After spending a week on damage control amid a pair of video bombshells, GOP congressional hopeful Scottie Mayfield has a chance to set a policy-driven tone at an upcoming Chattanooga Tea Party debate.
Except he's not doing it.
"Candidate Scottie Mayfield was invited and declined to attend," according to a tea party news release.
Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West found Mayfield's rejection "puzzling."
"It's interesting that when you get hit with something negative," West said, "you still avoid opportunities to engage with the public and define yourself beyond a blank sheet of paper on the issues."
Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp also are challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd District Republican primary. All three plan to participate in the June 23 debate.
"The new guy on the scene is missing," West said. "That's his choice. We'll have a good debate without him."
Mayfield spokesman Joe Hendrix said his boss declined so he could focus on traveling the district and "listening to what constituents have to say about some of the things they are facing."
"He simply believes this is the best use of his time," Hendrix said.
Party leaders said Mayfield's reluctance to debate may prove costly in a month that also included an anonymously uploaded YouTube clip titled "Scottie Mayfield Struggles to Answer Basic Questions" and a criminal charge against his adult son for slashing a rival campaign worker's tire.
"Campaigning isn't something you fall out of bed and know how to do," said Rick Chinn, an official with the Anderson County Republican Party in Tennessee. "He may have thought this would be a little easier than what it is right now."
The last few weeks have been a rocky road for the milk-and-ice-cream mogul.
Mayfield demolished a fundraising record previously held by Fleischmann, collecting $450,000 in a seven-week spree and creating something like a front-runner's buzz in early April. But his inability to distinguish himself from the incumbent led to increased scrutiny and some difficult news cycles.
Not long after Mayfield responded "Not really" to a question on whether he disapproved of Fleischmann's voting record, the YouTube video surfaced. The five-minute clip shows Mayfield remarking that he must get elected before announcing his goals to the public. Asked for comment at the time, the Mayfield campaign implied that one of his opponents was involved in filming the video and promised to abstain from "silly and childish attempts to diminish the other guys."
But a week later, during a Mayfield bus tour stop at the Roane County Courthouse, a man emerged from Mayfield's entourage and slashed a tire belonging to a Fleischmann staffer there to observe the event. Angled toward the parking lot, courthouse surveillance cameras captured the man on video. The Mayfield campaign initially denied having knowledge of what happened.
The next day, Michael Mayfield, 33, confessed to his father and to law enforcement, leading to a vandalism charge. Scottie Mayfield issued a public apology Thursday after his son's mea culpa.
Party leaders are divided on the incident's political impact.
Bradley County Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Debbie Williams said activists believe Michael Mayfield's actions to be "unfortunate, uncalled for and unprofessional."
"It certainly doesn't help his dad," she said.
But she predicted that voters may forgive the deed over time, given that Scottie Mayfield publicly apologized after his son's actions.
"When you have adult children," she said, "I don't know how much you can be held accountable for what they do or don't do."
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf called the slashing "unfortunate," but he said the public would forget about it "when the media quits playing it up."
"I hope it's not considered an issue when it comes to whether someone's qualified to be in Congress," he said.
Several Republican leaders dismissed suggestions of Mayfield's demise, citing built-in name recognition and 11 political eternities -- 11 weeks -- before early voting begins. Others said the Athens, Tenn., resident enjoys a strong hometown power base. Four McMinn and Monroe County GOP officials reached Friday declined to comment.