The first fundraising reports from the GOP primary battle between Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and State Representative Jimmy Matlock, who are seeking the seat in Congress being vacated by longtime Congressman Jimmy Duncan, are in. They confirm what most political insiders have expected. The first person in over a half century to serve in Congress from the Knoxville area who is not named Duncan will be an epic battle.
As noted in The Tennessee Star earlier this week, Burchett surprised some observers with a strong report of $140,801.61 raised and $113,676.31 cash on hand. Burchett is a strong grassroots and populist campaigner, and he comes from the vote-rich Knox County portion of the district where he has had great success in previous elections to the State Legislature and to the County Mayor office, despite a track record of anemic fundraising. The primary questions about Burchett as a congressional candidate focused on whether or not he would raise the funds needed to win a contested congressional race.
His first haul will quiet skeptics, particularly since many of his larger donors to date still have “room” within the campaign donation limits to give more. There are also plenty of other donors who Burchett can tap that have not yet written a check. This first report may get them off the shelf. Among notable Burchett donors were Joan and Victor Ashe ($5100); Natalie and Jim Haslam II ($3000), Ann Haslam Bailey and Steve Bailey ($3000), former State GOP Chair Susan Richardson Williams ($1000), Elizabeth and Harry Stowers ($10,800 -primary and general), Rep. Jason Zachary ($1500), Rep. Martin Daniel ($1000), and a $1000 donation from former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey’s PAC, RAAMPAC.
Matlock also enjoyed a strong first quarter of fundraising, with a total raise of $167,545 and $151,912.12 cash on hand. Burchett allies were quick to point out that Burchett actually raised more donations than Matlock when the $75,000 loan that Matlock made to his campaign is deducted from his reported donations. Matlock supporters pointed out that money is money, and that “Jimmy can dig deeper, and will, if necessary.”
Not surprisingly, many of Matlock’s donors were among his colleagues in the State House, including Rep. Kent Calfee ($1000), Senator Richard Briggs ($250), Senator Mike Bell ($1000), Rep. Barry Doss ($1000), Rep. John Forgaty ($500) and Rep. Jay Reedy ($500). Former Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp ponied up for $500. Stephanie and Mike Hardwick of Churchill Mortgage Company donated the maximum primary donation of $5400, as did Melissa and David Browder. Melissa Browder is former Chair of the Loudon County Republican Party.
One interesting Matlock donor of note is Michael Strickland, CEO of Bandit Lites, Strickland has been dating Burchett’s ex-wife Allison for several years. (The Burchetts divorced in 2012.) Earlier this year Allison Burchett plead guilty to six misdemeanor charges for stalking and staging cyber attacks against Strickland’s ex-wife, Jo Nicole Velasco Strickland.
Allison Burchett was sentenced to four years probation as part of a plea deal and is still the subject of a civil action being prosecuted by Mrs. Strickland against her and Michael Strickland for conspiracy, identity theft, invasion of privacy and libel.
Strickland’s donation of $1500 to Matlock definitely raised eyebrows in Knoxville.
Most political observers give the edge to Burchett in the GOP Primary due to the large percentage of the vote that will come from his home-base of Knox County. However, they are quick to note that the edge depends on Burchett staying within arms reach of Matlock in fundraising. “Tim doesn’t have to raise as much as Jimmy to win,” said one Knox County activist who admitted to liking both of them, “but he has to raise ‘enough’. This first report has him on track, but he has to follow it up and not lose focus on raising money if he wants to win next August.”