For the first time, Republican candidates for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District have agreed to publicly debate—all except one.
The Chattanooga Tea Party recently announced it would host the first debate of the upcoming election cycle on June 23 at Woodland Park Baptist Church.
The debate will feature Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and challengers Weston Wamp and Ron Bhalla, but Scottie Mayfield, a newcomer who has raised more than $450,000 for his campaign, will not participate.
"Scottie Mayfield was invited and declined to attend," a press release from the Tea Party reads.
Mayfield has seen his campaign shift from a strong opening to unforeseen damage control in less than two weeks.
An anonymous video posted on YouTube showed the candidate bumbling through policy-related questions, and after the tire of a Fleischmann staffer was found slashed at a Mayfield campaign event, the candidate's 33-year-old son confessed to the act of vandalism.
The debate, which will last an hour and a half, will focus on Fleischmann's voting record, along with the qualifications and experience of his challengers.
But Joe Hendrix, spokesman for the Mayfield campaign, said the candidate would not engage with his opponents because debates are divisive.
"Scottie believes debates really divide the conservative base more than they bring people together," Hendrix said. "The ultimate goal here is to get rid of the Obama-Pelosi agenda, and I don't see any of the candidates disagreeing with that. Debates tend to be almost sporting events of the candidates trying to run up each other, and we see that as harmful to what we're trying to do."
Hendrix said Mayfield was not worried about how his decision to not participate might be viewed by voters, and he added the candidate would continue to spend time engaging with voters face-to-face. When asked if Mayfield would participate in any possible future debates, Hendrix said he had not decided.
"Right now, we haven't even given that any thought," Hendrix said. "We're focused right now on meeting as many people in the 3rd District as possible and letting people know how Scottie is different than the other candidates. And that difference is 40 years' business experience."
Three months remain until the Aug. 2 primary.