Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann captured the open congressional seat in Tennessee's 3rd District on Tuesday, pledging to work in what appears to be the new Republican-controlled House to rein in federal spending.
"We are going to take back the House of Representatives, and we are going to change the direction that this country has taken over the past two years," Fleischmann told cheering supporters during an election night rally at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga.
Fleischmann, 47, a political newcomer, will succeed eight-term Republican Zach Wamp, who didn't run for re-election, choosing instead to seek the Republican nomination in Tennessee's gubernatorial contest. Wamp lost out to Knoxville Mayor - now Gov.-elect - Bill Haslam in the August primary.
According to unofficial results Tuesday night, Fleischmann led across the 11-county district over his Democratic rival, John Wolfe, by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
Fleischmann said he will go to work today to thank his supporters and to begin to assemble his staff.
"Tonight I am a candidate, but tomorrow I am your servant," Fleischmann said.
In August, Fleischmann won the Republican nomination in the GOP-leaning 3rd Congressional District by capturing 28 percent of the vote among the eight candidates in the primary. Fleischmann spent a record $1.3 million in the primary and general election campaign, including more than $600,000 of his own money that he donated and lent to the campaign.
Following the bitterly fought primary, Fleischmann picked up endorsements from Republican leaders such as U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Haslam, Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble and former congressional aide Art Rhodes.
But his biggest rival in the primary, former Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith, declined to endorse Fleischmann because of what she said were unfair attacks on her in the primary campaign.
Wolfe, a Chattanooga attorney who was twice defeated by Wamp in previous congressional races, complained that Fleischmann wouldn't accept any offers to debate other candidates in the general election.
Wolfe, who spent more than $15,000 of his own money in his unsuccessful campaign, said he still thinks Fleischmann could be vulnerable in two years, perhaps from another Republican challenger.
"We'll see how people like eating off of the leaner Republican menu now," Wolfe said Tuesday night.
Wolfe also claimed that Fleischmann and other Republicans might vote to weaken Social Security, privatize TVA and not do enough to control the deficit by refusing to support tax increases, even on wealthy Americans.
But the best-financed challenges to Fleischmann came from conservative independent candidates Savas Kyriakidis, an Army National Guard major whose family owns the Acropolis restaurant, and Mark DeVol, an Oak Ridge businessman. Both Kyriakidis and DeVol claimed they were true Republican conservatives.
DeVol said he campaigned hard for 22 months, "but it's tough to run as an independent and to change the dynamic of people voting for the person with an 'R' beside their name," he said. "I wanted to win, but I think the 3rd District will be well represented."
The 3rd District stretches from the Georgia line to the Kentucky line and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.
Fleischmann, who owns a local law firm with his wife and was previously president of the Chattanooga Bar Association, will begin his $174,000-a-year job in Congress in January.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 757-6340. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Chattreporter.