To defeat U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in November, Democratic candidate Mary Headrick will need an army of support from the district's center - and that's what she hopes to get.
"I want you to get rid of the idea that this is a Republican district. I have analyzed the data," she told the Hamilton County JFK Club on Monday.
Headrick said the district has its share of Republican and Democrat voters, but those aren't the ones who decide elections, she said. Headrick is looking for the issue-driven independents to give her campaign extra fuel.
"About half [of district voters] are nonpartisan voters, they may go Democrat, they may go Republican, but if they stay home, the Republicans win."
Her research shows about 27 percent of the district's voters always vote Republican, and about 23 percent always vote Democrat, she said.
Fleischmann narrowly won the Aug. 7 Republican primary over opponent Weston Wamp, with 51 percent of the vote. Fleischmann's campaign raised nearly $1.2 million and spent all but $348,000 during the primary, disclosure reports show.
Headrick had no opponent in the primary, and her battle is just beginning. According to Federal Election Commission records, Headrick has not filed any financial disclosures this year.
She told the local club Monday she expects Fleischmann to attempt to "paint her as a liberal, whatever that means." And she said she expected him to avoid running against her and instead campaign against the policies of President Barack Obama.
She said simply she isn't Obama, and she doesn't agree with all of his policies, particularly the administration's actions regarding oil and gas rights.
"I'm a progressive. Progressive means I will be looking for solutions for problems and not looking behind us," Headrick said.
Conner Ingram, spokesman for Fleischmann's campaign, said the congressman already attended a forum with Headrick last month at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but he was "open to future debates."
In 2012, Headrick faced Fleischmann, along with independent candidate Matthew Deniston, and she captured 35 percent of the vote, or 91,094 votes.
That was dwarfed by Fleischmann's 61 percent, or 157,830 votes.
This time, Headrick said she's just going to be more connected to voters.
"My biggest challenge will be name recognition, and I can't just recycle over those 23 percent Democrats. I have to reach those independents," she said.
Michelle Deardorff, head of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's political science department, said last cycle's numbers are not always a great indicator.
Issues change, demographics change and Fleischmann just came off of a sharply divided primary race. Spurned Republicans are not likely to vote Democrat, but they may not be motivated to vote at all, she said.
"I wouldn't say it's preordained to be as obvious a split as it was in the past. Strongly contested primaries could alienate Republicans who would have otherwise voted," Deardorff said. "I don't think voters should go in presuming there's a set outcome."
Fleischmann has been calling Republican allies and Wamp supporters and will be traveling across the district in the coming weeks to build up support, Ingram said.
"He will be meeting with local officials, supporters and those who supported the opponent and build up to a successful November," he said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6481.