Aides for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann appear to be embracing a re-election strategy that sells the congressman as a self-made man and dismisses his opponents as anything but.
In less than three months, Fleischmann will face two Republican challengers with deep pockets and high-octane surnames -- Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp -- in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
During a districtwide campaign kickoff tour that drew more than 50 people at some stops, Fleischmann and several surrogates this week told an up-by-the-bootstraps tale, seeking to distinguish the incumbent from what they consider to be nothing more than family scions.
A laminated red-white-and-blue brochure sums up the Fleischmann effort.
"From a young boy overcoming the loss of my mother, to living on my own at 16, to mopping the floor of a McDonald's, to working in a library, to starting a business with my wife and finally becoming a member of Congress," the brochure reads, "I have lived the American dream."
The brochure does not say that Fleischmann made a living as a collections attorney, nor does it mention that he contributed more than $600,000 of his own money to his first congressional campaign in 2010.
At the grand opening of Fleischmann's Chattanooga campaign headquarters on Seventh Street on Thursday evening, finance chairman Tom Decosimo criticized the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Fleischmann's eight-term 3rd District predecessor.
"I was dismayed when I heard -- I'm going to say it -- Weston Wamp was going to run," Decosimo said. "In fact, Zach introduced [me] and said, 'Hey, Tom, meet the next congressman from the 3rd District,' and I said, 'I'm sorry. That's not right.'"
The younger Wamp rejected that in a phone interview.
"I'm dismayed that this Congress, including Mr. Fleischmann, have failed miserably to address our country's long-term problems," he said, "and it's time for something different. And I believe it's time for our country to hear from America's debt-paying generation."
A fourth-generation executive at his family's dairy farm, Mayfield was not mentioned at the Fleischmann event. The McMinn County resident quietly unveiled a position paper Wednesday in his first public move since he issued a written apology to Fleischmann "and to the voters" last week when his 33-year-old son Michael Mayfield confessed to slashing a Fleischmann aide's tire at a campaign event.
Ron Bhalla is the other GOP challenger in the 3rd District race. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are competing in the Democratic primary, while Matthew Deniston is the lone independent 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 ...
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