NASHVILLE - Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is aiming his third straight televised punch at GOP challenger Weston Wamp with a new ad in which both men's 2012 rival, Scottie Mayfield, directly takes Wamp to task over secretly recording him last spring.
In the 30-second spot, airing in the Chattanooga and Knoxville media markets, Mayfield faces the camera, discusses the controversy that publicly erupted last spring and seeks to raise questions about Wamp's character, trust and "Tennessee values."
"While I was at home playing with my grandson, Weston Wamp showed up at my doorstep, uninvited, to argue politics and secretly recorded our conversation," Mayfield says in the ad.
"Now he's asking for your trust to represent us in Washington?" Mayfield continues. "Those aren't East Tennessee values. We have a congressman we can trust, who's pro-life, endorsed by the NRA and not afraid to stand up to Obama."
Wamp charged in a statement that Fleischmann "has been in office for four years and all he can do is run negative, desperate television ads because he doesn't have a record to stand on."
He also said the ads demonstrate Fleischmann "has fallen behind and these negative ads are a desperate attempt to get re-elected."
Dr. John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor and expert on negative ads, says the Fleischmann's use of the spots "usually ... is a sign that Wamp is somebody he's worried about." In 2012, it was a three-man race, Geer noted, and this time it is one on one.
"There's good reason to believe that it's going to be at least competitive," Geer said. "Whether it'll end up being close in the final analysis no one can guess. They [Fleischmann camp] may have some polling saying, 'We got to stop this or it's going to get bad.'"
Some Republicans are privately wondering whether the congressman's one-two-three ad punches indicate the race is tightening since a July 2 debate sponsored by WTCI-TV and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Fleischmann's campaign isn't discussing the latest ad but noted the two-term 3rd Congressional District congressman has a "six-figure" ongoing buy in the Chattanooga and Knoxville markets.
The ad, appearing in the midst of early voting and just two weeks from the Aug. 7 GOP primary, is based on a March incident, initially reported by the Times Free Press. Mayfield charged Wamp secretly recorded a conversation they had when Wamp came unexpectedly to his home to talk him out of supporting Fleischmann.
In 2012, Fleischmann, Mayfield and Wamp were in a fierce three-man GOP primary in the 3rd Congressional District as Fleischmann sought a second term. In 2014, Mayfield, a former executive at Mayfield Dairy, is backing Fleischmann.
Wamp said "negative campaigning is the only thing our congressman is known for in the district. He has run three negative ads in seven days."
He added that "ironically, Chuck Fleischmann and Scottie Mayfield ran negative campaigns against each other two years ago. It's sad that now they have teamed up to run another negative campaign."
Wamp has previously defended the recording, saying he was "concerned ... Mr. Mayfield may have been a victim of the lies, threats and misinformation that has been spread from Congressman Fleischmann and his cronies."
The latest ad hits two days after Wamp began his own ad responding to a previous Fleischmann attack, which accuses Wamp of backing "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
"Whatever happened to statesmanship and honesty?" Wamp says as he sits on a couch beside his wife, Shelby. "Negative politicians like our incumbent got our country into this mess.
He goes on to say "it's time to put the politics aside. Secure our border." As he says that, an image saying "no amnesty" flashes on the screen. "Cut the federal debt, so that we can leave this country better than we found it," Wamp continues.
Fleischmann's ad used clips from the candidates' recent debate showing Wamp saying, "You'll rarely hear me criticize the president. ... We need to find a pathway for them to be legal."
The ad then charges "Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants who flout our laws and won't demand action from President Obama to secure our borders. On the immigration crisis, we can't trust Weston Wamp."
Earlier this week, Wamp said what he actually stated in the debate was "there are a lot of people who are illegally working. We need to find a pathway for them to be legal, but not citizens, but pay taxes. But unfortunately, Congress does nothing."
He called the "manipulation of my comments by the incumbent ... the lowest form of running a negative campaign."
That ad ran in the Knoxville market and was directed toward the northern end of the 3rd Congressional District.
Another ad ran simultaneously in the southern end in Chattanooga. The spot says "some guys talk about why they're so great ... and do silly things to get attention," and shows black and white images of Wamp and pictures of an RV he uses to campaign in. "These sort of fellows are show horses," the announcer continues as the ad displays an image of horses on a plastic carousel.
"To fight Washington, we need a work horse," the spot's announcer adds. "We got one in Chuck. Chuck is a man who puts his head down and gets the job done. Because public service isn't about famous last names or looking cool. It's about the country's future."
That is a dig at Weston Wamp being the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., whom Fleischmann succeeded.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.