NASHVILLE — Spending in the Tennessee Senate District 10 battle between incumbent Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire and Democratic challenger Glenn Scruggs hit the $281,000 mark on Sept. 30, making it the second costliest state Senate contest in the state's Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
So far, the bulk of the political spending — $247,000 — has come from Gardenhire, a Chattanoogan seeking a third Senate term in the district that includes the city of Chattanooga in Hamilton County and a portion of Bradley County.
Tennessee Registry of Election Finance filings show Gardenhire over the course of the campaign has about a seven-to-one spending advantage over Scruggs, a Chattanooga assistant chief of police who in August became the first Black state Democratic Senate nominee in history from the area.
As of Sept. 30, Scruggs had spent $34,834, according to campaign filings. But Scruggs still had plenty in cash reserves, $113,000 at the end of the third quarter. And a review of Federal Communication Commission filings for the final days of the campaign show he has since begun airing television ads. He's also hitting radio, adding to previous online advertising efforts.
Gardenhire, who has been up on television and radio, has money left too, reporting he still had $84,400 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.
The Gardenhire-Scruggs contest, for which early voting continues through Thursday, is one of the two most hotly contested state Senate races in Tennessee, where Democrats hope to eke out modest gains in the Senate and House. Republicans now command better than two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers.
Ranking No. 1 in spending among contested Senate races is Senate District 20, where Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, faces Democrat and former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell. The candidates' combined spending as of Sept. 30 was just shy of $400,000, according to state filings.
Gardenhire's haul, big advertising buy
The bulk of Gardenhire's spending came during the third quarter. Armed with an additional $168,700 in new contributions, the senator shelled out $222,600, including a $128,000 payment on Sept. 15 to his campaign consultant, Louisana-based Multi-Quest, for radio and television ad buys, according to his latest filing.
Gardenhire, who in the past largely self-funded his campaigns, has raised nearly $287,500 in contributions during the 2020 cycle. More than a third of it — $100,000 — came on Sept. 11 from the Senate Republican Caucus.
The caucus also made one other $100,000 contribution, to Dickerson's campaign.
Other contributions include $7,800 that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, gave to Gardenhire's primary through Watson's BOW-PAC, another $4,800 from personal contributions and Watson's campaign account. State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Carter's wife, Joan, contributed $1,500 each.
Gardenhire hauled in more than $100,000 from business, ideological and other political action committees.
The senator's top PAC contribution came from the state liquor distributors' PAC, which gave $8,500 to the senator's primary and general election campaigns. Another top PAC contributor was the Tennessee Trial Lawyers of Tennessee's PAC, which gave $7,750 for the primary and general elections.
Tennessee Realtors' PAC gave $6,000, as did health insurer Cigna. Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee gave $2,500. Unum Group, which like BlueCross and Cigna has a large presence in Chattanooga, gave $1,000.
Gardenhire also received support from two labor unions, one being a $2,000 contribution made by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC. The other was a $500 contribution made by the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 43 in Chattanooga.
Local individual donors included Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, who gave $200. Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tennessee, contributed $1,000. Other contributions included $1,000 from former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Gardenhire has been up on local broadcast and cable stations with television spots, highlighting what he views as his accomplishments and record.
"I hope to do what other people don't do and that is continue to talk in a positive way about my election and what I've done and not say anything other than just what I've done in the past," the senator said.
A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Gardenhire said Tennessee has avoided education spending cuts and increased support for it, including an extra $250 million in teacher benefits over the past four years. "We've increased Medicaid or Tenncare funding by 42%. We've fully funded education, we've fully funded the pension plan, no road debt, we'll just continue to show fiscal responsibility," he added.
Scruggs' support, spending
Scruggs, meanwhile, received a $25,000 contribution from Senate Democrats' PAC. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, made two contributions totaling $7,500 from his Envision Tennessee PAC.
Through Sept. 30, Scruggs reported raising $148,000.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat who once held the seat now occupied by Gardenhire, gave Scruggs $1,000. And Scruggs' one-time boss, former Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, gave the assistant chief $500. Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat, contributed $250.
Longtime Democratic Party supporter Olan Mills contributed $3,200 to Scruggs' primary and general election efforts while Norma Mills, his wife, gave $400. Four other Mills family members collectively contributed $5,300. Local architect Thomas Faulkner and Sarah Faulkner collectively contributed $5,800.
Donna Williams, the administrator of the city of Chattanooga's Department of Economic & Community Development, contributed $500 while David Eichental, a former city of Chattanooga finance officer and director of performance review, gave $250.
The Tennessee Education Association, which represents public school teachers, contributed $2,500 through its PAC. And two unions, the Nashville-based Service Employees International Union Local No. 205 and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, each gave $1,000.
Scruggs' campaign website says that if elected Scruggs will push for campaign finance reform, saying "dark money" has too much influence. The website also says Scruggs "won't be taking a dime from corporations or political action committees. Glenn wants to be a candidate for the working people and will never be beholden to special interests."
Ronald Elliott, Scruggs' campaign manager, said the candidate draws a distinction between labor union and corporate contributions, noting "we're proud to have labor support, and we stand by not accepting corporate PAC money. Having labor support is a different story. We're picking up everyday people."
Elliott said that while Republicans are "dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into this race," many people "have just started hearing Glenn's message."
The candidate's average contribution is about $150, Elliott said, "so we're really excited we're going to pull off this grassroots movement. We're glad to have their support."
Under state law, contributions totaling $100 or less from a single source during the reporting period may be totaled and reported as a single item. In his disclosures, Scruggs reported listed a number of donors who gave $100 contributions each. Another $26,964 in unitemized contributions appear to have been less than $100 each.
A review of several local broadcast television stations' Federal Communications Commission filings show that since Scruggs filed his Sept. 30 state disclosure, he has bought nearly $20,000 worth of ad time on two Chattanooga broadcast television stations and began airing ads this past week.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.