U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann refused on Monday to discuss his potential primary opponents, instead asking a staffer to email a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“Right now we’re worried about the deficit, cutting spending and getting our financial house in order,” Jordan Powell, a spokesman for Fleischmann, R-Tenn., wrote Monday. “We’re not thinking about politics.”
Federal Election Commission records tell a different story.
Fleischmann has itemized $102,674 for a potential 2012 GOP primary campaign, including $500 from former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist and $2,500 from Natalie L. Haslam, Gov. Bill Haslam’s stepmother, according to the Federal Election Commission, which tracks campaign donations to candidates and causes.
Since Election Day last November, Fleischmann has raised $164,848 for all purposes — mainly debt payments and campaign funding. The campaign has spent $22,707 this year, part of about $60,000 in debt payments from the 2010 race, records show.
“If Chuck Fleischmann ever says he’s not playing politics, he’s being disingenuous at the very least,” Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said. “He should absolutely be concerned about his political future.”
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf declined to discuss Fleischmann’s job performance or potential primary opponents, but he sympathized with the difficulties of freshman lawmakers finding their place in Congress and learning how Washington works.
“It takes about a year,” he said. “All of a sudden, he’s in campaign mode again. He has to be.”
Fleischmann represents Tennessee’s 3rd District, which includes Chattanooga and Oak Ridge. He spent a record $1.3 million during last year’s primary and general election campaign, including $600,000 of his own money that he donated or lent.
New financial disclosures are available Saturday.
The Times Free Press inquiry came on the heels of a July 5 New York Times article in which Weston Wamp, the 24-year-old son of former Rep. Zach Wamp, said he’s “taking a serious look” at challenging Fleischmann for the seat his father held for 16 years. The elder Wamp gave up the congressional seat he held for eight terms to run for governor, a race he lost.
A few days after The New York Times story, Robin Smith, Fleischmann’s major opponent in the congressional race, told the Times Free Press she’s “not going to rule out” another run for Congress.
Smith, a Hixson health care consultant and former head of the state Republican Party, lost to Fleischmann by 2 percentage points in a GOP primary that packed 11 candidates.
Neither Weston Wamp nor Smith has submitted reports to the Federal Election Commission.
“Fundraising factors into any political race,” Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said. “Can’t say that enough. You have to have funds to be viable.”