The two Democrats vying for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's job say their chances are realistic.
"I don't think this is a Republican district," Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor told a roomful of students Tuesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "I'm in it to win it, and I think it can be done."
Taylor described Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District as "very winnable" despite the past two decades of reality -- nine straight Republican triumphs, including Fleischmann's 2010 win.
The last Democratic victory came in 1992 when former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd of Chattanooga won her 10th and final term.
Taylor was speaking at a candidate forum hosted by the Hamilton County Young Democrats. He and his Democratic primary opponent, Maynardville, Tenn., physician Mary Headrick, are fighting for the chance to face Fleischmann or one of his four Republican primary challengers in November's general election.
"I think Bill and I both think we're on a paved road with the yellow lines and the white lines and that we see the country being diverted onto a cow path with a cliff on the end," said Headrick, an acute care physician from Maynardville.
Taylor said, "It's absolutely asinine" that Fleischmann and his challengers -- Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp in particular -- have alluded to spending more than $1 million each in the primary.
"I don't think Bill and I are ... real wealthy individuals who are going to be able to match the funding that will come from Mr. Fleischmann or Mr. Mayfield or Mr. Wamp," she said. "This is going to be a shoestring primary."
Fleischmann spent $1.3 million in the 2010 GOP primary, including $600,000 of his own money.
Both Democrats said they could win the 3rd District seat with far less.
About 65 students attended the forum, where the candidates discussed their views on President Barack Obama's health care reform law and other issues.
Referring to the Affordable Care Act, Headrick said she "wished President Obama had stuck to his original plan to have no [individual] mandate and to have a public option."
Taylor said the law needed stronger insurance industry oversight.
Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla and political science professor Jean Howard-Hill also are on the Republican primary ticket. The 3rd Congressional District snakes from Chattanooga to the Kentucky border, touching parts or all of 11 East Tennessee counties.
The primary is Aug. 2.