published Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Weston Wamp has eye on DesJarlais district


by Chris Carroll
Weston Wamp
Weston Wamp
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When Weston Wamp steps outside his Lookout Valley home and looks west, he sees Elder Mountain on the horizon.

Political translation: He's within striking distance of Marion County, one of 16 counties in U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' sprawling 4th Congressional District.

The geography isn't lost on Wamp as DesJarlais attempts to overcome a scandal that demolished his image as an anti-abortion, family-values doctor. Four days after calling DesJarlais "kind of a creepy guy" on a Chattanooga television show, Wamp said he's weighing a 4th District Republican primary challenge.

"It's incredibly early," said Wamp, 25, in a Wednesday interview. "If anything, this is on the backburner. But I won't rule anything out. I live a lot closer to most of the 4th District than I do the 3rd District."

The son of former Congressman Zach Wamp unsuccessfully challenged his father's immediate successor, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, in this year's 3rd District Republican primary.

A public relations strategist at the Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga, Wamp joins a host of potential DesJarlais opponents.

They have emerged since the Chattanooga Times Free Press published court records showing the physician-turned-congressman supported his ex-wife's two abortions and had sexual relationships with two patients, three co-workers and a pharmaceutical saleswoman while chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn.

Wamp's one of the few Tennessee Republicans to comment on DesJarlais.

Most of the state's GOP establishment has been mum, despite the party's family-values, anti-abortion platform.

"It's a deafening silence. I think it's important that people call a spade a spade regardless of party," Wamp said. "I don't think Scott DesJarlais has any credibility anymore. That has nothing to do with whether I run or not."

A DesJarlais spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment.

Other potential 2014 Republican opponents to date include state Rep. Joe Carr, of Lascassas; state Sen. Jim Tracy, of Shelbyville; and former Cracker Barrel Old Country Store general counsel and chief financial officer Forrest Shoaf.

For Wamp, the idea of hopping congressional districts isn't as farfetched as it may seem. Congressional candidates don't have to live in the area they seek to represent. State residency is the relevant requirement.

Wamp could have the advantage of name recognition in parts of the 4th District, which recently underwent redistricting. The landscape includes eight former 3rd District counties that Zach Wamp represented at some point, including Bledsoe, Bradley, Marion and Rhea.

But that may not be enough. In the 3rd District primary, the younger Wamp pulled 32 percent of the vote in the seven counties where his father served at some point. He got 13 percent elsewhere, finishing third in every county except Hamilton, which he won by 101 votes.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Wamp would benefit from experience on the campaign trail.

"I think he learned something from that race," Oppenheimer said. "He would bring plenty of assets to the campaign."

But Marion County Republican Party Chairman Howard Cotter said Wamp's Chattanooga roots may not be a good fit for the 4th District.

"I think any intelligent 25-year-old needs to be a bit of an opportunist, and I find no fault with any young man for having ambition," Cotter said. "But I would prefer he remain in the 3rd District, run again over there and let us pick a rural candidate to represent us."

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