NASHVILLE - The GOP primary in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District could get pretty crowded next year if the current occupant of the seat, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., holds to current plans to run for governor.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Robin Smith, state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and state Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, all said Monday they are receiving encouragement to run in the district, which includes all or part of 11 counties stretching from Hamilton and Bradley counties north to the Kentucky border.
"At this moment, I am a very busy and very happy state party chairman, but very candidly I'm receiving a ton of calls and a lot of e-mails encouraging me and asking me what my plans are," said Mrs. Smith, a Hixson resident.
Noting she is a working mother with two children in high school, Mrs. Smith said, "it's not a decision you make lightly. ... I'm going to talk to my family and I am going to weigh a lot of things."
U.S. Rep. Wamp, first elected to the seat in 1994, said earlier in the day he intends to run for governor in 2010.
Sen. Watson said he is flattered by the number of people asking him if he plans to run for Congress.
"Right now, I'm totally focused on the challenges we face in the upcoming session," Sen. Watson said. "I've got plenty on my plate right now."
Last month, Sen. Watson was ribbed by a fellow state senator in a legislative hallway who quipped "your congressional stationary came in today - Watson for Congress."
Sen. Bunch likewise said he too is getting phone calls of encouragement.
"My family and I will prayerfully consider that as an option," Sen. Bunch said, noting he is "not opening or closing" off the possibility of running.
If Sen. Watson or Sen. Bunch ran and were successful, that would open up their Senate seats.
Former Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Wayne Cropp, a Wamp ally, declined to say whether he might be interested in running for Congress.
"At this time, I really don't have any comment on what my future plans may be," he said.
From the perspective of Rep. Wamp, first elected to the seat in 1994, the more Republican candidates running to succeed him in Congress should boost voter turnout in the 3rd District where he is best known.
"I want a lot of people to run and a lot of people to vote for me," he said.
While Republicans say the district definitely leans Republican, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Wilson said that although no would-be Democratic candidates come immediately to mind, "I think we'll have a good candidate. We'll be viable. ... I think it's winnable."