Republican state Sen. Gardenhire spends nearly $200,000 in contest with Democrat Wilkinson

photo Khristy Wilkinson

NASHVILLE - State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and fellow Republican senators went all out for his District 10 race in October, with the freshman lawmaker alone spending $190,865 on his contest with Democrat Khristy Wilkinson, his latest financial disclosure shows.

With early voting underway until Thursday and the general election this coming Tuesday, the retired financial adviser reported spending $131,971 of that money on local television ads, moving the actual buys themselves through a prominent Republican strategic marketing communications firm, OnMessage, which also produced Gardenhire's 30-second spot.

The senator spent another $43,361 on printing and evidently for political mail.

The information comes from campaign disclosures filed late Monday by Gardenhire with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

They show Gardenhire raised $123,886.44 during the Oct. 1-29 reporting period. He still had $83,792.85 in cash on hand.

They also show Wilkinson, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga adjunct professor who unexpectedly won the August Democratic primary, being massively outspent.

Wilkinson reported Monday that she raised nearly $16,000, spent $20,778.25 and had $8,229.87 in cash on hand.

While Wilkinson is being helped by an independent expenditure group that is spending $46,000 on TV ads to boost her effort, the Senate Republican Caucus is spending heavily to ensure that District 10, which contains portions of Hamilton and Bradley counties, remains in GOP hands.

The Senate Republican Caucus gave $70,000 directly to Gardenhire's campaign, with $10,000 going for the general election and another $60,000 backdated to the August primary. That brings its total direct contributions during the two-year election cycle to $112,520.

In addition, Senate Republicans spent another $35,000 during the Oct. 1-29 reporting period in in-kind contributions for digital advertising to boost Gardenhire's campaign, as well as a separate $12,769 expenditure for professional services with the OnMessage media firm, which has ties to Tennessee.

They're bankrolling a full-time campaign worker to the tune of $3,000.

Besides the Republican Caucus, other contributors to Gardenhire in the latest period include:

- $10,000 from BOW-PAC, a political action committee belonging to Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

- $4,000 from MCPAC, a political action committee belonging to presumed incoming Senate speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

- $2,000 from Tennessee Federation for Children PAC, a group that lobbies for school vouchers.

- $1,000 from Tennesseans for Putting Children First PAC, a group that lobbies to boost public charter school interests.

- $1,000 from Claude Ramsey, a former Hamilton County mayor and one-time top deputy to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

- $1,500 from Zan Guerry, chairman of the Chattanooga-based health care product company Chattem.

Wilkinson, meanwhile, raised almost 10 percent, or $1,500, from Nick Wilkinson, the city of Chattanooga's deputy administrator of economic development who lost to her in the Democrats' Aug. 4 primary. The two Wilkinsons are not related.

Wilkinson's pre-general election disclosure, covering contributions and expenditures from Oct. 1-29, is the final form required before next Tuesday's election.

The bulk of Wilkinson's $20,778.25 in reported expenses last month was a $14,498.88 payment for direct mail. Another $1,300 went for a Senate District 10 poll.

Wilkinson's bank balance stood at $8,229.87 at the end of the period.

She also received a $250 contribution from Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson, who had been a Nick Wilkinson booster. Democratic activist Annie Hall of Signal Mountain, listed as a political consultant, gave $500.

Other contributions included $2,000 from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union of Lanham, Md., and $1,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Washington, D.C., office.

The district includes Chattanooga, other southern and eastern parts of Hamilton County and much of nearby rural Bradley County.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.