Republican Weston Wamp launched another bid Monday to gain the job once held by his father, hoping to unseat two-term incumbent Chuck Fleischmann by capitalizing on voter frustration with the current Congress.
"This Congress is the least productive and least popular in our nation's history, and for three years now, Chuck Fleischmann has simply gone along with the flow," Wamp told reporters in his campaign announcement Monday in Chattanooga. "He has done nothing to change Washington, nor has he been effective as a legislator on behalf of our district."
Wamp, who unsuccessfully challenged Fleischmann in 2012 in a tightly contested four-candidate GOP contest, said he waited until now to campaign for the Aug. 7 primary this year to help ensure he gains a one-on-one contest with the incumbent. Two years ago, Wamp, former Mayfield Dairy President Scottie Mayfield and Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla split the GOP primary vote, and Fleischmann won with a 38 percent plurality, compared with only 28 percent for Wamp.
In his first bid for Congress, Fleischmann won less than 30 percent of the primary vote in the Republican-leaning district.
Wamp, the 26-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, said he believes Fleischmann is vulnerable because he voted for measures that shut down the federal government last fall --threatening hundreds of federal jobs in Oak Ridge -- and he failed to deliver on major projects for East Tennessee such as the completion of the stalled Chickamauga Lock.
Since he campaigned two years ago, Wamp said he has served as communications director for the Lamp Post Group and got married to his wife, Shelby, last summer.
"I think I am more mature and ready for Congress," he said.
Wamp enjoys the name advantage gained by his father, Zach Wamp, who served in Congress for 16 years in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2010.
But the younger Wamp starts the campaign without the campaign warchest, endorsements and campaign organization enjoyed by Fleischmann, the 51-year-old attorney elected to Congress in 2010 to succeed Zach Wamp.
Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell said he is not surprised that the younger Wamp is running again.
"He never stopped running after the 2012 election -- except for the few months he thought about running in another Tennessee congressional district," Powell said, referring to Wamp's brief flirtation with running in Tennessee's 4th district against Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn. "He comes from a family consumed with politics and is simply continuing that tradition."
Powell said Fleischmann has worked to represent the 11-county 3rd District, which spans from the Georgia border near Chattanooga to the Kentucky border in Claiborne County. Last year, Fleischmann attended 264 events, meetings and town halls and responded to 242,872 calls or letters from constituents. Fleischmann is 100 percent pro life in his voting record and a consistent opponent of Obamacare, Powell said. Last month, Fleischmann announced the support of 18 state legislators in the Third Congressional district, including all six in Fleischmann's home county of Hamilton.
But Wamp said such endorsements don't matter to most voters. He said Fleischmann is in the camp of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, while Wamp said his is "an independent conservative" in the tradition of Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Bob Corker of Chattanooga.
Despite the name recognition he enjoys from his father, Wamp will likely be outspent in the Republican primary. Wamp said he has commitments to help fund his campaign but he is just starting his fundraising, which he expects will eventually collect about $500,000. In contrast, Fleischmann already has $411,000 in cash on hand and the congressman plans to raise far more this year.
To offset his spending deficit, Wamp promised to work day and night over the next six and a half months across the district "to prove to voters that I will be more accountable, more transparent and more innovative than the status quo."
Wamp's entry in the 3rd congressional district race is likely to produce spirited challenges within the Republican Party in both Tennessee's 3rd and 4th districts. Desjarlais is facing a strong Republican challenge from state Sen. Jim Tracy.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said such contested races show the strength and breadth of the GOP.
"We have a number of primaries across the state from the local level to the federal level," Devaney said.. "This just shows the growing influence of the Republican Party in Tennessee."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.