NASHVILLE - Tennessee's first open contest for governor in eight years has become a multimillion-dollar slugfest among the three top Republicans vying in Thursday's primary election.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp have slammed each other's records on taxes and spending and fought over their conservative credentials, broken pledges and business dealings.

As of last Monday, campaign expenditures had hit $14.5 million.

By comparison, the Democratic primary has been an oasis of tranquility. Only one candidate is on the ballot: businessman Mike McWherter, of Jackson, the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter.

Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said that the Republican sparring - much of it in television ads - reflects the continuing tension between the party's hard conservatives and its relative moderates.

"I think there is a sense out there that Haslam was viewed as more moderate and coming from that part of the party, what has been traditionally more labeled as the country club Republican Party in Tennessee," Oppenheimer said.

Wamp and Ramsey, he said, "represent the newer, more conservative end" of the party.

Ramsey and Wamp have attacked the Knoxville mayor's successful push for a property tax increase in 2003 and his past membership in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.

In one ad, the Wamp campaign labeled Haslam, whose family owns Pilot Corp., a "billionaire oilman" whose company gouged customers on fuel prices after Hurricane Ike two years ago.

Haslam, a former Pilot president, said the gas-gouging allegations involved only four stations and were inadvertent. He said the company settled with the state without admitting guilt.

The mayor argues Knoxville's property tax rates are now at their lowest rate in a half century. And he said he quit the Bloomberg group when it took off in directions he vehemently opposed.

Haslam has pointed out that Ramsey voted for the largest state tax increase in history when he backed a 1 cent state sales tax hike in 2002.

He has attacked Wampsharply for the congressman's flip-flops on term limits and acceptance of special interest money.

He also charged Wamp "voted for billions in earmarks" and "helped run up the federal debt to record highs."

Haslam, who has injected $1.05 million of his own money into his effort, has dominated spending and television advertising.

He led Wamp 36 percent to 25 percent in a July 21-23 public opinion poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and other major state newspapers.

Ramsey trailed with 20 percent. Seventeen percent were undecided.

Haslam has raised about $9.2 million through July 26 and spent about $8.8 million. He reported $1.9 million cash on hand as of Monday.

Wamp has raised an estimated $4.1 million, spent about $3.37 million and reported about $780,000 in cash on hand as of Monday. But The Associated Press reported much of his remaining funds were designated for the general election and can't be used in the primary.

Ramsey has raised nearly $3 million, lent his campaign $200,000 and spent about $2.4 million. He reported $735,000 on hand.

McWherter has raised about $1.55 million and also lent his campaign $1 million. He has spent $1.277 million and had about that amount on hand as of Monday.

The next governor will be paid $179,340 and is expected to be inaugurated in January.

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