published Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Fleischmann-Bhalla-Wamp debate set for May 21


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, center, will face two of his challengers -- Ron Bhalla, left, and Weston Wamp -- during the Third Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, center, will face two of his challengers -- Ron Bhalla, left, and Weston Wamp -- during the Third Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3.

IF YOU GO

What: Third Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3.

When: May 21. Doors open at 6 p.m., debate begins at 6:30. Limited seating available.

Where: UTC's Roland Hayes Concert Hall at the corner of Vine and Palmetto Streets.

Cost: Free.

HOW TO SUBMIT QUESTIONS

• Attend the debate and submit questions in person.

• Send questions for the candidates to news@timesfreepress.com. Please write "Debate" in the subject line.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two of his challengers, Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp, said they will participate in a 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3.

Scottie Mayfield rejected an invitation to the May 21 debate. A campaign spokesman, Joe Hendrix, emailed a statement to the newspaper Wednesday.

"Scottie believes the majority of those who attend debates have already made up their mind who they are going to vote for," Hendrix wrote. "The issues are not where the candidates differ, it's experience."

This will be the second candidate forum Mayfield has shunned in two weeks. In late April, the Athens, Tenn., dairy executive was the only 3rd District Republican candidate to decline an upcoming Chattanooga Tea Party debate.

Hendrix added that Mayfield has "public appearances nearly every day for the next month," but declined to name them. The appearances are not listed on the campaign website, Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Mayfield has described debates as "divisive." A recent YouTube video showed Mayfield saying he must get elected to Congress before he identifies his legislative goals.

Fleischmann's other opponents wasted no time attacking Mayfield for missing the debate.

"Refusing to debate disqualifies you from being a serious candidate," Wamp said. "There's nothing that energizes me more than a serious discussion about the challenges our nation faces."

The challengers said that Mayfield, a Republican, should explain why he's attempting to oust a fellow Republican from office.

"Maybe he needs more preparation," Bhalla said. "Sometimes candidates think they are the leading one, and then debates put them down."

In a phone interview, Fleischmann said every candidate has the right to run a campaign "as they see fit."

"The voters of the 3rd District want to hear where the candidates are," he said. "Mr. Mayfield has been very, very laudatory of my voting record to date, and I thank him for that."

The freshman congressman was referring to a Times Free Press interview in which Mayfield responded "not really" to a question on whether he disagreed with any of Fleischmann's votes or legislative proposals.

The debate is scheduled May 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Roland Hayes Concert Hall.

Bhalla, Fleischmann and Wamp will be allowed three minutes for an opening statement. After that, candidates will answer a mix of questions from audience members and from journalists at the Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3. Topics will include health care, tax reform and national security, along with local issues such as potential funding measures for the Chickamauga Lock.

Candidates who are attacked or otherwise singled out by another candidate will be given a chance to respond.

Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are the Democrats in the race, and Matthew Deniston is the lone independent candidate.

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