He's not debating, speaking or even appearing in public anytime soon, but Scottie Mayfield's congressional campaign rejected rumors of its own demise five days after police said the dairy executive's 33-year-old son slashed a rival aide's tire at a campaign event.
"We're moving forward," spokesman Joe Hendrix said Tuesday.
Mayfield is challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary. Using surveillance footage taken during a sparsely attended Mayfield rally at the Roane County Courthouse last week, police charged Michael Mayfield with vandalism under $500 after he confessed to using a pocketknife to disable a Fleischmann aide's left rear tire.
In a Chattanooga Times Free Press article published Sunday, Republican activists and officials questioned Mayfield's long-term political viability and seriousness as a candidate, citing an overall lack of substance and a batch of negative publicity since Michael Mayfield walked into the Kingston Police Department and said, "I did it."
A few party leaders pondered whether the elder Mayfield would drop out amid the fallout.
"That would be the most absurd thing I've ever heard," campaign strategist Tommy Hopper said, "and I've heard some really absurd things. It has never been discussed, suggested or considered, at least in my mind or presence."
Campaign officials are seeking to distance themselves and the candidate from the incident, declining to comment beyond a written apology released Thursday.
"This is a family matter at this point," Hendrix said. "It's not part of the staff, not a part of the campaign and not a part of the candidate in terms of what he is trying to do."
Records show Michael Mayfield gave his father the maximum campaign contribution of $5,000 in March. Before the alleged criminal act, he stepped off a tour bus commissioned by the Mayfield campaign. Afterward, security cameras filmed him walking into the Roane County Courthouse, where the campaign was holding a meet-and-greet session with officials. Several paid staff joined the districtwide tour.
Looking ahead, Hendrix said private meetings and no public events are coming up for Mayfield as other candidates begin stumping. Fleischmann began what his campaign is calling the "Proven Conservative Tour" around the district this week, while Democrat Bill Taylor talked about jobs, health care and the Chickamauga lock at Collegedale City Hall on Monday.
Third District hopefuls on both sides also have emphasized a willingness to debate. Mayfield last week declined an invitation to appear at a Chattanooga Tea Party debate scheduled for June 23.
As for future forums, the campaign isn't saying much.
"We're not going to speculate on whether there's going to be another debate for us," Hendrix said. "But Scottie believes debates tend to divide rather than bring people together in the conservative base."
Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp also are running in the GOP primary. Mary Headrick is challenging Taylor on the Democratic side, while the lone independent candidate is Matthew Deniston.