Ever since his first victory in 2004, Tennessee’s political players have plotted to rid their world of Republican state Rep. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville.
Democrats don’t like him for obvious reasons: He’s an unabashed archconservative unafraid of ideological combat.
Republicans have more selfish reasons. They worry about their brand and the damage inflicted by Campfield’s frequent antics in the legislature.
Whether it is demanding entrée to the black caucus or championing the rights of men to terminate their parental obligations, Campfield raises uncomfortable issues. He helps paint all Republicans as wild reactionary flakes and forces them to defend the indefensible.
While Campfield has usually won his elections by healthy margins, he is always contested. He raises little money and spends little. He lives off the land. Casual observers wonder how he keeps his seat.
But it’s a simple formula, really. He works hard. Shoe leather and elbow grease — it’s that simple.
Campfield straight up knocks on almost every door in his district. Even Democratic operatives who are repelled by him have remarked admiringly about how tirelessly he works.
Be that as it may, Campfield — who is now looking for a promotion to the state Senate — remains a marked man.
Just last week, a potential GOP opponent, Ellen Adcock, told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “I’m not doing anything that helps Stacey’s chances. He might be tolerated as a representative, but this community should not elect him as a senator.”
Her disgust is palpable, but her sentiments are widely shared within political circles.
In fact, to the state’s political insiders, Campfield is like an insect that refuses to die no matter how hard they grind it into the pavement.
As one of 99 state representatives, most of whom yield proportionally very little power, Campfield offers much-needed comic relief.
As one of 33 senators, each of whom is powerful simply by their membership in the body, he wouldn’t be so funny. A Sen. Campfield would be almost too much to take.
His behavior at the University of Tennessee’s Halloween football game hasn’t helped. Here was a grown man in his 40s squatting in someone else’s seat wearing a contraband Halloween mask and talking trash to the police. Even his few friends now may desert him.
But Campfield isn’t without appealing characteristics. He is the quintessential underdog.
Whatever you may think of his politics, he comes at them authentically. Campfield is not an operator or a deal-cutter. He isn’t slick. He is who he is.
His principles may be wrong, but his politics are immaculate. There is something strangely poetic about how he campaigns. Getting out with the people and simply asking for their votes rather than bombarding them with fancy ads while running afoul of both parties’ establishments? How can you not admire that a little?
How can you not admire the testicular fortitude it takes to run for the Senate without the blessing of party fathers, to extend his brand of retail politics to the point of disadvantage?
Because, while he’ll almost certainly try, it’s virtually impossible to knock on every door in a Senate district. And that Knoxville district, while no liberal enclave, is no ultraconservative bastion either. He is taking a profound risk, the kind of potentially career-ending gamble that politicians tend to avoid.
If Campfield beats the odds and the forces arrayed against him, it might hurt the Republican Party’s attempts to cultivate a more moderate, pragmatic image. But there would be something comfortingly subversive about an underfunded maverick giving a figurative obscene gesture to the establishments of both political parties by winning a state Senate seat the Powers That Be don’t want him to have.
That is, as long as the maverick wasn’t Stacey Campfield.