NASHVILLE -- Likening himself to a "heat-seeking missile" zeroing in on Tennessee voters' attention, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Zach Wamp said Tuesday that GOP rival Bill Haslam's early campaign advertising blitz doesn't "intimidate" him.
"Obviously, some people have started spending money historically early," the Chattanooga congressman told reporters. "But we'll all start spending money at the right time. In the meantime, I continue to travel the state like a heat-seeking missile trying to make my case on trying to make Tennessee a better place."
U.S. Rep. Wamp is making a statewide tour this week that he said makes his own 13-month-long campaign "official."
Knoxville Mayor Haslam, who easily leads in fundraising, last week started what his opponents say is a $1 million stateside television and radio advertising buy.
Mr. Haslam said of the ad buy, "That came from 7,300 different contributors who put money into our campaign and support us."
His family owns Pilot Corp., a national chain of truck stops, but most of the $5.4 million he has raised so far comes from other contributors, records show.
Rep. Wamp noted the Haslam's deep pockets and added, "We do it the old-fashioned way."
He pointed to the election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate as evidence that people "are concerned about big government but they're also concerned about big business and big special interest and collusion and who's going to benefit. This is about the people, folks."
Also running in the GOP primary are Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Memphis District Attorney Bill Gibbons.
Rep. Wamp described himself as a "red-blooded, Tennessee middle-class conservative wanting to govern and lead our state to a new and better place."
He told supporters during a speech at the state Capitol that "this is no time for a status quo governor" and that he "uniquely" possesses the necessary vision, leadership skills, energy and persistence to move the state toward a more secure future.
Country music artist John Rich, a staunch Wamp supporter, said he tells fans and music industry insiders that the candidate is "the real deal. He's got the real passion. He's not in it to be a politician. He's truly in it because he loves our state."
But Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said that at a candidates forum last week, Mr. Wamp "once again demonstrated his extremist sort of off-the-radar-screen behavior ... shouting out the state's rights, sovereignty issue in a bellicose, almost threatening way which clearly panders to Tea Party extremists but will certainly alienate moderate thoughtful independents."