Congress has a 12 percent approval rating, but two area incumbents seem happy to be linked with its most powerful leaders.
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is expected to make same-day fundraising appearances this month for Republican U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais, first-term lawmakers with serious re-election fights ahead.
Fleischmann already has gotten a leg up from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who spoke at a $1,000-per-plate dinner in Chattanooga seven months ago.
DesJarlais and Fleischmann have touted several Cantor-backed votes -- prohibiting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio and repealing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul among them -- but those votes are considered ideological battle cries with no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Asked if DesJarlais worried that Cantor's help may be a political liability in light of a March 21 Gallup poll showing Congress with a 12 percent overall approval rating, a campaign staffer said no.
"The gridlock is primarily taking place because of conflicting ideologies," said Brandon Lewis, DesJarlais' campaign manager. "When you're miles apart, sometimes it takes awhile to reach an agreement and move things forward."
Out of 1,099 votes in the House, Fleischmann has voted with House leadership 96 percent of the time, according to the Washington Post. DesJarlais' number is 95 percent.
The Cantor fundraisers are scheduled for April 20. DesJarlais' $500-per-person event begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, according to an invitation released by the campaign. Fleischmann's $1,000-per-person fundraiser will be at noon at Ruth's Chris Steak House at Volunteer Landing in Knoxville, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Both fundraisers are scheduled outside each incumbent's district, mostly untapped markets in their fundraising efforts.
Bill Taylor, a Democrat and Chattanooga businessman hoping to unseat Fleischmann, said Cantor's help indicates the congressman "is already part of the Republican establishment."
"He's beholden to the national party first, not the residents of the 3rd Congressional District," Taylor said.
Tyler Threadgill, a Fleischmann campaign spokesman, said, "The congressman isn't beholden to anybody but his constituents."
"The majority leader wants to make sure the people of East Tennessee know the congressman is working hard for them in D.C.," Threadgill said.
DesJarlais and Fleischmann occasionally have bucked House leadership, most notably on votes against last summer's deal to raise the debt ceiling by at least $2.1 trillion and cut federal spending by a similar amount over the next decade. The Tennessee congressmen said there weren't enough cuts to offset a debt-ceiling increase.
Fleischmann is up against three Republican primary challengers, including Athens, Tenn., dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, 25, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp. Fleischmann maintains a solid lead when it comes to money in the bank, but Mayfield recently shattered a 3rd District fundraising record by tallying $450,000 in seven weeks.
DesJarlais faces a challenge from state Rep. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, but the latest Federal Election Commission records showed the congressman with a 4-to-1 cash-on-hand spread.
UNOFFICIAL STATE LIST OF QUALIFIED CANDIDATES
THIRD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
• Mary Headrick
• Bill Taylor
• Ron Bhalla
• Chuck Fleischmann, incumbent
• Scottie Mayfield
• Weston Wamp
• Matthew Deniston
FOURTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
• Eric Stewart
• Scott DesJarlais, incumbent
• Shannon Kelley
Source: Tennessee Department of State
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...
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