Want Drama? Follow the TN-03 Race

I’ve been silent on this issue because I’m still undecided. It’s a 8-way race. By all accounts, there are only three or four top contenders, but this is bloody primary. If you like dirty politics, TN-03 is the race to follow.

District three encompasses a slice of East Tennessee, and the Democrats can barely get people to turn out for a pancake breakfast. The winner of the Republican primary will likely win the general. This makes the August 1 primary even more tense.

And tense may be the best word to describe the race.

Swirling rumors, national TV appearances, fights over endorsements, presidential contender visits, and mud-slinging press releases. Folks, this is the stuff of political satire. Christopher Buckley couldn’t spin a better tale.

Today on Twitter, I joked with Joe Lance and Dan Lehr that I should write a novel based on the race or at least the screenplay for a telenovela. It’s that juicy.

Depending on whom I talk to, a different person is in the lead. I’ve talked to people following the race in DC and people back in Chattanooga.

Robin Smith appears to be running a smart campaign. A little heavy on the attack releases, but not out of line for a tight race. I confess to loving the “Send Mrs. Smith to Washington” bumper stickers.

Were this election cycle normal, I believe she would be the clear front-runner. After all, she’s a former TNGOP chair, a conservative woman and has high name ID. Her campaign has done all the right things and gotten prominent endorsements from organizations that I respect.

But this is not a normal campaign year.

Van Irion captures the essence of a tea party candidate. I also like him. He capitalized brilliantly on his class-action lawsuit to sue Obamacare, and he has the favor of Ron Paul supporters. As I’ve said before, never underestimate Paul fans.

He leans a little too libertarian for me on several issues (i.e. Fair Tax), but I believe that either he or Smith would do a great job of representing the conservative values in district three.

Then there’s Chuck Fleischmann.

Granted, I’m a little bias against self-funding candidates. As a grassroots person, I naturally side with the underdog. I dislike it when candidates can flood the airwaves with TV commercials and essentially buy a seat in Congress (ahem, Corker). Since most people are apathetic until close to election day, they vote for the wealthy candidate since he or she is the only recognizable name on the ballot. This campaign trick has turned the Senate into a millionaires’ club.

I think that strategy captures everything that is wrong with American elections. Also applauding Bob Corker is one way to ensure that I won’t vote for you.

I’m also wary of any candidate who spends money on a TV ad in a congressional primary race in 2010, especially for a smaller district like TN-03 (small by comparison to many other districts in America). Again, I work in online politics, but the ROI on TV ads is just not worth it. I’ll be disappointed if the other candidates follow suit.

Interestingly, none of the three prominent candidates have used online ads or ad words. Coming off the heels of the Rick Perry victory in Texas, I find that extremely surprising. Perry only engaged in digital media and didn’t use traditional advertising. It’s troublesome that in 2010 they haven’t engaged online as thoroughly as they should.

It is interesting that camp Fleischmann accuses Smith of having the support of “D.C. backers.” A former candidate for RNC chair is the campaign manager. Do you get anymore insider? Hello! Pot meet kettle. Also, would Huckabee have any clue who Chuck Fleischmann was without the Saltsman connection? That alone makes the endorsement ring false and come across as a personal favor.

However fishy that endorsement appears, I would warn Smith’s campaign from making too big of a deal out of it. They’re quick to flood inboxes with statements on endorsements. It comes across as whiny that she lost Huckabee when Smith has gotten numerous other ones.

Then there are questions about fundraising, but I haven’t had time to delve into FEC reports, so I can’t comment.

However, all of those issues are insider politics. The average voter is not following campaign drama.

Given the bloodbath between Smith and Fleischmann (read Chattanoogan’s opinion section for a taste), voters may be turned off by all of the negativity. Also, with the high animosity towards incumbents and “establishment” candidates, voters may turn out support for Irion. Never come between a ballot box and a Ron Paul supporter.

A primary like this will come down to who has the best get out the vote operation. Primaries typically have low voter turnout, and this race is dominated by one political party, giving independents very little reason to cast a ballot. Since I’m not on the ground, and I’m far from being a campaign insider for any of the candidates, I can’t predict the answer.

Cross-posted at Cosmopolitan Conservative