U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann secured re-election endorsements Friday from a top Republican in the U.S. House, but only DesJarlais got the nod from Fleischmann's hometown senator, a former Chattanooga mayor.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., spoke to about 35 people at a $500-a-head breakfast fundraiser for DesJarlais at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. The event was closed to the press, but during a news conference afterward, both men praised DesJarlais.
When reporters asked about Fleischmann, only Cantor spoke conclusively, calling the freshman Chattanooga lawmaker a "principled conservative."
"He is somebody who is dedicated to trying to do the right thing, to set the moral compass of the nation back on track," Cantor said.
When a reporter asked Corker if he would support Fleischmann, the senator kept mum.
"I'm basically not involved in the 3rd District race right now and haven't been," Corker said.
In a brief interview, Corker said House and Senate votes interrupted plans for him to speak at a Fleischmann fundraising event in Chattanooga last summer.
Left unsaid about last summer: deep-pocketed dairyman Scottie Mayfield and family scion Weston Wamp had not yet challenged Fleischmann in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
Asked point-blank if he feels Fleischmann is a better choice than the president of Mayfield Dairy or the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Corker smiled, whirled around and walked away.
"I'm just -- you know, you all are doing a great job," Corker told reporters.
Corker has not appeared at any publicly reported event for Wamp or Mayfield.
Aides said Corker doesn't like to endorse in a contested Republican race. But DesJarlais is facing just that in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District Republican primary, where Shannon Kelley also is running.
Records show Corker, Fleischmann, Mayfield and Wamp share many donors in the Chattanooga area.
Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said the senator has hosted Fleischmann events in Washington.
"He has shown his support for Congressman Fleischmann and Congressman DesJarlais in exactly the same way," Womack said.
Cantor was the keynote speaker Friday afternoon during a $1,000-a-head Fleischmann fundraiser at a Knoxville steakhouse, which Corker did not attend.
In remarks to the press, Cantor mentioned that he had worked with Zach Wamp for about a decade, but added, "I don't know his son."
"Chuck Fleischmann is the kind of new face that I think this area needs to represent the views of the people here, and he's an effective leader," he said.
According to The Washington Post, Fleischmann has voted with House leadership 96 percent of the time. DesJarlais' number is 95 percent.