Democrats say Tennessee's 3rd District congressional race winnable

photo Mary N. Meadrick and Bill Taylor
Arkansas-Tennessee Live Blog

To hear Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Rodney Strong tell it, "Do-Nothing Chuck, Little Prince Wamp and maybe The Milkman" can be defeated.

Strong renamed the Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann; his 24-year-old son-of-a-former-congressman primary challenger, Weston Wamp; and another potential GOP opponent, dairy mogul Scottie Mayfield, at the local Democratic Party's executive committee meeting Thursday night.

Wamp and a spokesman for Fleischmann declined comment. Mayfield could not be reached.

In a brief interview after the meeting, Strong said Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District race is within reach for a party that hasn't tasted victory since 1992. Strong said the newly drawn congressional district, which includes parts or all of six fresh counties, could benefit Democratic hopefuls Mary Headrick, a physician from Union County, and Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor, both of whom attended the meeting.

"We're feeling good," said Strong, an assistant district attorney for Hamilton County. "The new district gives the Republican [candidates] no better name recognition than our own people."

Name recognition could be a struggle for Headrick and Taylor, whose opening line tends to be "I'm Bill Taylor." Both are political newcomers looking quickly to find their footing in a race that could come down to money.

The contrast is stark: Fleischmann and Wamp already have raised six-figure campaign sums, while Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith asked the 75 or so in attendance Thursday to drop a few dollars into a largely unfilled jar in the back of the room.

But Headrick's young campaign is all about removing corporate influence from politics -- a block-lettered flier she handed out said "corporations are not people" and "get money out of politics." She hopes to keep her campaign advertising budget under $15,000.

In brief remarks at the meeting, she extolled "good government" programs like Social Security and Medicare and promised to fight for people who have "lost their houses, lost their cars and fell into poverty."

"I don't understand the Republicans do not comprehend that climbing out of a hole that deep requires some help," she said.

Taylor later capitalized, criticizing income disparity and repeating an applause line he coined at his Dec. 15 announcement speech.

"I'd rather have 10,000 people on the ground help me than having $100,000 in the bank," he said. "We will win this race."

Headrick said she hopes to meet with the 3rd District's 11 Democratic Party county chairmen before the end of February. Her Maynardville, Tenn., home is 21/2 hours away from Chattanooga, so she and her husband are apartment hunting in Hamilton County this week, she said.

Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill also are running for the GOP nomination. Mayfield said Wednesday he would announce his decision in two weeks.