published Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Chuck Fleischmann race renews 'Chuckabee' strategy


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
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The Chuckabee strategy is back.

Last week, about 7,000 3rd Congressional District households in Tennessee received a letter signed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In the letter, he asked voters to "make an immediate donation of $10, $25, $50, $75 or $100 or more today" to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's re-election campaign.

"In 2010, I endorsed a young, conservative newcomer for Congress in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District -- Chuck Fleischmann," the Huckabee letter states. "Chuck won that election and has proven again and again that our support was well placed."

Jordan Powell, a spokesman for Fleischmann, said the campaign sent the letter to 7,000 "likely Republican primary election voters," many of whom tend to be conservative activists.

"It's a powerful tool for raising funds with people with religious convictions similar to Huckabee," said Marc J. Hetherington, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. "If you're able to bring in a big gun like him, or even a bunch of small guns, you do."

A freshman Republican, Fleischmann is hoping to beat several GOP challengers in an upcoming primary election. They include Athens, Tenn., dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who immediately preceded Fleischmann in the 3rd Congressional District.

On Monday, the Fleischmann campaign said it has at least $750,000 left after expenses for the year's first fundraising quarter, which spanned Jan. 1 to March 31.

Wamp's after-expenses total was $436,080, his aides said.

"It's quite rare for a challenger to be that close in terms of fundraising," Hetherington said.

The Fleischmann campaign distributed the Huckabee letter less than a month after former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum -- arguably the Huckabee of 2012's presidential election -- won Tennessee and several other Southern GOP presidential primaries on the strength of appeals to evangelical voters. In 2008, Huckabee won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.

A onetime Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee now hosts a talk show on Fox News. His 2008 presidential campaign was managed by Fleischmann chief of staff Chip Saltsman, and he campaigned with candidate Fleischmann in the midst of a heated 2010 Republican primary battle, giving the Chattanooga attorney a political celebrity's boost.

The endorsement came a year after Robin Smith, Fleischmann's top Republican rival in the 2010 race to replace the elder Wamp, declined to support Saltsman's campaign to become Republican National Committee chairman. At the time of Saltsman's bid, Smith was chairwoman for the Tennessee Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Weston Wamp went on the offensive Tuesday morning, half a day after he announced his quarterly fundraising totals two weeks early. In a campaign news release, he said he "received no Washington special interest PAC money."

Fleischmann has taken PAC contributions in the past. Financial disclosure statements for the first quarter have not yet been filed, so it's not clear whether he received any PAC money last quarter.

Fleischmann and his challengers must submit those disclosures by April 15.

Local Republicans Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill also are challenging Fleischmann. Bill Taylor and Mary Headrick are the Democrats in the race.

The primary is Aug. 2.

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