On the Campfield-Briggs race in Senate District 7

Tne News Sentinel has a review of the Senate District 7 Republican primary campaign, probably the most-watched legislative contest in the state. Excerpts from the article:

Sen. Stacey Campfield says he is facing the “dirtiest” campaign encountered in a dozen years of campaigning, exemplified by a direct-mail ad with the senator’s grinning face posted atop a bare-chested, leaping man wearing pale blue tights with a flaming red cloak draped behind him.

It’s an edited movie poster from the 2006 Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre”with Campfield’s face superimposed over Black’s.

Below the picture is the declaration the senator “has brought the wrong kind of attention to Tennessee.” Open the foldout from Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs’ mailer and there’s a list of Campfield’s “top 10 most embarrassing moments.” (Note: A copy of the mailer is ava

Though it’s a three-man primary — Mike Alford also wants the win — the spotlight is on who will emerge between Campfield and Briggs.

“I think when you start photo-shopping stuff, that’s beneath the office,” Campfield, 46, said as he sat in a parking lot last week greeting voters headed to the Downtown West early voting precinct.

A couple of days earlier, Campfield posted on his blog: “People keep asking me about the polls. As I sit at the polls, I get more thumbs-up than middle fingers so I guess the polls are OK.”

In an interview, Campfield said he gets an obscene gesture “maybe once a week” and an occasional remark such as “I’d vote for bin Laden before I’d vote for you.” But those are a rarity compared to dozens who tell him something like “Keep it going — you’re the best,” he said.

Campfield, then, has inspired an extraordinary amount of passion among voters on both sides. And he has gained national attention for what supporters see as cutting-edge conservatism coupled with willingness to confront politically correct liberals and for what critics see, at best, as embarrassing moments.

He is a political phenomenon, said Bruce Oppenheimer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor, in attracting attention throughout the state and nation despite holding a relatively low-level state office.

“That’s great if you believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Oppenheimer said.

But that is not always the case. It’s one thing to be regarded as a “maverick, willing to buck the system,” another to be viewed as someone whose behavior is “an embarrassment” or who has become “a joke.”

“The question is whether Campfield stepped across the line from being an independent, freethinking conservative to being ineffective — I don’t want to use the scientific term ‘whacko’,” he said.

Campfield contends that on issues and personality he is “completely different” from Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and heart surgeon. He casts the contest as between “a regular guy and a millionaire heart surgeon” who is relying on personal attacks that will backfire because “people don’t like that kind of thing.”

Why does he attract such negative attention?

“I’ll stand up and speak out on issues and there are a lot of people who don’t like that; they’d rather you sit, be silent,” he said. “I went to the Legislature to get things done and to get things done you have to speak out.”

…”He’s done many things that people consider to have embarrassed Knox County,” Briggs said. “And from some of the national attention he’s gotten, he’s embarrassed the entire state of Tennessee.”

Some of that attention, also on the list, came from Campfield’s comparison of Obamacare to genocide under Nazi Germany. So did Campfield’s assertion about the origin of AIDS coming from a pilot having sex with a monkey.

“Why he said AIDS came from a gay man having sex with a monkey — I don’t know,” Briggs said.

…”(Campfield is) harming the conservative cause by much of what he was done,” Briggs said. “He makes conservatives look like they have these off-the-wall ideas, and that all conservatives should be dismissed, and unreasonable, and embarrassing.”

Meanwhile, Briggs has answered Campfield’s assertion that he doesn’t live in the district, based on utility bills showing little water use in his Farragut condo.

Briggs said he hasn’t been rattled by what he called false accusations.

“He was complaining about it being dirty. If you can’t take the heat, maybe you shouldn’t do it,” Briggs said.

…While Briggs and Campfield have sparred, another candidate entered the primary — on the last day of the filing period.

Alford said he joined to fight a Campfield bill that would hurt newspapers. Alford’s wife is an administrator for the Tennessee Press Association.

Briggs said that Alford, who has collected and spent no money in his campaign, was put up by Campfield to dilute the vote.

“He’s a good friend of Stacey Campfield, his name starts with an ‘A,’ and Mr. Campfield didn’t want my name at the top of the ballot,” Briggs said.

Alford said he considers Campfield a friend, with a “likable” personality.

…Campaign observers say accessibility makes Campfield a formidable political opponent.

“Sometimes people talk as if Stacey Campfield is some sort of an alien from another planet that has been forced upon us by an all-powerful overlord,” University of Tennessee political science professor Anthony Nownes said. “He is who he is and where he is because a lot of people like him.”

Campfield is known in campaigns to blanket neighborhoods door-to-door, almost tirelessly, according to Nownes.

The person to beat Campfield in an election will have to be the same kind of shoe-leather, door-to-door politician, he said.

“For me it is less complicated than most people would want it to be,” Nownes said. “I’ve lived in Knoxville for almost 20 years, and every single person I’ve ever known who has lived in his district has met (Campfield).”

Briggs said he’s knocked on more than 10,000 doors in the district personally, and his staff has reached out to 30,000 households.