With early voting less than three weeks away, one of the leading candidates in the 3rd Congressional District race will not commit to debating his opponents.
Republican Chuck Fleischmann's consultant, Chip Saltsman, would not directly answer whether Fleischmann would debate other candidates.
"We're doing several forums and joint-appearances from here until the election," Saltsman said. "We're running our campaign and talking about the issues with voters every day."
Fleischman would not discuss the issue at his campaign headquarters on Monday. He said he'd been in Washington, D.C., and left without answering a reporter's questions. His spokesman, Jordan Powell, said campaign officials have not decided whether Fleischmann will debate.
The Tea Party of Bradley County will conduct a debate tonight, but Fleischmann will not attend.
Glyndora Condon, a member of the Tea Party of Bradley County, said the Cleveland, Tenn., citizens group offered on four occasions for Fleischmann to appear with other candidates, but he did not respond to the offer.
"It doesn't sit well with us that we invited him four different times and he wouldn't come to any of our events," she said. "If someone says they are going to Congress to reflect our wants and needs and yet they cannot sit down and talk with us before they are even elected, how can we expect them to respond to what we want after they are elected?"
The debate, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Elks Club of Cleveland, will include Democratic nominee and attorney John Wolfe; independent candidate Savas Kyriakidis, a Chattanoogan who is a U.S. Army Reserves major and attorney; and Mark DeVol, an independent candidate and commercial builder from Oak Ridge.
Fleischmann and Wolfe are scheduled to appear together before the Cleveland Associated Industries at a luncheon Thursday at the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce. Lisa Pickel of the Cleveland Chamber said the event "is not a debate" but is a chance for the party nominees to talk briefly with Cleveland business leaders.
The Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce scrapped its plans for an Oct. 7 all-candidate forum when Fleischmann said he was unable to appear on that date.
Wolfe said Fleischmann will not debate because he does not want to defend his "extreme positions."
Kyriakidis said Fleischmann is "playing his cards right."
"This is his race to lose, provided he doesn't step on a land mine," he said. "It seems to me the Republican party is banking on the fact [that] the independents will not have enough money to reach the voters."