Rep. Chuck Fleischmann found victory again Thursday, prevailing against two serious primary challengers to secure the Republican nomination for re-election to Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.
Fleischmann drew support from voters across the district, pulling down nearly 30,000 of the 76,270 votes tallied at night's end for a showing of 39.1 percent. The congressman's nearest challenger, Scottie Mayfield, netted 31 percent of ballots cast, and Weston Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp, scored 28.7 percent districtwide.
Fleischmann will be challenged by Dr. Mary Headrick, who defeated businessman Bill Taylor to win the Democratic primary.
Overall, the congressman scored approximately 6,000 votes more than Mayfield. But Mayfield, a political newcomer and former president of Mayfield Dairy Farms, declined to concede the race because of a perceived discrepancy of votes tallied in Hamilton County.
Hamilton County, the only district county to not be won by either Fleischmann or Mayfield, was narrowly carried by Wamp, a 25-year-old, lifelong resident. Wamp, who resides in Lookout Valley, scored 101 votes higher than Fleischmann, who makes his home in Ooltewah and failed to carry his home county for the second straight primary.
Mayfield trailed in Hamilton County by nearly 20 points.
Despite the vote being described as accurate by Hamilton County Election Commission officials, confirmed by the Tennessee secretary of state's office and called by The Associated Press, Mayfield disputed the tallying of votes in and around Chattanooga. Mayfield campaign spokesman Joe Hendrix said Mayfield's campaign consultant, Tommy Hopper, was not convinced that the counting of votes in Hamilton County was accurate because it did not match up with private, internal polls conducted by campaign staff in the weeks before election.
"At this time, we are not conceding based upon the advice of our consultant Tommy Hopper," Hendrix said. "At this time, we're not disputing votes. We're disputing whether there's a problem with the numbers being correct in Hamilton County … The polling that we recently did within the last two weeks showed us being ahead in Hamilton County by at least two points."
Hendrix said Mayfield and Hopper would visit the Election Commission "first thing" Friday morning to discuss the votes.
Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell offered a brief response.
"We can't control what others do," he said. "We can only say the victory seems to be a convincing margin. Chuck's ready to move forward."
By the time Mayfield announced his decision to not surrender, Fleischmann's watch party at the Doubletree Hotel in Chattanooga had all but wrapped up. In a brief speech to a room full of supporters, the congressman said he had overcome the odds once more, emerging victorious after a hard-fought and expensive primary race.
"We came out of nowhere again," Fleischmann said. "I worked hard since I came to Congress. I came up there and said I wanted to change the direction of America. All I've done my whole life is hard work."
Throughout the primary, Fleischmann pointed to his record in Congress, calling himself a "proven Conservative." In a race for which total spending exceeded $2.8 million, the congressman's campaign led in expenditures for both fields, having disposed nearly $800,000 on his campaign as of the most recent financial disclosures.
More than 37 percent of the congressman's campaign contributions came from political action committees and special interest groups.
In remarks to the press, Fleischmann repeatedly touted his winning margin of 8 percent, calling it a "huge victory." Across the district, the congressman carried the majority of votes in five of 11 counties represented—Anderson, Bradley, Morgan, Roane and Union counties.
Fleischmann enjoyed one of his largest margins in Anderson County, the home of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex. Mayfield, an Athens resident, carried the majority of votes in Campbell, McMinn, Monroe, Polk and Scott counties.
Wamp, who campaigned heavily in the district's northern portions, said that although he was proud to have run his campaign "the right way," he was still surprised to see the outcome in areas where he devoted time knocking on doors and making phone calls. Wamp suggested a negative TV ad blitz between Fleischmann and Mayfield, which took place in the primary's final week, may have played a factor.
"Unfortunately, it was a result of people making their decisions in the northern counties on TV and TV alone," he said. "Our country won't move forward until we have people in Washington, D.C., who will call a spade a spade, and I hope [Fleischmann] will do that."
Wamp, who is only 25, did not rule out the possibility of a future run.
"Whatever is next, I'll go at it hard," he said.
The race's only other candidate, Ron Bhalla, scored 1.2 percent of the total vote across the 3rd District. Bhalla, who would have allowed constituents to have an input on legislation through an online voting system, said he hoped his idea might catch on in coming years.
"The people have spoken and said they didn't want the change I was talking about," Bhalla said. "I guess what I am trying to accomplish, I still hope if will be done, if not now, maybe in the next few years."
Reflecting on the race, Fleischmann commented on the difficulties posed by two threatening challengers and expressed thankfulness to have been given the chance to run for another term in November.
"It was a hard-fought race," he said. "Obviously, when you have substantial challengers in a primary as we did, and we won the way we did, it feels pretty good at the end. But it's a tough process to go through. The primary process, and the whole election process, is not an easy one. Politics is a tough sport, and I thank God and I thank the people of the 3rd District of Tennessee we won that sport."
The general election is Nov. 6.