Tenn. incumbent survives primary scare

 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) has survived a primary scare from 27-year-old Weston Wamp, the son of the man he replaced in Congress four years ago. 

While The Associated Press hasn’t called the race yet, Fleischmann was leading Wamp 51 percent to 49 percent, a difference of just under 1,400 votes. But with the remaining votes expected to break the incumbent’s way, Wamp called to concede the race to Fleischmann. 

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The bitter primary between the two was a rematch from a similarly nasty race last cycle. Wamp, the son of the district’s former Rep. Zach Wamp, took third in the 2012 race against Fleischmann and dairy magnate Scottie Mayfield. 

While Mayfield endorsed Fleischmann this time around and was a surrogate for him on the trail, Wamp ran again, hoping he might fare better in a one-on-one race. 

But Wamp took the unusual tack of running to the left of Fleischmann and even making a pitch for Democratic votes in the state’s open primary. In a refrain rarely heard in a GOP contest, it was Wamp who argued Fleischmann was too conservative and too rigid, and he could go to D.C., work across the aisle and produce results. 

The unorthodox approach almost worked. In the open primary, Wamp was likely aided by cross-over voters, and though he trailed the incumbent in cash, he raked in donations from some of his father’s allies — including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) — and was helped in the race’s closing days by a super-PAC founded by one of his business partners that attacked Fleischmann. 

Underscoring just how close the race had become, Fleischmann turned heavily negative on Wamp in the final days of the campaign. He unleashed a barrage of attacks, hitting the challenger on supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants and criticizing Wamp’s business incubator for investing in a health insurance firm that profited from ObamaCare.

While Wamp did call to concede to Fleischmann, the call was less than cordial, the congressman told The Hill just after he got off the phone with his challenger. 

“I was a little bit disappointed because I thought he was going to make a very conciliatory concession speech, but he just told me that I had deceived tens of thousands of Tennessee voters and he hung up on me,” said Fleischmann. “I was saddened by that. I wish he had been a little bit more gracious.” 

“At least tonight he called to concede,” said Fleischmann, noting that two years ago they never received a phone call. “I just wish he would have taken the time to congratulate me.” 

But, Fleischmann said a win was still a win even with the tight margin. 

“I was a little bit surprised with the nature of the closeness, but it was a hard fought race,” said Fleischmann. “Overall I’m very pleased, and I’ll take a close win over a close loss any day.”

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