NASHVILLE -- Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Haslam is marching onto GOP rival Zach Wamp's hometown turf next week, buying about $110,000 in local TV ads.
According to public filings at the four local network affiliates, the 60-second spots begin airing Feb. 12, the same day the Winter Olympics begin, and continue through Feb. 28.
The largest buy, according to public files, is $68,905 with NBC affiliate WRCB-TV Channel 3. NBC has the television rights to broadcast the Winter Olympics.
Knoxville Mayor Haslam leads all candidates in fundraising and was sitting on $4.23 million in cash on Jan. 15, records show.
Also, an executive at WBIR-TV Channel 10 in Knoxville, an NBC affiliate, said the mayor intends to begin running ads on that station later this month.
U.S. Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn., said in a statement he was "flattered" in one sense by the Haslam ad blitz in Chattanooga. But he went on to blast it as an attempt to blunt his "rising" momentum and "buy this election."
That won't work, the congressman said, "because the people are sick of big money and big special interests, like the oil companies, calling all of the shots."
The "oil companies" reference is a shot at Mr. Haslam, who along with family members owns Pilot Corp., which owns and operates a series of gas and convenience centers nationwide.
"This election is going to be decided by the people -- based on ideas, vision, strength and results about who can do the best job for Tennessee," Rep. Wamp said, "and the fact is, after more than a year of campaigning, Bill Haslam has simply not been able to make the case on any of those, which probably explains his desperation in launching such an unusually early TV buy against me."
Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an e-mailed response that "we're not surprised by the congressman's antics, but we're doing exactly what we planned well over a year ago."
He declined to go into detail about where the Haslam ads are running.
"We've got a plan in place," he said. "This is part of that plan, and people will see it unfold over the course of the campaign."
Brad Todd, an adviser to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, another of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, also criticized Mr. Haslam.
"No one questions that Bill Haslam will have the money" to run ads, Mr. Todd said. "The question remains whether he's got anything to say."
He said he believes Mr. Haslam is using the ads "to try to purchase a 'sugar high'" in voter name identification in advance of polling.
Staff writer Monica Mercer contributed to this story.