Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's freshman tenure as Tennessee's 3rd District congressman has been on shaky ground since he squeaked out a victory over Robin Smith in a wildly splintered primary in 2010. Lagging fund raising and a wide perception that House Speaker John Boehner has had him on a voting leash the last 15 months has hurt Fleischmann, as well.
So when Weston Wamp, the son of Zach -- Fleischmann's immediate predecessor -- rolled up a slam-dunk $250,000 fund-raiser last December to ignite his campaign for his father's old seat months before he turned 25, the minimum age for a congressman, it was game on.
The youthful Wamp's 3rd District record-setting fund-raiser not only netted about $50,000 more than the $200,000 that Speaker Boehner pulled in for Fleischmann in an elite Walden Club fund-raiser two months earlier. It also made clear that Fleischmann could be successfully targeted even after Boehner had come and gone.
That might have been the pivotal moment that persuaded Scottie Mayfield, the Athens, Tenn., patriarch of Mayfield Dairy Farms, that there was higher ground for another career.
Whatever the case, Mayfield's entry -- and already roaring fund-raising machine -- surely has both Fleischmann and Wamp on notice that the August GOP primary race will be tighter than imagined. Indeed, it's a good question as to how the race will shake out.
Mayfield's campaign entry, officially noted as Feb. 3, seems particularly auspicious. Despite beginning his fund-raising 34 days into the current reporting quarter, he managed to rake in $450,648 in contributions by the end of March, an average of $64,000 per week for that seven-week window. And that's without having had time to appoint fund-raising coordinators and committees in each of the 3rd District's counties. That he hasn't yet articulated a platform or a short-list of political priorities obviously doesn't bother Mayfield's strategist, former Tennessee Republican Party chairman Tommy Hopper.
"People are going to be very pleased with Scottie's views," Hopper said , "but we have our own timetable" for revealing them.
So, on to the money. Mayfield's cash infusion instantly makes him competitive with Fleischmann, who raised $200,000 in the first quarter and says he has about $750,000 in cash on hand; and with Wamp, who raised $175,133 in the first quarter, and reportedly has $436,080 on hand. Mayfield's business acumen and deep business connections in the district also set him apart.
Though Fleischmann is the incumbent, he doesn't have much of a record to run on, nor can he yet claim much congressional experience, expertise or political depth. Since taking office in January 2011, he hasn't had enough time, or enough on the ball, to earn wide recognition or loyalty.
His cold shoulder to public debates and prime-time interviews in the last election weakened him, too. He could easily be seen now as the anonymous guy who got to Congress on a fluke ballot, and has little to show for it. His tea party wing has criticized him for not toeing their reactionary line on budget-and-debt ceiling votes. More moderate voters can only see a lack of progress and bipartisanship in the stalemated House, whose GOP members seem mainly determined to whack Medicare, Social Security and women's rights.
Voters have a right to expect more.