published Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

3rd District candidates Fleischmann, Wamp debate today in Chattanooga

WATCH THEM DEBATE

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Republican challenger Weston Wamp will debate today. Watch the debate at 8 p.m. on WTCI or streaming at timesfreepress.com or wtcitv.org. Limited seats are available for the live taping at 2 p.m. See details on Page

ABOUT THE DEBATE

• What: The Chattanooga Times Free Press and WTCI-TV, Chattanooga's public television station, will host today's debate between U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Republican challenger Weston Wamp. The debate will be filmed before a live audience and broadcast tonight on TV and online.

• Who: Times Free Press Business Editor Dave Flessner, who's also a panelist on WTCI's "Tennessee Insider" political show, will moderate.

• Format: Debate questions have not been released to either candidate.

• How to watch: The debate will be held at the WTCI-TV studio at 2 p.m. today. A limited number of seats are available for the public to watch the debate live. To be a part of the audience, email your request to tn3rd@wtcitv.org and be prepared to arrive at the television station before 1:30 p.m. You can also watch it at 8 p.m. on WTCI or streaming at timesfreepress.com or wtcitv.org.

GET INVOLVED

Questions tagged #tn3rd on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will be among those considered for use during the debate. People also may email suggested questions to news@timesfreepress.com.

  • photo
    Congressman Chuck Fleischmann speaks to the Hamilton County Pachyderms at the Hamilton County Republican Headquarters. He will Debate Weston Wamp in the GOP 3rd District primary race today.
    Photo by Shawn Paik.
    enlarge photo

The incumbent is a two-term, staunchly conservative congressman who earned his spot in Washington on a nationwide wave of tea party buzz. He finished April with $640,000 in total campaign support.

The 27-year-old challenger has never held public office, ran two years ago largely on the strength of his father's name and finished third in a four-man contest. By April he had half the money his competitor did.

So why is U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann vs. Republican challenger Weston Wamp even a contest?

Because in 2012, Wamp won Hamilton County -- the largest voter bloc in the district -- and he's been heavily canvassing the other 10 counties since March.

This time, Wamp also is campaigning as a candidate who will work with all of Congress -- not just the right -- and as the man to reconnect young voters and minorities with the Grand Old Party.

The race is one of the marquee Chattanooga-area contests in the August primary, and voters will get to see the two candidates go head to head today in a debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WTCI-TV.

It will be the first one-on-one debate between Fleischmann, the self-proclaimed social and fiscal conservative, and Wamp, who has run on a platform of business innovation, bipartisanship and getting fresh blood in Congress.

While Fleischmann and Wamp compete for Republican hearts and minds, Democratic candidate Mary Headrick has been working to win everyone else. She is unopposed in her primary and will face the winner of the Republican primary in November.

The Republican primary will be a battle, but Vanderbilt public policy professor Bruce Oppenheimer says it will be all about energizing voters.

"I still think this is a turnout fight, when you boil it down," Oppenheimer said. "Primaries, if they really are going to be competitive, are going to be turnout races."

Since March, Wamp has spent three days a week traveling the 11-county 3rd Congressional District, which comprises Anderson, Bradley, Campbell, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Morgan, Polk, Roane, Scott and Union counties.

Wamp said last week he's been spreading a message that the federal government is bloated and needs to work more like a small business. He says he's the guy to bridge that gap.

The son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Weston Wamp says he's "grown up in the process," and helped found Lamp Post Group, a Chattanooga-based startup business incubator.

"The standards are entirely different, and there's a gap between the standards of a hungry startup business and bloated, entitled government," Wamp said last week. "The plague of Washington at its very core is risk aversion."

Wamp also is campaigning to end partisan brinkmanship.

  • photo
    Weston Wamp speaks to the Hamilton County Pachyderms at the Hamilton County Republican party headquarters in Chattanooga. Wamp will debate U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the GOP 3rd District primary race today.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

"In business, nobody agrees 98 percent of the time. And that's OK. It's disingenuous and not helpful for us to think we can agree all the time and think critically about our country," he said.

Meanwhile, Fleischmann said he's been in the district too -- every minute that he's not doing his job in Washington.

His message is pretty simple: He's there to help his district and work for its people.

"From the time I land from [Washington], I get back out in the district. It feels good to be out there," Fleischmann said. "The common theme is people in the 3rd District want to see a robust economy across the state and across the nation."

Among his achievements in Congress, he cites helping to restructure the Inland Waterways Trust Fund -- the funding mechanism for the stalled Chickamauga Lock project -- and ending large military cuts that came from a partisan budget impasse.

Despite being strongly conservative, Fleischmann said he was willing to work with Democrats in Congress. He pointed to the trust fund as an issue that required cooperation from across the aisle to succeed.

"We had members of both parties join us," Fleischmann said. "They knew it was a good idea and it was the right thing to do."

Headrick said Tuesday she is keeping a close eye on the Republican primary. Its outcome will shape the last four months of her campaign. So far, she has been mainly networking and building a volunteer base.

"Until we know who our opponent is we will not decide what we are going to emphasize," Headrick said. "I know I will emphasize jobs, the deficit and the trade deficit. [Those issues] are not getting attention from either side of Congress."

Headrick also said she wants to increase communication infrastructure across the district.

"Both from the state and federal level, we need better connectivity. In a lot of our areas, we are like in a Third World country in terms of communication," she said.

Headrick wouldn't say who she hopes to face in November, but she said Fleischmann is not safe.

"I go around and about, and I go to events and Fleischmann is not there and Wamp is," Headrick said. "I think Wamp can turn out voters."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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