Behind in the polls a day before he lost Tennessee’s Republican gubernatorial primary last year, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp skewered the eventual nominees — Bill Haslam and Mike McWherter.
“Both of them are really running on their daddies’ fumes,” Wamp told supporters near Nashville. “They wouldn’t even be in this game if it weren’t for their fathers.”
He might regret saying that.
Wamp’s 24-year-old son Weston recently mounted a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the man who replaced the elder Wamp in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Records show 72 percent of Weston Wamp’s top donors to date gave money to his father’s gubernatorial campaign, congressional campaigns or both.
Glenn Morris Jr., president and CEO of M&M Industries, recently pledged $2,500 to Weston Wamp’s campaign.
“I have enormous respect for Zach Wamp, and that’s why I’m doing it,” said Morris. “If his son wants to run, I find that great out of loyalty for Zach. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
Donors who have pledged $5,000 to Weston Wamp’s campaign gave $100,780 to his father’s final six congressional campaigns, according to the Federal Election Commission. The same group donated $97,425 to the elder Wamp’s unsuccessful run for governor, state documents show.
The help goes beyond an inherited Rolodex. Three Republican donors confirmed Zach Wamp has called or emailed them to discuss his son’s campaign.
“It wasn’t lobbying and it wasn’t a hard sell,” said Michael Lebovitz, a CBL & Associates Properties executive who declined to support Weston Wamp’s campaign despite years of four-figure political donations to his father.
“Weston’s a nice guy,” Lebovitz continued. “I don’t think running for Congress is a starter job. I encouraged him to pursue other political areas before becoming a member of Congress.”
Tom Decosimo, an accountant and longtime Wamp supporter, said the former congressman approached him in a restaurant.
“He said, ‘T.D., my son’s going to be running for Congress,’” Decosimo recalled. “And I said, ‘Gosh, that’s too bad.’”
Wamp later sent Decosimo an email asking him to “focus on Chuck” as the campaign progresses.
“He asked me to be extra careful not to denigrate his son for his age,” Decosimo said. “That was a reasonable request.”
Lebovitz and Decosimo said they would support Fleischmann in the primary.
“I respect my friendship with Zach, but he gave up the seat,” Decosimo said. “Chuck Fleischmann deserves to have a chance to show what he’s got. One year is simply not enough.”
Not everyone feels that way.
Including Morris, a dozen people who gave a combined $23,000 to re-elect Fleischmann have donated to Wamp since he entered the race.
Businessman Lewis Card Jr., who gave Fleischmann $2,000 in March, is one. He recently called Fleischmann to say he had given $5,000 to Weston Wamp.
“I think we’d have more horsepower with Weston than I do Chuck,” said Card, who has donated more than $20,000 to Zach Wamp campaigns since 1997. “Weston knows Washington a whole lot better. He’s been half-raised up there and has the contacts.”
Fleischmann declined comment through a spokesman.
As part of an effort to raise at least $250,000 by year’s end, Weston Wamp holds his first fundraiser tonight. Out of the fundraiser’s 75 host committee members who have pledged $5,000 or $2,500 to the son, 52 contributed money to the father at some point.
Sources close to Wamp’s campaign have acknowledged tonight’s fundraiser must be successful for the campaign to flourish. Not including an estimated $200,000 from a private fundraiser featuring House Speaker John Boehner, Fleischmann has $352,288 on hand for re-election.
Weston Wamp said it took him a long time to persuade some donors.
“I don’t expect them to support me simply because my dad is Zach Wamp, and my experience is that’s not good enough for them anyway,” Weston Wamp said Friday. “I am Zach Wamp’s son, and I’m proud to be the son of a man who served very well in Congress from our area. I’ve got a lot of him in me, but I’m my own man.”
Other supporters emphasized the fact that 23 host committee members for Weston Wamp’s fundraiser never gave money to Zach Wamp. A few have never contributed to any politician.
“This is not Zach’s campaign,” said John Healy, a partner at Elder Healy & Co. who has pledged $5,000 to Weston Wamp. “When people meet Weston and see him and feel and touch him — that’s where he’ll earn the respect that he can go and do this.”