More than one month after hiring a "top GOP pollster" to conduct research for his campaign, 3rd District candidate Scottie Mayfield released results of a poll indicating he is nine points ahead of both Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp.
The internal poll, supervised by Whit Ayres of Washington, D.C.-based North Star Opinion Research, comes less than four months before the Aug. 2 congressional primary and is the first canvassing of district voters to be made public by a candidate. In the past, Ayres has administered surveys on behalf of Tennessee lawmakers such as Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker and former Sen. Bill Frist.
A release from the Mayfield campaign said 400 "likely Republican voters" in the new 3rd District participated in the live interview poll, conducted April 3-5. Although no additional data was provided to substantiate the findings, the poll shows the regional dairy mogul emerging with a lead of 34 percent, ahead of both Fleischmann and Wamp, who received 25 percent each.
Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, said that candidate polls should be taken "with a grain of salt." Despite being from a reliable polling firm, Oppenheimer added it would be hard to read into the results without having more details available.
"The sample isn't particularly large," Oppenheimer said. "Another question is how did they determine who was a 'likely' or 'nonlikely' voter. You can't know what to read into or what not to read into without knowing more about the poll—it's hard to tell what the filter is when it's released by a candidate. That filter may or may not mean everything."
A summary sheet of the poll added that Fleischmann's numbers were "weak for an incumbent." When respondents were asked a question regarding the congressman's re-election, only 28 percent said he deserved to stay in office.
Tommy Hopper, general consultant to the Mayfield campaign, said the poll results, combined with Mayfield's initial $450,000 quarterly fundraising haul, signified the beginning of what he hoped would be a "snowball effect" for the first-time candidate.
"You get out-raised, you get some bad polling numbers, and you're getting outworked, and it's a snowball effect," Hopper said, referring to Fleischmann and Wamp, the two most serious Republican candidates prior to Mayfield's February entrance into the race. "April is going to be a busy and surprising month for the Mayfield campaign."
Fleischmann's camp responded by labeling the campaign as "fiction" but declined to clarify their basis for doing so. Jordan Powell, spokesperson for the congressman's campaign, also pointed to a poll released in 2010 by former 3rd District candidate Robin Smith, which described the candidate as holding a "commanding" lead before early voting.
"We usually don't comment about pieces of fiction," Powell said. "But it appears they must have modeled their poll after the poll that had Robin Smith up 22 points going into early voting."
Despite the poll showing him on equal footing with the congressman, Weston Wamp, the son of former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp, said he was confident in the current status of his campaign. Wamp called on Mayfield and Fleischmann to participate in a 3rd District debate, a proposition he has made several times since joining the race.
"Voters need to see the three of us together, on a stage, so they can see which candidate will go to Washington with the passion, courage and principles to address our nation's problems instead of just joining the status quo," Wamp said. "People know Mr. Mayfield because of his milk, which is normal. Today's Congress looks very much like Mr. Mayfield, and very few voters know what kind of congressman he would be."
No 3rd District debates have been scheduled at this time.
Updated @ 4:45 p.m. on 04/17/12 to add more information as it became available.