A first-time candidate for office should grab every chance to promote his candidacy. Not Scottie Mayfield, the Athens businessman who is seeking the Republican nomination in Tennessee's 3rd District primary election. He's hiding from the public. First, he turned down the chance to appear at a Chattanooga Tea Party forum. Now, he's refused an invitation to face incumbent Chuck Fleischmann and challengers Weston Wamp and Ron Bhalla in a May 21 debate sponsored by The Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV.
Primary season is still in its infancy, but a disconcerting pattern is emerging from Mayfield's camp. The candidate avoids public debate and speaks only to friendly groups. That is the only explanation for the candidate's refusals -- and for an email to this paper from Joe Hendrix, Mayfield's campaign spokesman, regarding the May 21 event.
"Scottie believes the majority of those who attend debates have already made up their mind who they are going to vote for," Hendrix wrote. "The issues are not where the candidates differ, it's experience." Hendrix did write that Mayfield has several public appearances scheduled but declined to name them, adding that the candidate plans to "connect with undecided voters, one on one." Huh?
How are voters supposed to "connect" with the candidate or, more importantly, measure the man, his "experience" or his views on vital district and national issues if they don't know where or when he will appear? Mayfield, it seems, prefers to distance himself from voters rather than engage them.
No wonder. Some of his public appearances have turned into disasters. One captured on a widely circulated YouTube video shows the candidate inarticulately answering a simple query about his goals if elected. Mayfield tells assembled students that district residents will have to wait until he gets to Congress to find out. Voters deserve a better answer than that.
Indeed, Mayfield's response suggests an arrogance and an entitlement that ill serves any candidate, as does his refusal to appear with his opponents. It's as if Mayfield expects voters to rubber-stamp his candidacy because he is wealthy, because TV ads for the dairy that bears his name have given him name recognition, and because he's deigned to offer his services to the public. Nonsense. Voters should know better than to accept that sort of reasoning.
Sadly, avoidance of the public and the media is an increasingly popular political strategy. Fleischmann, in fact, successfully used it after winning the 2010 GOP primary. He avoided public appearances when he could, refused to engage in real debate when he couldn't -- limiting statements to platitudes -- and clearly expected the heavy GOP majority in the district to propel him to victory regardless.
Mayfield is using the same tactic. That might suit Mayfield, but it is a disaster for those who rightly want to know a candidate and his platform, and to measure his worth in a debate before voting. A candidate worth his or her salt -- or a vote -- ought to engage willingly in public conversation. Mayfield won't. Voters should hold him accountable for that failing on Aug. 2.