NASHVILLE (AP) — Months of bruising primary campaign activity comes to a close today as voters head to the polls to decide the winners.
Voters will need to find ways to keep cool, as the National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the high 90s for the central and western parts of the state.
Among the most closely watched contests are the efforts by U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and Diane Black of Gallatin to return to Congress for a second term. Both have faced strong challenges for the Republican nomination, and both races have featured large amounts of outside money in the form of independent expenditures.
The last incumbent Tennessee congressman to be defeated in a primary was former U.S. Rep. David Davis, who lost to fellow Republican Phil Roe in 2008. The last time it happened before that was in 1966.
The Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate is also set to be chosen among seven little-known candidates today.
Actress Park Overall said the Democratic nomination campaign has been an eye-opening experience for a political neophyte.
“Why everyone is so careful with what they say is annoying. I don’t know if you can tell the truth anymore,” said Overall, who starred in the popular television series “Empty Nest” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Incumbent Sen. Bob Corker has a large fundraising and name recognition advantage over his GOP opponents.
Fleischmann’s challengers in the 3rd District include Scottie Mayfield, an executive with the dairy company that bears his family name, and Weston Wamp, the son of the district’s former congressman.
In the 6th District, Black faces a rematch against Lou Ann Zelenik, whom she narrowly defeated for the nomination to the open House seat in 2010. Zelenik moved from Rutherford County to Wilson County to make another run after the district’s boundaries were redrawn earlier this year.
Super political action committees funded and controlled by Zelenik’s former chief fundraiser, Andrew Miller, have spent nearly $233,000 to oppose Black. That’s about $55,000 more than Zelenik has raised from outside sources for her own campaign, though she also has contributed $215,000 of her own money to the bid.
Meanwhile, a group called Citizens For a Working America has spent $165,000 on television ads opposing Mayfield, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.
The Mayfield campaign alleges that Fleischmann aides have had a role in directing that independent expenditure.
“Why would an out-of-state PAC that has no ties to Tennessee only get involved in one congressional race in the entire country,” said Tommy Hopper, a top Mayfield strategist.
Fleischmann, at a campaign event at a retirement home outside Chattanooga earlier this week, denied any involvement in controlling the outside expenditure.
“We didn’t know that any third party was getting involved in the race, and we don’t control those things,” he said. “Our ads have a good strong, positive message, and we’re just focusing on the issues.”
Every state House seat and half of the Senate seats are also up in this election year with newly drawn district lines. Three Republican state senators and 21 GOP House members have contested primaries today. Redistricting has pitted Democratic incumbents against each other in one state Senate and three state House districts.