Over plates of pulled-pork barbecue and glasses of sweet tea, members of the Greater Chattanooga Realtor's Association gathered Thursday to hear candidates running in Tennessee's 10th Senate District and 3rd Congressional District races.
The meeting, which was closed to the public, featured the field of Democratic and Republican candidates in both races—except for one.
Scottie Mayfield, the self-declared frontrunner in the 3rd District contest, was the only candidate not in attendance. In fact, with exactly two weeks remaining until voters take to the polls, Mayfield was not even in the 3rd District.
Mayfield's wife, Lisa, spoke as a surrogate for the first-time candidate. During brief remarks, Mayfield said her husband and former head of Mayfield Dairy Farms was attending a national board meeting of MilkPEP—the Milk Processor and Education Program known for running the "Got Milk?" campaign. Mayfield related the story of how her husband worked to bring the MilkPEP board meeting to Chattanooga in recent years.
"We kept touting what a wonderful place Chattanooga was, and these people were from all over the nation," Mayfield said.
The MilkPEP meeting, which had been on Mayfield's schedule for more than a year, will keep the political newcomer off the campaign trail until later this weekend. Attempts by Nooga.com to contact MilkPEP and out the location and duration of the meeting were unsuccessful.
Mayfield campaign spokesman Bo Patten said that, despite the candidate's absence from the trail, his campaign was still in full gear.
"Just because he's out of town doesn't mean the campaign is taking a weekend off," Patten said. "We'll have all the volunteers and staff at several events, doing business as usual."
Mayfield's absence—which was not the first for the candidate at an event featuring his competitors—was hardly acknowledged by his opponents. Only Weston Wamp, the son of former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp, used his opportunity at the stump to criticize his opponents, telling the audience he thought both Mayfield and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann embodied a "status quo" mentality that was in need of replacement.
"Chuck knows how the game works, and he plays it well," Wamp said. "He votes 97 percent of the time, 98 percent of the time with the Republican Party. Scottie Mayfield, when he actually shows up, has said that he agrees on every issue, on every vote that Chuck Fleischmann has cast. Unfortunately, that isn't good enough. We've got to take a different approach."
Fleischmann, who spoke before Wamp, continually emphasized his commitment to leading as a "social and fiscal Conservative" to the group and touted legislation he had supported that pertained to Realtors as a campaign promise kept.
"When I went out and spoke to rooms of Realtors as a proven Conservative and said a couple of other things, I kept a promise," Fleischmann said. "I said we need to keep the mortgage interest deduction on homes. Well, what did I do? I went out and I co-sponsored a bill to do that."
Fleischmann never mentioned that the measure, House Resolution 25, has remained in the House Ways and Means Committee since it was introduced seven months ago. According to GovTrack.us, a website that monitors federal legislation, the bill has a 16 percent chance of being agreed to.
Although no other candidates ever mentioned Fleischmann by name, at least two criticized the method of introducing legislation with little intention of passing it. Republican candidate Ron Bhalla said bills "designed specifically to fail" were in part a reason for Congress' dismal approval ratings.
"That's how Congress is running right now," Bhalla said. "And that's how we see Congress' approval rate is at 9 percent. We need to bring a new reform to the system, not just a new congressman."
Bill Taylor, a Democrat in the race, said the technique of introducing legislation with little chance of passing, with only the intent to boast about it later, was part of what "disgusted" him about Congress and inspired him to run.
"People were digging in trenches and shooting back and forth at each other—as Mr. Bhalla said—putting down bills that they knew the other portion could not support, just so they could argue and make them look bad," Taylor said. "That is not the way to run this government."
Jordan Powell, spokesman for Fleischmann's campaign, responded to the criticism on the congressman's behalf by saying Fleischmann's voting and co-sponsoring of legislation that aligned with the interests of the 3rd District was part of his job, regardless of any outcomes.
"It's about doing everything that he can, whether it's with votes, something you sponsor or co-sponsor, working with other members or pressuring other departments for what you promised you would go to Washington, D.C., to fight for," Powell said. "And Chuck's done that."
In an unrelated comment, Dr. Mary Headrick, who is challenging Taylor in the Democratic primary, told the group she would prefer to only serve two terms if elected to Congress. Although Headrick did not specifically say she supported term limits, the candidate said she thought the idea of working more than two terms would be "unpleasant."
"Let me just tell you, I'm really honest, I can't be bought," Headrick said. "I don't care if I go up to D.C., for two years or four years, but I sure don't want to stay longer than that. It's too beautiful back here in Tennessee. I have too nice of a family and too many connections here."
Primaries are Aug. 2.