U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp's decision not to seek re-election in East Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District created a rare open U.S. House seat that attracted 21 contenders.
That large field, along with a spirited Republican primary that includes Wamp in the governor's race, has sparked unusually high interest in Thursday's election, said Hamilton County Administrator of Elections Charlotte Mullis-Morgan.
She said Republican voters have outpolled Democrats locally by 5 to 1 in early voting, which ended Saturday.
"It's the governor's race and especially the 3rd District race," she said.
Hixson health care consultant Robin Smith, 47, and Ooltewah resident Chuck Fleischmann, also 47, have led the GOP field in campaign spending.
By the end of the second-quarter reporting period, Smith had spent $485,997, while Fleischmann's total reached $564,301, according to the Federal Election Commission website. Fleischmann, a Chattanooga attorney, pumped $601,025 of his own money into the race.
Fleischmann, who has been endorsed by Fox News weekend host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has aired television ads criticizing Smith, a former state GOP chairwoman, for leaving the party with a shortfall when she handed over the reins in 2009.
Smith has run a radio ad accusing her rival of being a "slip-and-fall" attorney who has made money by suing a local rifle club, Walmart and a church. She also has benefited from an independent-expenditure TV ad from the anti-tax Club for Growth questioning Fleischmann's opposition to earmarks and commitment to curbing federal spending.
The slugfest between Smith and Fleischmann has prompted less well-funded contenders to seek creative avenues to deliver their messages.
Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, 46, a 3rd District GOP contender who has spent $93,038, urges his Twitter followers, in an allusion to attack ads from his opponents, not to "squabble" but to "vote for Gobble."
Richard Wilson, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science professor, said that while the district is conservative, a Democrat has an outside chance, with the leading Republicans tearing each other apart.
The only Democrats who had raised the $5,000 required to file an FEC report were Community Bridgebuilders board member Brenda Freeman Short, 64, who pulled in $11,324, and physician Brent Staton, 40, who raised $20,372, including $3,222 of his own money.
The Democratic and Republican winners will square off Nov. 2.
The 11-county 3rd Congressional District, which represents about 650,000 East Tennesseans, stretches from the Georgia to Kentucky borders and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Chattanooga Republican running for governor, has served the district since 1995.Congress members receive $174,000 annually.
3rd District Candidates
Jean "Lady J" Howard-Hill
Basil Marceaux, Sr.
Brenda Freeman Short
Brent Davis Staton
Gregory C. Goodwin
Savas T. Kyriakidis
Source: Tennessee Department of State - Division of Elections