Qualifying deadline: April 5, 2012
Primary: Aug. 2, 2012
General: Nov. 6, 2012
Source: Hamilton County Election Commission
In 1996, freshman Congressman Zach Wamp rode the Newt Gingrich wave, breezing through an uncontested Republican primary and crushing the Democratic nominee to secure a second term.
Fifteen years later, it’s a different freshman and a different story.
Nine months into U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s legislative career, Weston Wamp — Wamp’s 24-year-old son — and perennial GOP hopeful Jean Howard-Hill have announced they will challenge the incumbent. Two other prominent Republicans, J.B. Bennett and Robin Smith, are exploring similar 2012 bids against Fleischmann.
No Democrats, independents or third-party candidates have entered the race.
Smith, Fleischmann’s closest competitor in 2010, has been holding meetings in Washington, D.C., and speaking with donors who supported her last year. The former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party said she would make a decision within three or four weeks on whether to run.
“In talking with people, there is not a desire to accept the current 3rd Congressional District slate as it is,” Smith said. “These folks believe they can do better.”
Bennett, an attorney, lobbyist and son of Hamilton County Property Assessor Bill Bennett, sent a letter to supporters that volleyed general themes of health care, the economy and education. He said he would distinguish himself from Fleischmann if he decides to run.
“I’m not satisfied,” Bennett said. “I don’t see the effective leadership that we’re used to in the 3rd District.”
Fleischmann declined to comment, but comparing his initial win with Zach Wamp’s tells part of the tale.
In 1994, Wamp capitalized on disillusionment with Democratic President Bill Clinton and carried 63 percent of the primary vote against three other Republican challengers, including Ken Meyer, then an up-and-coming state representative.
Conversely, Fleischmann won 30 percent of the 2010 GOP primary. His take barely eclipsed Smith, who split the remaining 70 percent with nine other candidates.
But if dollars indicate support, Fleischmann’s challengers could find themselves in trouble. Last week, aides said the congressman’s re-election campaign raised more than $200,000 at a two-hour event featuring House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, someone Fleischmann has voted with 95 percent of the time.
Fleischmann also has taken advantage of proximity to power. As a sitting congressman, he has accepted $25,000 from Washington, D.C.-based political action committees, along with similar amounts gleaned from PACs based in coastal cities close to Washington such as Arlington, Va., and Bethesda, Md.
A year away from Election Day, Fleischmann’s war chest holds $352,288, about one-quarter of the $1.3 million he raised to win the 2010 primary, which included $600,000 of his own money.
Fundraising information for Howard-Hill and Weston Wamp won’t be available until February.