Democrat Bill Taylor makes 3rd District bid

photo Bill Taylor announces his candidacy for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District seat, currently held by Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. Sandy Lusk, center, and Debbie Deakins look on at the Hamilton County Democratic Party headquarters off Market Street.

KEY ELECTION DATES• Qualifying deadline: April 5, 2012• Primary election: Aug. 2, 2012• General election: Nov. 6, 2012BILL TAYLOR• Age: 59• Education: Bachelor's degree from Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University); master's in business administration from Loyola University, Chicago• Occupation: Executive director of Physician Practice Resources

A little blue crept into Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District race Thursday when political newcomer and Ooltewah businessman Bill Taylor became the first Democrat to go after U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's job.

Amid coffee, cookies and a crowd at Hamilton County Democratic Party headquarters, Taylor, 59, shied away from partisan rhetoric and struck a centrist tone, comparing himself to former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Taylor later described the current Congress as "appalling" and said too many Republicans and Democrats occupy fringe ideological territory.

"Here in Hamilton County, we've not had anybody represent the 70 percent in the middle," he said. "I represent the middle."

Whether Taylor is a sacrificial lamb or a candidate with a chance remains to be seen. GOP candidates have won the seat since 1994, when Zach Wamp captured the first of eight largely uncontested terms.

But Democrats say political tides could change. They cite Democrat Marilyn Lloyd, who won the seat in 1974 and kept it until 1992, two years longer than Wamp.

"Bill has a chance of winning," said Martha Embry, a Chattanooga Democrat who first met Taylor at the news conference. "He's sincere, down-to-earth and believable."

Among Taylor's legislative goals: restoring funding for the Chickamauga Lock, regulating pharmaceutical costs and requiring elected officials to sign up for Medicare.

"If it's good enough for seniors, it's good enough for me as a congressman," he said.

A health care administrator and certified public accountant, Taylor was vague about how he intends to raise money, mentioning "knocking on doors" several times and claiming he'd rather have "10,000 people than $100,000."

Last year Fleischmann outraised John Wolfe, his Democratic opponent, 60-to-1 and took twice the vote in the general election. Still, Taylor said he's optimistic about his chances.

"If they vote [Republican] just because their father did or their grandfather did, I'm not going to change those people," Taylor said. "But I don't need those people. I just need ... 20 percent [from] the middle, and I think I can get them."

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said he recruited Taylor. Smith and other local party organizers say they're putting their money, strategy and energy behind Taylor, but that could change if another candidate gets into the Democratic primary.

Asked to differentiate himself from Fleischmann, Taylor said, "I'm not going to dig myself in a trench and shoot at the opposition."

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But later he smiled and said, "I haven't heard much about Fleischmann. Kind of hard to draw an opinion on somebody you haven't heard much about."

Fleischmann's spokesman, Jordan Powell, said, "There will be a time for politics later next year."

"Chuck is continuing to focus on the job he was elected to do," Powell said in a written statement.

Fleischmann is being challenged in the Republican primary by Ron Bhalla, Jean-Howard Hill and Weston Wamp, all of Chattanooga.

Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District snakes through 11 counties. Chattanooga and Oak Ridge are its urban centers. Its makeup for 2012 is subject to redistricting.