polls here 1524

ATHENS, Tenn. - Six weeks into his congressional campaign, Scottie Mayfield said he couldn't identify a single issue where he differs from U.S Rep. Chuck Fleischmann -- the man he's trying to beat.

"I haven't studied his voting record that close," Mayfield said in an interview Tuesday at a hometown fundraiser here. "I'm sure we will when we get a little bit deeper into that sort of thing, but I'm going to say not really."

Mayfield and three other Republicans are challenging Fleischmann in the District 3 Congressional GOP primary. The well-known dairy executive said his leadership skills and business career would make him "a better representative" than Fleischmann.

The lack of contrast didn't keep about 100 people from attending Tuesday evening's fundraiser at a supporter's sprawling home, where the Mayfield campaign estimated a $25,000 haul. Several donors said they didn't know of any major policy differences between Fleischmann and Mayfield, instead vouching for their candidate's personality and character.

"Scottie's one of the few people I've ever met that have never lied, cheated or stolen, or even been unethical," said Danny Fisher, an adjunct business professor at Tennessee Wesleyan College.

But amid the yellow-and-brown Mayfield Dairy color scheme co-opted on his campaign Facebook page, some observers are grumbling and beginning to wonder why anyone should send him to Congress.

"What are your positions?" wrote Jes Beard. "If elected, what would you try to do? What do you support, what do you oppose?"

Beard's questions remain unanswered on the Mayfield Facebook page, but the candidate sought to address them at a makeshift living room podium Tuesday. In a 10-minute speech, Mayfield said federal spending is out of control -- a talking point often employed by Fleischmann -- and that "defense is the No. 1 reason we have a federal government."

"I'm not going to talk about it because I think it's going OK," he said, making no mention of any issues relative to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Mayfield said he wants to simplify the tax code and reduce "red tape" in government. The only politician he discussed besides "Chuck" was U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat in Congress who represents metro Nashville.

"I look forward to working with Jim Cooper because he sounds to me like somebody that's really great," he said after describing Cooper's efforts to encourage new members of Congress to revise existing laws instead of adding new ones.

Chip Saltsman, chief of staff for Fleischmann, took issue with Mayfield's shot at the congressman's leadership skills, mentioning legislation his boss has introduced on taxes and spending.

"Chuck has been fighting the fight every day on every issue," Saltsman said.

Mayfield recently hired a pollster and more hires are coming. Fleischmann has a $620,000 in-the-bank head start, and Mayfield has acknowledged the freshman congressman "has an advantage" financially. An event invitation for a March 27 Mayfield fundraiser at downtown Chattanooga's Walden Club suggests a $1,000 "minimum donation." Mayfield's first financial disclosure will be available in April.

Ron Bhalla, Jean Howard-Hill and Weston Wamp also are running in the 3rd District Republican primary. Maynardville physician Mary Headrick and Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor are competing for the Democratic slot.

The primary is Aug. 2.