Day Two of Weston Wamp's primary campaign against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann put the challenger on the defensive as local Republicans and Democrats asked why a 24-year-old former congressman's son should get their votes.
"People want to judge our new leaders on their skills and merits rather than their family names," Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said Monday. "He's a very young person and has no past experience."
Wamp, the Republican son of former eight-term U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, announced in Sunday's Chattanooga Times Free Press that he is running for his father's old seat, which he gave up to run an unsuccessful campaign for governor last year.
The younger Wamp has downplayed his family connections and attempted to turn his youth into a campaign asset, portraying himself as a rank-and-file member of the "debt-paying generation."
"When the framers of the Constitution said you can serve in Congress beginning at 25, they knew the guys at 25 wouldn't have a decade of business experience," he said. "There are strengths that come with being young and innovative."
Wamp operates Wamp Strategy, a Chattanooga-based public relations firm he founded last December, 19 months after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a communications degree.
While Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf said party leadership "cannot take sides" in a contested primary, Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West characterized Fleischmann's job performance as "adequate," adding that the organization hasn't agreed on whether to endorse him for a second term.
But West indicated he's far from committing to Wamp.
"What other 24-year-old announcing that he's running for Congress would get the kind of attention that Mr. Wamp has received?" West asked. "Would we consider Weston Wamp to lead BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee?"
Wamp said he isn't looking for an executive position.
"I'm not even claiming to have enough experience to be the mayor of Chattanooga because I'm asking to be their representative in Congress from this area," he said. "The things that make a strong representative are different than the things required to be a great executive."
Asked for specifics last week, Wamp said, "There will be a time when I come out with a fuller platform."
Robin Smith, the health care consultant, former state GOP chairwoman and Wamp family friend who barely lost the 2010 Republican primary to Fleischmann, said Wamp's announcement does not affect her as-of-now unannounced plans for the 2012 elections.
"In a political environment where money is key, a lot of people spend a lot of capital to drive up name recognition, and [Wamp] will not have to do that," she said.
In a written statement, Fleischmann, 48, said he welcomes a primary battle between himself and the son of his predecessor.
"There will be a time and a place for campaigning next year when the season is upon us," he said.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6610.