OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — These two self-proclaimed staunch conservatives — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and challenger Weston Wamp — say they agree on many issues, from states' rights to keeping the federal officials out of education to criticisms of the Affordable Care Act.
But where the Republican candidates for Congress disagree, Wamp told attendees at a question-and-answer session Monday morning at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, "is how this job should be approached given the gridlock in Washington."
The event was likely the only time the two will be in the same room to discuss issues in Anderson County before the Aug. 7 Republican primary in the 11-county 3rd Congressional District.
Wamp repeatedly said he would be willing to work across the aisle to seek compromises. Fleischmann made no similar conciliatory remarks.
Fleischmann strongly touted the work he's done for Oak Ridge, frequently reminding the audience of his membership on the House's powerful appropriations committee and the benefits it provides to Oak Ridge.
Fleischmann said he's helped the formerly Secret City on several fronts, from support for the Uranium Processing Facility to getting federal land turned over to local governments.
"I've got a proven track record," Fleischmann said. "I'm in that place to do the things every day to support the critical missions here."
"My conservative principles both fiscally and socially are strong. But if you have the right ideas, not everything in Washington, as my opponent would like to think, is partisan," he said.
Fleischmann, seeking a third two-year term, heaped scorn on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, calling it a "dismal failure" and saying he voted to repeal or defund it more than 40 times.
Wamp also disparaged the law, saying it has hurt small businesses. But, he said, "I've never heard him (Fleischmann) talk substantially about an alternative."
"For us to combat constantly across party lines with an unwillingness to give just a little bit to move this awesome country forward, that's shameful. But it's also the definition of Washington now," Wamp said.
Wamp also criticized Fleischmann's two votes last winter to shut down the federal government, calling it "a really irresponsible political ploy of the Republican Party" and "partisan brinkmanship."
Fleischmann described himself as a strong supporter of gun rights and the Second Amendment and described both the Environmental Protection Agency and President Barack Obama as "out of control."
While Fleischmann touted his help on various Oak Ridge projects, Wamp said the congressman had previously said "everything the federal government touches, it messes up."
Said Wamp: "I don't think he would come here (to Oak Ridge) and say that."
The winner of the Aug. 7 Republican primary will face the unopposed Democratic candidate, Dr. Mary Headrick, on Nov. 4.