3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CANDIDATES
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (incumbent)
• Qualifying deadline -- April 5
• Primary election -- Aug. 2
• General election -- Nov. 6
Scottie Mayfield dumped the cow, but he kept her colors.
So far, spurning the red, white and blue of most Republican campaign materials, Mayfield is embracing the yellow-and-brown ubiquity of Mayfield Dairy in his first run for office.
The 61-year-old Athens, Tenn., native is challenging first-term U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., in a quest to become the first non-Chattanooga resident to win Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District since the 1890s.
Mayfield Dairy's trademark cow is the only thing missing from "Mayfield for Congress" materials. Experts said the campaign brochures, bumper stickers and posters signal Mayfield's efforts to capitalize on his career as the pasteurizing plant's bow-tied spokesman.
"I don't think we considered anything else," Mayfield campaign strategist Tommy Hopper wrote in an email. "It made sense for all the obvious reasons."
Those reasons -- homespun name recognition and the happy vibes associated with milk and ice cream -- may come in handy when voters compare Mayfield's views with Fleischmann's, assuming they're able to do so.
On Friday, the 49th day of the campaign, Mayfield's website included links to donate and volunteer but showed no trace of the candidate's political views, except for the phrase, "Republican for Congress." At a recent campaign fundraiser, when asked if he disagreed with any of Fleischmann's congressional votes, Mayfield replied, "Not really."
Fleischmann responded at his own fundraiser a day later.
"There are a few people who want to be congressman," he told a roomful of donors, "and it's always very nice that they seem to keep confirming my voting record and all the things I do."
Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said the Mayfield name likely packs more punch than Fleischmann's, but that may not translate into victory.
"It's a primary, so you've got to give Republicans a reason to vote for you as opposed to the current incumbent," Oppenheimer said. "It may not be enough to just say, 'I'm somebody you know because I've produced a good product that you like.'"
The 3rd District runs from the Kentucky border to the state line East Ridge shares with Georgia, and Mayfield knows many potential constituents see his name in their refrigerators every morning.
Local Democrats have attempted to use Mayfield's background against him. At a party meeting in February, Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Rodney Strong referred to Mayfield as "the milkman." The line got a laugh at the meeting, but Mayfield appears to be embracing what was intended to be a derisive nickname.
In speeches, he downplays politics and says his congressional qualifications come from managing 1,700 employees at the dairy empire's peak -- and beginning in 2007 cutting more than 250 jobs as milk prices declined.
"My 40 years of experience in business and my no years of experience in politics actually will help me be a good congressman," Mayfield told supporters last week. "That's kind of my reason for doing it."
Still, Mayfield's livelihood could provide a fertile line of attack for Fleischmann and other Republican challengers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an average gallon of whole milk cost $3.52 in February, up 32 cents compared to two years ago. At area grocery stores, Mayfield milk often costs at least a dollar more than its competitors' product.
"Scottie has nothing to do with setting milk prices," wrote Hopper, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman. "I would hope the campaign is about the future of the country, not false negative attacks on a good man's character."
Mayfield is not the first political neophyte to incorporate color schemes, fonts and even persona from his day job. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger often took his bodybuilder-meets-"Terminator" style to the bully pulpit, notably referring to his opponents as "girlie men."
Hopper said the campaign did not seek legal approval to run for office from Dean Foods, the Dallas-based corporation that has owned Mayfield Dairy as a subsidiary since 1990.
"The Mayfield logo is actually a cow in a brown circle with white letters," Hopper wrote, "so there was no reason to consult with them."
Dean Foods spokeswoman Liliana Esposito said the company did not fear an implicit connection between its products and what could be an ugly Republican primary process.
"At this point, there doesn't seem to be anything we need to be concerned about," she said.
In fact, Mayfield's political debut may help business. Regular posts on Mayfield's Facebook page show the buzz of a creamy political scoop.
"A man who can make Extreme Moose Tracks can surely take on Congress!" wrote Daniel Moore, an Ooltewah pastor.
Chip Saltsman, chief of staff for Fleischmann, said he's handling the blitz another way.
"I had to give up Mayfield products for Lent," he said with a grin.