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Congressman Chuck Fleischmann speaks to the Hamilton County Pachyderms on Monday at the Hamilton County Republican Headquarters.

In contemplating the fact that we're stuck with Chuck Fleischmann at least until Democrat Mary Headrick takes a shot at knocking him out of office in November, think about the potential downside of voting early.

In Hamilton County alone, 21,404 people voted early -- roughly a 10th of of the county's registered voters. Of those early balloters, 15,473 of them asked for and voted on the Republican primary ballot.

Early voting began on July 18 -- about the same time Fleischmann launched one of the ugliest, negative campaigns seen here. Over the next two weeks, he unleashed at least four television attack ads and at least two mailers, including one with a faked photograph intended to depict his challenger Weston Wamp burning a passport beside a partial quote about immigration amnesty taken out of context.

By the time the faked photo mailer landed in mailboxes across the county -- about July 25 -- nearly 8,000 people had voted early in the Republican primary, and it was too late for voter disgust with Fleischmann's underhandedness to bite him with any of those votes that might have been cast for him.

But it did bite with some, and it very nearly turned the two-term incumbent out. Republican disgust with Fleischmann's tactics (even while Wamp deliberately stayed positive) was evidenced on the day before the election with a full-page newspaper ad decrying the "dishonest" and "negative" campaign. The ad, urging support for Wamp, was signed by about 150 local and prominent Republicans, among others.

But the incumbent's desperation ads had been timed carefully. By July 29, when there finally was enough buzz about the negative ads to prompt news stories, early voting was nearly over and 10,000 to 12,000 votes had been cast on Republican ballots just in Hamilton County. Wamp lost the county by 84 votes. He lost the entire 11-county 3rd District by a mere 1,469 votes.

For voters, one moral to this story is stark: Don't think you know the mettle and ethics of a candidate until you see how he or she behaves in the final hard-fought days of a campaign. It's entirely possible that in this race, plenty of those early voters might like their votes back.

But all is not lost. If Fleischmann's razor-thin win shows anything, it is that this two-term congressman is incredibly vulnerable. He's an incumbent who wins his primary against a 27-year-old with no experience in political office by less than 1,500 votes.

Fleischmann and the big-money conservative movement nationally know that he is a broken eggshell. Why else the rush to negativity and deception at the end of a campaign by a guy always quick to wave a flag, talk about prayer and offer a tearful "I care about the people ..."?

Why else did more than half of Fleischmann's contributions come late and from outside the 3rd District, including 12 of 16 special interest PAC contributions from the Washington area, Detroit, St. Louis, Richmond and North Carolina to support four negative TV ads and two negative mailers in the final weeks of the campaign?

The congressman's vulnerability will only be increased in November.

And -- heaven forbid -- should he win then, too, his weaknesses will haunt him right on into 2016.

You can bet already, there are some ambitious GOP public officials, say state lawmakers or regional mayors, eyeing this incumbent's pathetic primary election results and his vulnerability in two years.

Muck may win, but it sure leaves a mess.