Locals planning to attend an Oct. 27 fundraiser for Rep. Chuck Fleischmann featuring House Speaker John Boehner should prepare to pony up.
To attend the invitation-only event, couples are being asked to contribute a minimum of $1,000 toward Fleischmann's re-election campaign—a typical amount for a high profile fundraiser. For admission and photos with the speaker, guests are asked to pay $2,500; and for a $10,000 contribution, couples will be granted "roundtable" seats near Fleischmann and Boehner.
The dollar figures may seem high, but admission to events featuring Boehner have soared much higher in the past. A September fundraiser for multiple congressional members in Austin, Tx., cost $30,800 per person to attend, and a May fundraiser in San Francisco included admission options reaching as high as $25,000.
The $1,000 minimum was likely tailored to the maximum total take Fleischmann estimated he could generate from a high profile fundraiser in his own backyard, Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, said.
"I think they're going for an amount they think is appropriate for the people they are trying to reach," Oppenheimer said. "Some of those other events may have been in areas where people have deeper pockets. That fact that Boehner is coming sends the message to local activists that Fleischmann is the guy he wants in office."
Fleischmann, whose office declined to comment on fundraising goals to Nooga.com, has reported at least $260,000 cash-on-hand for next year's congressional primary. And with the third quarter fundraising deadline having just passed, it appears efforts by the incumbent to keep his seat are in full-swing.
Fleischmann currently faces challenges from Dr. Jean Howard-Hill and Weston Wamp in the 2012 Republican primary. At least three other potential candidates are seriously considering the possibility of running. Those yet-to-file include former Tennessee GOP Chairwoman Robin Smith and Maj. Savas Kyriakidis, who ran as an independent with Tea Party support in 2010.
Fleischmann, who spent a district-record $1.3 million in the 2010 primary and general elections, defeated Smith in a close primary battle last cycle.
Joanna Burgos, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that a handful of challengers mounting campaigns against an incumbent within their own party was "not unheard of," especially in Tennessee. In the 2010 election cycle, Tennessee's nine congressional districts saw a total of 46 candidates competing in primary elections—with a state-high total of 11 in the 3rd District.
"I don't think it's a first-term issue, either," Burgos said. "We always have a lot of primaries, and it's not something that your average member of Congress isn't used to seeing in a primary. It's really a matter of a few months down the line, how serious a primary might become."
Wamp, who announced his challenge to Fleischmann in early October, has said that while he wouldn't be against raising as much funding as possible, a minimum of $500,000 would be enough to win the primary considering the media market surrounding the 3rd District. Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp, noted the figure was close to what Fleischmann raised in in 2010, apart from the amount he self-funded.
"I absolutely think it's realistic," Wamp said. "We have advantages in that I'm a young candidate, we use social media to our advantage, and that my last name is recognizable.
"This race will be decided by the voters of the 3rd District, and they'll do their homework. It's not like the candidate with the most money is guaranteed to win."
A recent report on the 2010 elections by the Center for Responsive Politics showed the candidate who spent the most money won in about 85 percent of the 2010 House races—a low in recent years. Oppenheimer agreed that Wamp, unlike Fleischmann, would not have to spend as much money on generating name recognition with voters during his first election bid.
"Because he already has name identification from the family connection, he won't have to spend as much time developing his name, which Fleischmann had to do in 2010," Oppenheimer said. "In addition, because he is a Wamp, he'll get a good deal of free media coverage and is almost automatically considered a credible candidate."
Despite saying his campaign would be focusing on a grassroots approach to fundraising, Wamp admitted a "major" fourth quarter fundraiser was in the works. With the announcement of Wamp's candidacy two days after the end of the third quarter, fundraising figures for his campaign will not have to be released until early 2012, leaving opponents unsure of his abilities.
Third quarter fundraising reports from the Federal Election Commission are scheduled to be released on Oct. 15.
Updated @ 10:27 a.m. on 10/25/2011 to correct the spelling of Dr. Jean Howard-Hill's first name.
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