Previewing the Tennessee House Primaries
Updated 12:20 p.m.
In 2010, open seats and several Republican pickup opportunities combined to make Tennessee one of the most interesting, quirky states of the cycle. It was an early proving ground for unlimited outside money in House primaries, and several of those nominating contests were extremely competitive. Those themes are repeating themselves in this year's Tennesee primaries, where two incumbents have tough contests and outside money is again playing a role in today's votes.
In the 3rd District, freshman Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann drew three challengers, including well-funded dairy mogul Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, the son of the man who held the seat from 1995 through 2011. Fleischmann has defended the seat energetically, expending his campaign treasury and recognizing his danger early after winning the 2010 open primary with just 30 percent of the vote in a large, divided field.
Yet neither Mayfield nor Wamp effectively capitalized on Fleischmann's lack of stability. Mayfield was even considered an early favorite to take the seat, with pre-existing name recognition from his family's dairy business. But he ran a startlingly issue-free campaign, declining to detail policy positions on a number of occasions and saying that could wait for when he got to Washington. He also did not attend most of the candidate forums, leading the Chattanooga Times Free Press to title their endorsement editorial "Anyone but Mayfield." (It also certainly didn't help when Mayfield's son slashed the tires of a Fleischmann staffer's car.) Wamp, meanwhile, ran a flight of eye-catching TV ads but also got sidetracked into competing with Mayfield for the anti-Fleischmann vote for long stretches of the primary.
Fleischmann still figures to get a relatively low percentage of votes today (and could still lose), but his more focused campaign -- touting his hardscrabble roots and his work in Congress -- put him in the driver's seat of a race that threatened at one point to careen out of his control.