For the first time this election cycle, 3rd District Congressional candidate Mary Headrick shared a stage with the Republican she will face in November - although voters will decide in about two weeks whether that will be incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann or challenger Weston Wamp.
The three met Monday for a candidate forum hosted by the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Headrick could have taken the opportunity to pile on to the Republican she least wanted to face come November, but she took a different tact. She instead urged Democrats in the crowd not to crossover next month.
"Both of these men are formidable opponents, no matter which one we go up against, it's going to be a handful," Headrick said.
For Headrick it was the beginning of the contest. But for Fleischmann and Wamp, it was perhaps the last time the two will match wits in a public forum.
All candidates agreed on one issue -- Washington, D.C., is broken. But that was where the consensus halted.
Answering previously supplied questions with prepared answers, the candidates reiterated their sharpest campaign messages.
Fleischmann took the opportunity to remind the crowd of accomplishments from his previous two terms in Congress. Citing the restructuring of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund -- the mechanism that funds the Chickamauga Lock repairs -- his help in getting federal funds funneled to Erlanger Health System and his hard line social and fiscal conservative voting record, the Ooltewah Republican said voters should let him continue working for the district.
In tearful closing remarks, Fleischmann said despite gridlock on Capitol Hill and a looming national debt, he was hopeful.
"I fervently believe that our greatest days are ahead of us," Fleischmann said. "You go see second-graders stand up and say the pledge to our flag, or ask a veteran if they would do it again and serve our country. ... We are the greatest nation that's ever been."
Meanwhile, Wamp took the opportunity to tout a recent endorsement from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and criticize Fleischmann for taking the campaign negative weeks before the election with recently aired television ads.
"Our country deserves a whole lot better than continued negative politics from Washington," Wamp said. "My generation does not have the option of being cynical and giving up and playing partisan games ... so I'm going to work on solutions."
Both Republican candidates have seen ups and downs during the campaign.
Early in the campaign, Wamp was criticized for secretly recording a conversation he had with former dairy executive Scottie Mayfield at Mayfield's McMinn County home.
Mayfield was a candidate during the 2012 primary race who ran against Wamp, Fleischmann and candidate Ron Bhalla.
Wamp said he was questioning Mayfield's eventual endorsement of Fleischmann, and he recorded the conversation so his opponent couldn't later misrepresent the conversation.
Mayfield threw his support behind Fleischmann days later, but Wamp was quickly able to lock down some well-known military endorsements of his own.
World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge -- for whom Coolidge Park is named -- and retired U.S. Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell of Ooltewah wrote letters in May supporting Wamp.
But Fleischmann has had the lead with regard to fundraising since day one. He started the second quarter with $640,000 and has raised $275,000 since the cycle began.
But Wamp -- who started the cycle with nothing -- worked to close the money gap quickly.
Wamp has raised $563,000 since the start of the cycle and now has $425,000.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6481.