Candidates rev up campaigns ahead of today's vote

Republican candidates running for Tennessee governor began their final push for votes Wednesday, while GOP hopefuls in the 3rd Congressional District contest hurled charges in advance of today's election.

Voters in the state's 95 counties also will be selecting county mayors, county commissioners and other county offices in local general election contests.

Nearly 543,300 people cast ballots during early voting, which ended Saturday. Secretary of State Tré Hargett's office estimated a similar number of Tennesseans will vote today.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., accompanied by his wife, Kim, daughter, Coty, and son, Weston, hit Nashville's Republican-rich suburbs to generate support for his 19-month effort to win the open race for governor.

Wamp, who hopes to become the first governor from Chattanooga since J.B. Frazier in 1903-1905, then struck out by campaign bus for Memphis. The campaign planned an election-eve ice-cream social there, featuring Wamp supporter and country music artist Ricky Skaggs.

GOP gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam criss-crossed the state by air, hitting six cities, including Chattanooga, before heading to his home base for a final rally.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the third major GOP candidate, raced through a seven-city tour of Upper East Tennessee as he sought to rally voters.

3RD DISTRICT CANDIDATESRepublicansTommy CrangleChuck FleischmannTim GobbleJean "Lady J" Howard-HillHarvey HowardVan IrionRick KerneaArt RhodesRobin SmithGrover TravillianBasil Marceaux Sr.DemocratsAlicia MitchellBrenda Freeman ShortBrent Davis StatonJohn WolfeIndependentsDon BarkmanMark DeVolGregory C. GoodwinRobert HumphriesMo KiahSavas T. KyriakidisSource: Tennessee Department of State - Division of Elections

Predicting he will win today's GOP gubernatorial primary, Wamp asserted that Haslam and Democrat Mike McWherter, who has no opposition, are the political equivalent of daddies' boys.

"Both of them are really running on their daddies' fumes," Wamp told supporters during a stop at the City Cafe in Brentwood. "They wouldn't even be in this game if it weren't for their fathers."

Haslam is the son of Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Corp., one of the nation's largest privately held businesses. McWherter, a Jackson beer distributor, is the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, a Democrat.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said of Wamp's assertions that "we have an election tomorrow, and that's not worth a response."

McWherter spokesman Shelby White noted "many things are said in the heat of battle, especially on the eve of an election."

The Knoxville mayor, who has injected at least $1.05 million of his own money into the campaign, has dominated fundraising and television advertising, and it seems to have helped. The latest public poll, conducted two weeks ago by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and other newspapers statewide, showed Haslam with 36 percent support, while Wamp and Ramsey had 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

On Wednesday, Haslam, attending an election event at the Hunter Museum of American Art, said his campaign has been focused on issues that matter to Tennesseans, including jobs.

"That's what people in Tennessee care about," he said.

CONGRESSIONAL RACE HEATS UP

In East Tennessee's open 3rd Congressional District, the race to replace Wamp has been marked in recent weeks by charges and countercharges from two leading GOP contenders, Hixson health care consultant Robin Smith and Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann.

On July 16, the first day of early voting, Fleischmann began airing television ads criticizing Smith, a former state GOP chairwoman, for leaving the party with a financial shortfall when she handed over the reins in 2009.

Fleischmann, who has been endorsed by Fox News weekend host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said Wednesday the campaign has been a "long, hard struggle for a political outsider challenging an entrenched party boss."

"We've run a truthful campaign," he said. "We just reported the truth."

Fleischmann has pumped more than $700,000 of his own money into the race, including $100,000 since last Thursday, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

While running TV ads touting fiscal conservatism, Smith also aired radio ads calling Fleischmann a "slip-and-fall" attorney who has gotten rich in part by suing a local rifle club, Walmart and church.

Among the pro-business groups that have endorsed her candidacy has been the anti-tax Club for Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee.

The Fleischmann campaign criticized a mailer sent this week from the Club for Growth that bashed Fleischmann and asked recipients to call a toll-free number, 800-Get-Some-Pork, that connects to a sex hotline.

Smith said she has focused her campaign on issues that voters are concerned about, including job creation and eliminating wasteful spending in Washington, D.C.

"Despite the lies and attacks from our trial lawyer friend, we have decided to stay out of the fray," she said Wednesday.

Also in the 3rd District, GOP candidate Tim Gobble shrugged off a complaint by Samuel "Perk" Evans, of BornDigital, a information technology company that handled Gobble's website, that the campaign owes him $30,000. Gobble said Evans is a disgruntled volunteer with political motives.

Evans said that, after months of being ignored, he took down the website Tuesday, creating an accusation by the Gobble campaign that he "hacked and hijacked" the site.

"It was my own property," Evans said Wednesday. "I just want to be paid."

Gobble said his campaign has paid Evans for expenses incurred as a volunteer.

Eleven Republicans, four Democrats and six independents are running in the 11-county 3rd District, which stretches from the Georgia to Kentucky borders and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.

Locally, voters will cast ballots in the Hamilton County mayor's race and will decide on the County Commission and school board. Hamilton County voters also will select a register of deeds and Chancery Court judge.

Staff reporter Randall Higgins contributed to this story.

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