Stakes high on eve of Tennessee's 3rd District Republican debate

Stakes high on eve of Tennessee's 3rd District Republican debate

May 20th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in News

Weston Wamp, Chuck Fleischmann, Ron Bhalla

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DEBATE DETAILS

• Candidates will draw straws to determine podium positions and the order in which they will make opening statements.

• Candidates have up to 90 seconds to answer questions.

• Candidates who are attacked or criticized by another candidate will have a chance to respond.

• Moderators are Times Free Press business editor Dave Flessner and WRCB-TV Channel 3 anchor and reporter David Carroll.

• Submit questions for the candidates by attending the debate in person or sending them to news@timesfreepress.com before or during the debate. Please write "Debate" in the subject line.

IF YOU GO

What: 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV Channel 3

Who: Ron Bhalla, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp

When: Monday. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., debate begins at 6:30. Limited seating available

Where: UTC's Roland Hayes Concert Hall at the corner of Vine and Palmetto Streets

Cost: Free

POLL: Which candidate do you support for the 3rd Congressional District?

An incumbent, two challengers and the voters they're courting will meet Monday in the first debate of an unusual 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.

Experts and aides are predicting fireworks between U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp. It will be the pair's most direct confrontation since Wamp -- the 25-year-old son of Fleischmann's eight-term predecessor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp -- announced that he would try for his father's old seat.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV Channel 3 will broadcast the debate live on their websites.

Aides to Fleischmann scheduled a Sunday afternoon prep session at his re-election headquarters in Chattanooga, where the congressman will brainstorm 90-second responses and defend himself against anticipated lines of attack from Wamp.

"We'll cover all our bases," Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell said. "Chuck's ready to defend his record."

Wamp said he's "doing a lot of reading this weekend," brushing up on entitlement reform, international conflicts and other issues of the day.

"You've got to stay on top of what's going on around the world," he said. "If you're running for Congress, theoretically there's a million different questions you could be asked."

Who's not debating is just as interesting.

Six weeks after setting a quarterly fundraising record and promoting himself as the front runner, Scottie Mayfield will be absent. His decision not to debate follows a series of distractions, including attention to his statement that Medicaid recipients are "nontaxpayers" and a campaign-related vandalism charge against his 33-year-old son.

In a statement explaining his decision, Mayfield did not address the controversies, but instead asserted that most people who will attend or watch the debate "already have their minds made up."

Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer said Mayfield's reasoning "is not consistent with the evidence we have on debates."

"In this primary, there's probably a lot of people whose minds aren't made up," Geer said. "It's pretty unusual for a challenger not to debate. This is a real opportunity for Wamp."

Mayfield's statement that minds are made up came a month after his campaign released an internal poll that classified 17 percent of "likely Republican primary voters" in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District as undecided.

Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla hasn't been able to compete with Fleischmann, Mayfield or Wamp from a fundraising standpoint. But the debate will offer him a chance to "express knowledge of each issue to show his competency," said campaign manager Ken Orr.

"We're hitting Google a lot," Orr said. "I'm machine-gunning questions to Ron."

Primary elections are Aug. 2. Democrats in the race are Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor, while independent candidate Matthew Deniston also is running.