Congressional candidate Bill Taylor draws bead on campaign donations

photo Bill Taylor, a Democrat running for the 3rd Congressional District seat, holds a model 1911 .45-caliber handgun on Saturday at Shooter's Depot on Shallowford Rd. in Chattanooga. The candidate hosted a "Candidate Shootout Challenge," inviting people to out-shoot him for a $25 entry fee.

On the final day of a political fundraising quarter that included a $2,500-per-plate dinner for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., Democratic challenger Bill Taylor invited donors to shoot guns for 100 times less.

Taylor hosted his "Candidate Shootout Challenge" Saturday at Shooter's Depot in Chattanooga, daring people to fire eight rounds with him in exchange for a $25 campaign donation.

The gist of the Second Amendment agreement: If Taylor hit the bull's eye more often than his donor, the donor owed the campaign an extra $10.

Taylor and Maynardville, Tenn., physician Mary Headrick are competing for the Democratic nomination in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District in the Aug. 2 primary.

Fleischmann, a freshman, is hoping to fend off four Republican challengers.

The Democratic and Republican primary winners will face off Nov. 6.

An Ooltewah resident who manages physician offices, Taylor said he raised about $1,000 Saturday, adding that some donors gave him "a lot more" than his campaign asked for.

Taylor's $1,000 came the same day the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will appear at an upcoming $1,000-per-person dinner for Fleischmann in Knoxville.

Fleischmann had a $2,500-per-couple event last week at a supporter's Chattanooga home, where organizers said he raised $75,000.

A Democrat hasn't won the 3rd Congressional District since 1992. The party's nominee has lost by an average of 34 percentage points in the last three general elections, records show.

But Taylor promoted Saturday's shootout like a campaign blockbuster, printing brochures and courting media coverage to portray himself as a Southern Democrat who's not afraid to talk guns, God and country.

Early on, the shooting was slow. Taylor's brother-in-law was one of four donors to trickle in during the event's first half.

Shooter's Depot owner and Taylor supporter John Martin watched with a sympathetic grin.

"Bill's here a lot, and the economy's tough," he said. "People are scared to shoot against him, I guess. They don't want to lose to him and lose their money."

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Later, traffic and donations increased as local marksmen peppered Taylor with questions about his support for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and, of course, gun rights.

"I think I got a lot of votes today," Taylor said as his 18-year-old daughter, Krista, shuffled a few checks.

Fleischmann and two of his Republican challengers, dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, are expected to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations collected between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Experts have said those numbers signify an edge in a race that may hinge on the ability to buy massive amounts of advertising.

Early on, Taylor recognized the need to aim high. On Jan. 6, three weeks into his campaign, he mailed to 400 people a letter asking for $250,000 before Feb. 1.

That didn't happen -- he said he expects to have raised about $35,000 between Jan. 1 and March 31. But he hopes to raise $350,000, he said, adding that Democrats raise money "a different way" than Republicans.

"As I earn their votes, earn their trust and make myself known, the money will come," he said.

As of Dec. 31 Fleischmann had about $620,000 in the bank and Wamp had about $285,000.

Financial disclosures for Mayfield and two other Republican challengers in the 3rd District, Chattanooga businessman Ron Bhalla and political science professor Jean Howard-Hill, are expected to be available this month.

Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District includes Chattanooga, Oak Ridge and several rural counties in East Tennessee.