Just when the field for the upcoming 3rd District congressional race looked set, an ice cream mogul dropped a big scoop.
Scottie Mayfield, president of Mayfield Dairy, confirmed Wednesday he is "very seriously" considering mounting a campaign to challenge Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in August's 3rd District Republican primary.
In a phone interview with Nooga.com, Mayfield, who has no previous political experience, said he has often considered entering politics and that the change in lines "made it seem like the right time."
"I'm leaning that way hard, or I wouldn't have done this," Mayfield said. "This isn't something you fool around with, it's serious business. I'm going to be talking to some experts in the next two or three weeks, and we'll see. I'm not a stranger to work, so if someone tells me I have to work to do this, that's not a problem."
Since he began working on his father's farm as an 11-year-old, Mayfield has stayed in the family business and grown Mayfield Dairy to employ nearly 2,000 people. The businessman said if he were to run and be elected, he would hope to take the same business principals to Washington.
"I grew up understanding that the consumer was the person you needed to understand and to serve, and I think that will help me," he said. "Because of the type of business that we're in, we have a lot of hard-working people every day delivering milk and ice cream, which gives me a feel for a lot of different communities. As a business we've always been interested in our customers, and these things will help me communicate with folks in the 3rd District."
Despite his background in farming and business, Mayfield is no stranger to political association. Federal Election Commission records show that since 1997, Mayfield has consistently made small contributions to Republican lawmakers and political action committees, including $1,750 donated to former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp between 1997 and 2007.
Wamp's son, Weston, is a candidate in the 3rd District race. Attempts by Nooga.com to reach Wamp for comment were unsuccessful. Despite the connection, Mayfield said he was not mulling his run out of opposition to Fleischmann or disappointment with any of his challengers.
"I haven't really watched Congressman Fleischmann that closely because recently my focus has been on Rep. Jimmy Duncan," Mayfield said. "I know Fleischmann has a very conservative voting record and that he has mostly followed the party line on his votes."
Chip Saltsman, Fleischmann's chief of staff, said it was understandable for Mayfield to be surveying the field following the reshaping of district lines.
"You've got a new district and a guy who doesn't know the district yet, so we encourage him to take a look at it and see if it's something he wants to do," Saltsman said. "Obviously, I hope he decides not to run because Chuck has done a great job. But if he decides to run, we welcome him to the race and look forward to debating the issues and seeing what happens."
As the face of Mayfield Dairy, whose milk and ice cream products are sold across the entirety of the South, Mayfield's name and trademark bow-tie will likely be recognizable to many 3rd District voters. Lisa Clark-Diller, chair of the History Department at Southern Adventist University, said the addition of a recognizable name to the ballot could potentially wind up helping Fleischmann.
"Having more than one challenger on the ballot who could pose a specific threat to Fleischmann, you have to wonder how they might split the vote of those against him," Clark-Diller said. "It's very difficult to beat an incumbent. Statistically, more than 80 percent of them will get their jobs back, no matter what kind of job they've done."
Mayfield repeatedly stated his intention to give careful and serious thought to his decision, adding that he would not begin to consider issues of fundraising until he had reached a conclusion of whether or not to jump in.
"This is not a light decision," he said. "If you're going to represent 700,000 people, you need to get your ducks in a row. I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this for my children and my grandchildren. If everybody up there in Washington would put their country first and themselves second, we'd be doing a lot better."
The current field of Republican candidates seeking to unseat Fleischmann includes Wamp, Ron Bhalla, and Dr. Jean Howard-Hill. Bill Taylor and Mary Headrick are running as Democrats.
Updated @ 6:47 p.m. on 01/25/12 to expand story and for minor tweaking.
Updated @ 12:32 p.m. on 01/26/12 to correct an error with a previous version of this article. The original article said Mayfield donated more than $3,000 to former Rep. Zach Wamp between 1997 and 2008. But Mayfield only donated $1,750 to Wamp between 1998 and 2001. His son, Scottie Mayfield Jr., donated $1,500 to Wamp between 2002 and 2007. We apologize for the error.