Several challengers to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann are ready to debate immediately -- 172 days before the Aug. 2 primary election.
"Now let's debate!!" Weston Wamp wrote online Feb. 6. "Wamp v. Mayfield v. Fleischmann. I'm ready when they are."
Wamp, the 24-year-old son of former congressman Zach Wamp, issued the Facebook challenge three days after dairy executive Scottie Mayfield became the second big name to challenge Fleischmann, a first-term Republican, in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.
Fleischmann's lesser-known challengers said they will debate, hoping to capture attention without having to spend advertising money they don't have.
But it's unclear whether Wamp's high-profile, well-financed opponents share his enthusiasm for public discourse.
"I haven't gotten to that point yet," Mayfield said. "I don't know that we're ready to get into those kinds of decisions."
Aside from saying he's a Republican, Mayfield hasn't released his political positions, instead relying on name recognition, media buzz and a campaign consultant he hired last week.
Fleischmann, whose 2010 opponents blasted him as aloof for avoiding numerous debates, appears to be ready to go toe-to-toe with Mayfield, Wamp and the gang -- but it's unclear when.
"When the time and the campaign comes, he looks forward to debating those who are in the race," said Jordan Powell, a spokesman for the congressman.
Powell later clarified, saying Fleischmann would debate primary opponents, including Mayfield and Wamp. Powell did not give a timetable.
"When the time is right," he said.
The need is there, experts and Republican leaders said. Party chiefs from across the district said it's important to know how the candidates differ. Neither Mayfield nor Wamp has released a detailed platform.
"It would be a good thing for folks to hear from them," Anderson County Republican Party Chairman Alex Moseley said. "We are now the second-largest city in the district, and that gives the Oak Ridge area a much bigger need to have a debate."
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf said the local Pachyderm Club, a GOP organization, is in the earliest stages of pulling an event together.
"I feel certain there's going to be a debate here," Von Schaaf said.
David E. Lewis, a Vanderbilt University political science professor who studies the presidency, said debates give voters a real-time chance to see candidates think on their feet.
The alternative often comes through the airwaves.
"Sometimes, the negative ads can spread, if not false information, certainly distorted information," Lewis said.
Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill, two other Republicans seeking the 3rd District nomination, have said they want to debate Fleischmann and their fellow GOP challengers. Neither has hit the $5,000 threshold that would require them to report contributions and expenses.
Democratic challengers Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor have said they'll debate each other -- and anyone else who enters the race -- throughout primary season.
"Debates make a candidate better," Headrick said. "They bring forth what's important to people in your constituency."
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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