NASHVILLE -- Citing his mother's illness and business considerations, Chattanooga businessman Brent Benedict, the only Democrat left in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District race, dropped out of the contest Thursday.
"I have decided that it is in my best interests not to run for Congress at this time," Mr. Benedict said in a statement on his campaign Web site. "This is a difficult decision for me, but I have always believed family comes first."
The announcement by Mr. Benedict leaves no Democrat in the contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. Rep. Wamp is not seeking re-election so he can run for governor.
In late November, former state Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., well known among a number of influential Democrats, abruptly dropped out of the Democratic primary.
Mr. Benedict said his mother "is facing serious health issues which have and will demand my attention."
He also said he wants "to give the Democratic Party enough time to find a good consensus candidate to represent all that is best in the tradition of Tennessee Democrats."
State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Brown said they are talking with other potential candidates.
"I certainly have a number of feelers out, and discussions are taking place across the district and particularly in Chattanooga," Mr. Forrester said.
Mr. Benedict, who was the Democrats' unsuccessful 3rd Congressional District nominee against Rep. Wamp in 2006, remained in the contest after Ms. Flowers dropped out, but he was running what he called an "under-the-radar" campaign.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Benedict, a computer systems analyst, said his inability to find someone to run his business was a major issue in his campaign.
"I'd be stretched between trying to spend time with my mother in Michigan and campaigning and my business and my family here," he said. "I just didn't see how it was going to be logistically possible to do all those things at the level necessary, considering this is a Republican-friendly district."
Mr. Forrester acknowledged that the district, which includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge, does "lean" Republican, but he said a Democrat could be competitive, depending on who Republicans nominate.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Andy Seré said that, while Democrats may find someone to run, the current situation is "an indication of the strong field that we have."
"If the Democrats smelled weakness, there would be a strong Democrat in the race to try to contest the seat," he said.
WHO IS RUNNING?
* Former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Robin Smith
* Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann
* Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble
* Chattanooga businessman Tommy Crangle
* Cleveland businessman
* Pension executive Art Rhodes
* Businessman Greg Goodwin
* Mark DeVol
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...