Rep. Daniel and his controversial campaign

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Representative Martin Daniel encountered plenty of drama during his first two years of office. Many have wondered how he made it past the primaries, including the democrat running against him. Rep. Daniel spent time with Local 8 News Anchor Amanda Hara to explain how he managed to pull it off.

Cars whizzed down Chapman Highway in Seymour, taking 15,000 to 20,0000 people directly past a billboard selling Kias every day. The public eye, even for a billboard, is a fickle place where branding can make you or break you.

In business, Rep. Martin Daniel has mastered the art of advertising. His outdoor advertising company owns and operates about 220 signs across East Tennessee.

In politics, though, the art of crafting his image as a state representative for the 18th district hasn't been so easy.

Controversy first erupted during his first term in office, as he laid out a bill protecting free speech on campus. During a sub-committee meeting a democrat asked, "Should someone be able to stand in the market place or in the town square at University of Tennessee, University of Memphis... and recruit for ISIS?" Daniel responded with one word, yes.

During a sit-down interview with Amanda Hara, Rep. Daniel said, "My words were twisted by the democrat party...Students are being told what not to say very often, 'don’t offend people, don’t say things that are controversial, be nice,' etc." Daniel said. "College campuses are places where there should be a lot of open discourse about controversial subjects. We want to make sure Tennessee students are exposed to every viewpoint on many subjects."

Perhaps the most damning assault on his image came when image mattered most. One month before the primary witnesses said Daniel shoved his opponent Steve Hall during a debate on the Hallerin Hilton Hill show.

Amanda Hara asked, "What do you think the implications of that scenario have been in terms of your campaign?" Daniel responded, "What I’m hearing from people when I talk to them, overwhelmingly they say, I appreciate you standing up for yourself. I think the fact that we prevailed in the primary speaks for itself." Amanda asked, "With violence?" Daniel responded, "That’s just the way it is. They said, 'I appreciate you speaking up for yourself, he asked for it.'"

In the general election, Daniel faced democrat Brandi Price, an attorney by trade who works cases in juvenile court. She prided herself on a platform for the economy, education, and listening to constituents.

Price said, "One of the big differences between us is I actually listen to voters...He likes to say he’s had ten town halls and sent out surveys, those surveys went to 650 people, his own words, that’s one percent of our district."

Price said that Daniel's past proves something to voters. "My opponent, I think he has said a lot of dangerous things such as ISIS being allowed to speak on campus. I think he’s also physically dangerous in his temperament. He assaulted his opponent Steve Hall, and I don’t think he represents most of the people in our district."

So how did Rep. Daniel manage to maintain support? The picture perfect image was hard at times to see. But Daniel said his face-to-face approach brought things into focus for voters. He allowed Local 8 News to follow as he campaigned door-to-door in West Knoxville days before the general election.

Daniel said, "I’ve stayed in touch with my constituents. I’m out there all the time talking with my constituents, I personally go door to door and speak with them, I have numerous town halls, newsletters, legislative surveys. I stay in touch with the people of our 18th district, that’s why."

Back out on Chapman Highway, in front of one of the many billboards that Daniel's company manages, he said, "Outdoor advertising can brand you overnight."

So can one bad move in the public eye. "The amount of scrutiny that we get from the media, that’s been a little difficult to adjust to," Daniel said.

But Rep. Daniel admitted he was still learning how to sell himself as well as he sells his signs. "I make mistakes representing people of the 18th district hopefully not too many and not too often. I’m learning."