It's been three months since Scottie Mayfield announced his intent to seek the 3rd Congressional District seat, and with less than three months till election day, the well-known, well-financed, 61-year-old regional dairy mogul has already experienced the slings and arrows of political life.
Mayfield's candidacy came out of nowhere—the result of redrawn district lines that placed his McMinn County home in the district represented by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a freshman Republican from Ooltewah. And despite Fleischmann's steadily conservative voting record, Mayfield came out of the gate saying he wasn't running "against" the current congressman, but rather running to provide voters with the opportunity to send a man with 40 years of business experience to Washington D.C.
That didn't appear to be too much of a problem at first, as the candidate pulled down a 3rd District record haul of more than $450,000 in his first fundraising quarter.
But Mayfield's refusal to differentiate himself from the congressman and his challengers—along with a two-week string of bad press detailing his struggles to answer questions on his goals for office on video, a vandalism episode involving his 33-year-old son and repeated refusals to participate in debates—has suddenly found the candidate under an increased level of scrutiny he had been warned about and hoped to never encounter.
"This has played out somewhat the way I thought it would," Mayfield said in a recent interview with Nooga.com. "When I talked with Rep. Jimmy Duncan early on, to get counsel on whether I should do this, he told me that when my polling numbers were low, everything would be fine. And when my numbers were high, I would learn things about myself I didn't know. That hasn't happened, but I have anticipation that it will get worse. I expect to hear more negative things, and that's why I'm trying to get out and talk to people."
Mayfield's reference was to a poll commissioned by his own campaign last month, which showed himself ahead of both Fleischmann and Weston Wamp, his other most serious challenger. The survey was released just before his campaign experienced the momentum shift, setting him up to be the target of criticism from opponents.
"There are lots of folks who want to be in Congress, but I'm actually in Congress, doing the job," Fleischmann said, referring to Mayfield at a recent campaign event. "There are some in the race who have yet to even articulate what they think or what they believe in—they just want to be in Congress."
"I have to agree with Rep. Fleischmann here: I'm also still confused about why Mr. Mayfield is running," Wamp said in a tweet that included a link to a recent Times Free Press article regarding Mayfield's downplay of politics during the campaign.
And yet, Mayfield's approach toward distinguishing himself from his opponents has not changed. Repeated questions were posed for him to name areas where he might disagree with Fleischmann or any of his fellow Republican challengers, but the candidate said he had not taken much time to study Fleischmann's record and form an opinion.
"I still have not studied Chuck's voting record," Mayfield said. "I was posed with that question two months ago, and at that time, I said that I had not studied his voting record enough to disagree. If I had studied it enough, I might have found something—but I just haven't done that. I'm focusing on what I think, what I believe and the issues I think are out there."
The bulk of the issues Mayfield has decided to focus on circle around employment and cultivating a desirable environment for luring jobs to and growing jobs in East Tennessee. The candidate frequently refers playing the role of a "salesman" for the district if elected, promising to be an advocate in Washington for various businesses and industries in the area.
"I'm very upbeat about this," he said. "I actually believe that I can make a difference in Congress because of my background and my business experience. When I look at legislation, I'm looking at it through 40 years' business experience, and that gives me an advantage on a lot of people that are either career politicians or lawyers and have a different background than a business background."
But Mayfield never named any particular pieces of legislation, only criticizing other "ill-advised" initiatives put forth by the president, such as bailout packages he described as "short-term stimulus that has nothing to do with long-term job creation." When asked how he would have voted on the payroll tax cut extension for American workers that was passed by Congress earlier this spring—which Fleischmann was one of only two Tennessee Republicans to vote in favor of—Mayfield called it one item supported by the Obama administration he would have voted for because it put more money in the pockets of average workers.
"That's the one thing that allows money to go to the average person in the short term, that should, and could, and I think did, stimulate the economy," he said. "Some of the other things that we've done just haven't been that good."
Considering Mayfield's agreement with the congressman's decision on payroll tax cuts, the item would potentially make for a good topic for discussion at either of two upcoming 3rd District debates. Wamp, who disagreed with Fleischmann's vote, said it showed the congressman wasn't "serious" about making cuts to the deficit because of the $143 billion tax cut's ultimate increase to the national debt.
But Mayfield has yet to accept an invitation to debate. Regardless, he said he is not concerned about any adverse affects his decision to sit out might have on his campaign.
"My experience is that the people attending those are already supportive of their candidate, and I think that's wonderful," he said. "But that really means that everybody that walks in the door has made their mind up about who they're going to support. And it just doesn't seem to me there's really an exchange of ideas when they craft their answers so delicately."
With perhaps the strongest name recognition in the district, plenty of cash-on-hand and the potential for self-financing his campaign if necessary, Mayfield said he still feels "great" about the current state of his candidacy. As far as he's concerned, the issues regarding his son's vandalism have "gone by the wayside" since he turned himself in, and the controversial video only shows "about five minutes of a 50-minute presentation." He said he is meeting between 60 and 100 new voters across the district every day.
"The more I'm in this, the more I believe I'm the right guy," he said, referring to his self-commissioned poll. "We're ahead. And I haven't seen a football team yet that walked off the field when they had that leading score. People are excited to have a businessman like me want to be doing this."
The Republican 3rd District primary is Aug. 2.
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