaign trail hard, spending three nights a week on the road.

Wamp's campaign finance reports show that 388 contributors were district residents and 34 lived outside the district. Wamp also received money from two Republican leadership PACs.

From a pool of tow-truck operators, entrepreneurs and diner owners -- and a handful of politically connected family friends -- Wamp was able to garner $584,860. Of that, $4,000 was PAC money.

Wamp has spent $501,699 ahead of the primary, according to reports.

Vanderbilt public policy professor Bruce Oppenheimer says Fleischmann has a lot of money, and Wamp may have some grassroots support, but neither candidate can rest easy until Aug. 7.

Typically, he said, the candidate with the most money wins the primary. But this race may not go that way, Oppenheimer said.

Wamp's cadre of in-district individual donors don't necessarily mean the majority of residents will vote for him. And members of PACs who supported Fleischmann may live in the district, Oppenheimer said.

But Wamp has pulled more than $500,000 from supporters -- and his campaign has been helped by a $300,000 independent PAC contribution made by his boss, Lamp Post Group founder Allan Davis. Also, Fleischmann has been filling the airwaves with attack ads, a negative with many voters. Oppenheimer said all those elements give Wamp more of a chance than he normally would have against a two-term incumbent.

"Wamp has enough [money] to be competitive, and he's getting additional visibility because Fleischmann's talking about him so much. All the evidence is that Fleischmann at least is giving Wamp's campaign credibility, maybe for good reason," Oppenheimer said.

Conner Ingram, a spokesman for Fleischmann's campaign, said that despite lower individual contributor numbers, the congressman has been "grassroots campaigning" too.

"Obviously at the base level, we've been taking advantage of four years having good relations throughout the district," he said. "We've got an army of volunteers making calls. I've had Chuck out door-knocking, in the rain."

Ingram said the best way for Fleischmann to get re-elected is for him to keep doing his job.

"And he never stops working in his official capacity," Ingram said.

But Wamp spokesman Marshall Brock said he still likes their chances at stirring up a big turnout.

"Just as our campaign is all about the people of the 3rd District, all of our support comes from the 3rd District and we just hope on Election Day that rings true. Because [Fleischmann's] support can't vote," Brock said.

The winner of the Aug. 7 Republican primary will face Democratic candidate Mary Headrick.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.