ELECTION DATES• Qualifying deadline: April 5, 2012• Primary election: Aug. 2, 2012• General election: Nov. 6, 2012Source: Hamilton County Election CommissionABOUT THE 3RD DISTRICTTennessee's 3rd Congressional District, which stretches between the Georgia and Kentucky borders, includes nine counties -- Anderson, Bradley, Claiborne, Grainger, Hamilton, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Union -- and parts of Jefferson and Roane.Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is the fourth Republican elected to the seat since 1963. Republican Bill Brock served from 1963-1971; Republican LaMar Baker served from 1971-1975; Democrat Marilyn Lloyd served from 1975-1995; Republican Zach Wamp served from 1995-2010; Fleischmann was elected in 2010.
Weston Wamp knows he's not old enough to be a congressman today.
Doesn't matter. On Election Day 2012, the day that will matter, he'll have been 25 for a little more than seven months. And for the U.S. House of Representatives, 25 is all the Constitution requires.
In an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press, Wamp confirmed he will run for the 2012 Republican nomination for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.
"I believe my age is an asset, not a liability," Wamp said. "You look at Washington right now and you see there's no shortage of people with long resumes and decades of experience. But it's the most dysfunctional Congress that our country has seen in years."
The stakes are huge. Wamp's father, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, was elected in 1994 and held the seat through 2010. He gave it up to run unsuccessfully for governor.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the current officeholder and also a Republican, has indicated he'll run for re-election, setting up an unusual primary battle between a first-time incumbent and the son of his immediate predecessor.
"I would like to welcome Weston to the race," Fleischmann said in an emailed statement. "At this time in our nation's history, the more voices in the conversation the better off we all are."
Fleischmann, 48 and an attorney, said he's focused on his job in Washington, adding there will be "a time and a place for campaigning next year when the season is upon us."
Over the course of a 35-minute interview, Weston Wamp steered clear of criticizing Fleischmann. In fact, each fits the tea party blueprint -- the challenger supports a balanced budget amendment and "drastically" reducing government's scope, two themes that resonate with the incumbent.
Asked how he differs from Fleischmann, Wamp said, "There will be a time when I come out with a fuller platform."
"Chuck Fleischmann -- let me say it this way. Representative Fleischmann has not played much of a role in my decision to run for Congress," Wamp said. "I'm running for Congress because our country desperately needs new ideas and Washington needs fresh blood."
Some issues are unresolved, including whether Chattanoogan Robin Smith will enter the race. The former state Republican Party leader, health care consultant and Wamp family friend narrowly lost a bitter 2010 GOP primary to Fleischmann, and she hasn't announced her 2012 plans.
Oscar Brock, Smith's treasurer, has said Smith will decide early next year whether she will run.
Then there's the money. Fleischmann has $261,470 in cash on hand, including $147,040 raised between March and June. Wamp said an early focus on private-sector businesses would attract "a very competitive amount of money."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?
Weston Wamp seems to realize that comparisons to his father are inevitable, both from political opponents and the media.
"I watched my father serve in Congress and I learned from him what public service means," he said.
But a campaign news release quoted the candidate a bit differently: "My Dad [sic] and I don't necessarily agree on every issue or every vote."
A reporter asked the obvious: Where do father and son differ? Wamp leaned back, grinned and said, "I knew this was going to happen."
The smile faded and the brow tightened, a familiar clench his father does to this day. Weston Wamp said he opposed Zach Wamp's support of No Child Left Behind, the controversial federal education law, but that wasn't the biggest issue.
"He voted for TARP," Weston Wamp said.
In 2008, Congress passed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, allowing the government to purchase bank assets and equity to stabilize financial markets.
"I think it was an example of the federal government stepping outside its constitutional role," Weston Wamp said. "But I believe that if people appreciated and respected the way he served the 3rd District, then they will also like the way I go about campaigning and hopefully serving this district as well."
Zach Wamp declined to be interviewed for this article, instead emailing a statement.
"Thank you for the opportunity to add my input," he wrote. "However, this is Weston's moment, not mine. I will be happy to talk to you at a later date."
THE EXPERIENCE QUESTION
Weston Wamp would be the youngest Tennessee congressman since 1851, and sometimes you can see the green. For instance, he said he would never be "a career politician" moments before saying he wouldn't set term limits for himself.
He spent his formative years at Chattanooga Christian School and attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he earned a communications degree. After graduation, he joined his father's gubernatorial campaign, making speeches and handling Internet outreach efforts. Now he operates Wamp Strategy, a public relations firm he founded last December.
Wamp said his age matters in the race.
"We cannot afford the government we have," he said. "That's becoming apparent to everyone, but it should be most apparent to people in our generation who are going to have to foot the bill."