Candidates in several key primaries are making a final push for your vote Thursday. Some are doing it by spending lots of money.
The heated contest between Republicans in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District leaves a relatively large money trail. Front-runners Chuck Fleischmann, Scottie Mayfield, and Weston Wamp have flooded airwaves with non-stop advertisements.
"It's a really interesting race because you have a first-term incumbent in Chuck Fleischmann going against two challengers who both have great name recognition," said Susan Richardson Williams, panelist for Inside Tennessee and former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party. "There has probably been more money raised in this race than at any other time in that 3rd Congressional District seat. It's an extraordinary amount of money."
The latest campaign finance disclosures show Fleischman has raised a total of more than $1.1 million. Mayfield's campaign has raised more than $800,000 while Wamp's campaign has raised more than $620,000.
In terms of money raised from individuals, the advantage for Fleischmann over Mayfield is less than $100,000. The big difference if funds for Fleischmann come from the power of being the incumbent. He has received $435,000 from corporations and Political Action Committees.
"I think that's typical," said Williams. "When you have an incumbent in the race you're going to get a lot of outside contributions. You have committees who know the candidate. Even if they don't agree with the politics of the candidate, the incumbent is a known quantity and the challenger is not."
In fact, many committees and corporations only donate to those already in power. Incumbents across the political spectrum receive contributions from the same companies. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) donated to Fleischmann's campaign. BCBS also sent money to President Barrack Obama and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.
The National Beer Wholesalers Association donated more than $12,500 to Fleischmann's campaign. The group also donated Democrats John Larson of Connecticut and Xavier Becerra of California.
"If someone else wins the seat, you can bet they will receive the same benefits as the current incumbent," said Williams. "But it does take a couple of years to develop relationships with an elected official. Sometimes it is in their interests to see someone reelected because it saves them the work of having to start over again with a new official."
The spending in this year's primary has exceeded $2 million. Fleischmann has spent $794,651. Mayfield spent $633,033. Wamp has spent $435,661.
Then there's hard-to-track money from out-of-state groups that pay for their own political advertising. A Super PAC called Citizens for a Working America is responsible for a negative advertisement against Scottie Mayfield that features a melting ice cream cone and calls him "good at ice cream, not so good on the issues." The group spent $165,000 on the advertisements. Mayfield's campaign subsequently accused Fleischmann's camp of helping coordinate the ad, which would violate federal campaign laws.
When the votes are cast and counted Thursday, Williams says if Fleischmann wins he is unlikely to face another primary this furious in the future.
"If you're going to beat somebody in Congress, you better go after them on that first term," said Williams. "Once they get reelected it's a lot more difficult to defeat them. Serious candidates usually do not challenge someone in a primary who has served multiple terms."
Reporter's Note: Campaign finance disclosures show Susan Richardson Williams contributed $250 to incumbent Chuck Fleischmann's campaign in April. Williams made it known that she had contributed to Fleishmann's campaign prior to the interview, but also stated that she is not publicly endorsing any specific candidate over another.