Twenty-five-year-old Weston Wamp made his case to the elderly on Wednesday, visiting five retirement communities and targeting a dependable voting bloc in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.
Wamp, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, kicked off a three-day self-titled "Generations" tour at Morning Pointe of Hixson, where about 20 seniors gathered in a room to hear the young Republican's stump speech.
Wamp is challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd District Republican primary, and the tour represents a slight shift in strategy for a campaign that almost exclusively has targeted younger voters. For his 25th birthday in March, Wamp hosted a "miniconcert" fundraiser at Lindsay Street Hall, where country music star John Rich described Wamp as "an American badass" to cheers.
Wamp and his aides shelved the coarse language Wednesday morning, shifting the focus to a quiet roomful of retirees, whom the campaign collectively described as "the wisest generation."
It's also the generation that votes the most. More than 40 percent of Americans age 50 and older are regular voters, nearly double the proportion of 18- to 29-year olds, according to the Pew Research Center.
"We went to the younger generation to recruit," Wamp campaign manager Bonnie Brezina said. "Now we're reaching out to the other end of the age bracket."
Before he challenged his father's immediate successor, Weston Wamp grew up in Hixson's Big Ridge community. At Morning Pointe, he met several people who knew his father from the old days and told one man who referenced the elder Wamp that "we're cut out of the same fabric."
Wamp spoke briefly and never mentioned Fleischmann's name. He said Congress "doesn't do its job anymore" and promised to shake things up on his father's former stomping grounds.
"You have to make difficult decisions to return our country to greatness," he said. "I promise to be that kind of leader."
Those in attendance seemed impressed.
"I know Zach, so it's interesting to see how the offspring turn out," said 88-year-old Joe Neal Benson, a retired TVA engineer. "[Weston] is just as good as anybody that I know of. He's certainly got the background."
Others said they were impressed that a congressional candidate took time to accommodate their needs.
"We can't get out too much to find him and hear him," said Margaret Phillips, an 82-year-old retired bank employee. "I think it's wonderful that he came here, and I'm going to vote for him."
The campaign's three-day, 14-stop tour features nursing homes and retirement centers in every 3rd District county, including one featuring a senior citizens' dance Thursday night in Campbell County.
Ron Bhalla and Scottie Mayfield also are running against Fleischmann in the Republican primary. Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are fighting for their party's nomination, and independent Matthew Deniston also is in the race.
The primary is Aug. 2.
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 ...