published Monday, November 4th, 2013

Chuck Fleischmann-Weston Wamp rematch a possibility

Poll
Who would you support?

NASHVILLE -- It's probably not a bad idea for Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to crank up his 2014 re-election campaign, as he plans to do Thursday with his first major Chattanooga fundraiser.

Because the two-term congressman may get another GOP primary challenge from Weston Wamp and need the cash.

Wamp, who came in third out of four in last year's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, said last week he is seriously weighing having another go at Fleischmann and hopes to "make a decision in the next few weeks."

Wamp, the 26-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, said he and his wife, Shelby, "have been inundated with people asking us to run for Congress."

He said he's also encouraged by a recent poll he commissioned, adding, "I think people are generally sick of Washington. And I think Chuck does a pretty good job of embodying Washington dysfunction."

Should Wamp jump in, expect fireworks.

In fact, things are already popping. Fleischmann wasn't available for comment last week. But his 2012 campaign manager and former chief of staff, Chip Saltsman, was.

"This is coming from a person who never endorsed Chuck after he [Fleischmann] beat him [Wamp]," Saltsman said. "I understand that Zach and Weston can't fathom anyone but a Wamp representing the district, but Zach had 16 years representing the district, and I think that's enough Wamp for anybody."

The elder Wamp didn't seek reelection to Congress in 2010, instead launching an unsuccessful bid for governor. Fleischmann, a Chattanooga attorney, won the 2010 contest after a bitter GOP primary with former Tennessee Republican Party Chairmwoman Robin Smith of Chattanooga.

In 2012, Fleischmann won a 39 percent plurality in the GOP primary. Former Mayfield executive Scott Mayfield garnered 31 percent, Wamp got 29 percent and Ron Bhalla got 1 percent.

Fast-forward to 2013. Fleischmann, who reported having just $250,000 in campaign cash on hand Sept. 30, has his first major Chattanooga fundraiser Thursday. It's at the home of Dr. Tim Ballard and his wife, Erika.

There's also a "special guest" listed on the invitation: U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a former Chattanooga mayor who didn't get visibly involved in last year's congressional campaign.

But Corker is invoking an asterisk on the invitation tying his attendance to the "pending Senate schedule."

"The Senate is in session that day and scheduled to be voting so Senator Corker will not be able to attend the event," Corker's chief of staff, Todd Womack, said via email.

As for Corker ever being involved, Womack said that "when asked, it is Sen. Corker's custom to attend events, usually in Washington, to support members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation."

Saltsman said the invitations had to go out before schedules in Washington were firmed up -- hence the asterisk.

In fact, Corker's expected to be at a Fleischmann fundraiser in Washington later this month.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger also won't be attending, although he's listed as being on Fleischmann's host committee of nearly 49 couples and individuals.

"I'm running my own race to be elected as Hamilton County mayor, and I'm not going to comment [about the invitation] or get in anyone else's races, and I'm not going to be contributing to anyone," Coppinger said when contacted. "I'm running my race. I won't be attending the fundraiser."

Federal Election Commission records show the last time Coppinger gave to a federal candidate was Corker back in 2005.

Ben Probasco, a Chattanooga developer also on the host list, said he's happy to back Fleischmann.

"I think Chuck has done a fine job and look forward to supporting him in his reelection efforts," he said.

State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, isn't a listed host but said he is backing Fleischmann. Record show he contributed $500 to the congressman last quarter.

"He's starting to build some seniority," McCormick said of Fleischmann, who is now on the House Appropriations Committee. "And I'm hoping he can avoid a primary next year and concentrate on representing the district rather than us having another freshman up there."

Weston Wamp said he and his wife are still weighing whether he should run. The couple married earlier this year. He's also encouraging people tell him about what they think.

He said the "encouragement that I would need to run for Congress is if people want me to be their congressman, that they want kind of a newer, younger voice. ... If people are open to a kind of a new perspective."

Wamp thinks someone should run even if he doesn't. But he noted he definitely won't run if the primary is a three-person race.

Another consideration is his "plate is pretty full" at the Lamp Post Group, where he serves as communications director, he said.

"I'm spread pretty thin. A lot of this decision comes down to not just my wife but consulting my business partners as well. That's a big part. I think I'll make a decision in the next few weeks."

But he's also issuing what sounds a lot like pre-campaign rhetoric.

"When the going gets tough, Chuck Fleischmann has a knack for disappearing," Wamp said.

"At times I think Chuck's been more interested in kind of putting his thumb in the wind and seeing what easier decisions to make are, rather than what the long-term best decisions are, not just for our district but for the country," Wamp added. "I don't think I'm alone in that."

Said Saltsman: "I find it interesting he makes a comment about Chuck putting a thumb up in the air. ... He [Wamp] didn't put his 'thumb up in the air,' but he ran a poll."

Saltsman said the poll was done "two days after the government shutdown" and amounted to a "push poll" attacking Fleischmann.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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