Weston Wamp is banking the American people are tired of gridlock. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is betting they're not.
Wednesday's debate between the two candidates for Congress in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary -- sponsored by host WTCI and the Times Free Press -- offered a starkly different look at how one conducts business en route to and in Washington, D.C., in 2014.
Fleischmann, the two-term incumbent, declared firmly that he represents a conservative district whose voters liked him saying "no" to President Barack Obama at every turn, did not want anything to do with "amnesty" for illegal immigrants and wanted the federal government out of education "as much as possible."
He said there is no point in reaching out to "ultra liberal leftists" and said his version of crossing the aisle was to "show [Democrats] what I do" and get them to "join us on Republican principles."
Wamp, a partner in the Lamp Post Group who is in his second primary run for the seat once held by his father, Zach Wamp, said the 3rd District is not as conservative as "you may think it is," claimed its voters are tired of "worn-out, partisan rhetoric," and asserted it is important for Republicans to "reach out" to minorities, young people and the less wealthy because "our party needs to grow."
The world, he said, is not just "evil versus good" and "not all black and white. I want us to move into an arena where we work together." People are "fed up with Democrats versus Republican politics."
The debate itself proved not to be a wonkish look at how each candidate would vote on individual issues but a pre-Fourth of July fireworks display of charges and countercharges.
Wamp, on the offensive from the outset, charged that Fleischmann was a part of a do-nothing Congress, had not done anything substantive to help address the federal debt, twice said the incumbent has an "asinine mentality" on not being willing to reach across the aisle, and charged the many lawyers in Congress -- of which Fleischmann is one -- want to "draw out the problems" before they take care of business. The incumbent, he insisted, is one of a brand of legislators "consumed by politics."
The congressman's answers, he said, made him "feel like he was sitting across from an angry Republican congressman," one to whom Democrats were the "boogeyman" and who as a group have "cooties."
Fleischmann, in an effort to parry the challenger's thrusts, mocked Wamp's naivete because you have to "be [in Washington] to know what it's like," suggested he sounded like 3rd District Democratic congressional candidate Mary Headrick, twice chided his opponent that he should "run as a Democrat," and suggested that "your president" signed a recent water bill that he had helped shepherd through the House.
He is "working hard" trying to fix various "broken systems" he inherited, he said, and defending the district from the "executive pen" of Obama and legislation proposed by the Democrats "my opponent wants to kiss up to."
The two Republican contenders differed less on solutions to issues, though, as on how to achieve them.
Neither thought Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's recent revenue-neutral gas-tax proposal was a good one, neither wanted to commit further troops to Iraq to halt a burgeoning civil war there, both thought securing the country's southern border was essential to dealing with illegal immigration, both thought education control should be in local as opposed to federal hands and both thought there are free-market solutions to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The two disagreed to a point on funding for the Chickamauga Dam lock, with Wamp saying Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander led the way in trying to repair the broken funding formula and Fleischmann contending he had to lead the fight in the House before the Senate approved the bill.
Wamp said he "absolutely" would push for a rise in the diesel fuel tax that barge owners say they would gladly foot to speed more lock work, while Fleischmann continued not to commit on the tax rise but said he was "open to anything possible to move the system forward."
Both candidates seemed to meet their agendas for the head-to-head meeting.
Fleischmann wanted to portray himself as a hard worker, a rock-ribbed conservative and not apologetic for saying "no" in Washington, and did just that. However, his depictions of Wamp as a Democrat -- or at best Republican lite -- fell flat.
Wamp wanted to paint himself as informed, aggressive and willing to work across the aisle, and he did that. By firmly getting those points across against an incumbent, he could legitimately claim a win in the debate.