Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Resisting the federal government reach into state affairs has been a common theme of the Tennessee governor's race. But not when it comes to flood relief.

Democrat Mike McWherter and Republicans Zach Wamp and Bill Haslam agreed at a candidate forum at Lipscomb University on Monday night that state and federal governments play a key role responding to floods like the ones that struck the state last week.

"It is important for us to stand together as a state and ask the federal government to help us even more," said Wamp, a congressman from Chattanooga who has made state sovereignty a major campaign platform.

Wamp said he wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give extra help to homeowners who didn't have flood insurance because they didn't live a flood zone.

Wamp said after the forum that his view on states' rights don't conflict with asking for increased aid from the federal government.

"They're not mutually exclusive," he said. "There's a legitimate role for the federal government, and frankly it involves things like natural disasters that the states cannot deal with."

Haslam said his experience as mayor of Knoxville would make him best suited among the candidates to deal with future disasters. He cited the example of how the city dealt with the influx of evacuees from Hurricane Katrine in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Haslam said he coordinated with the Red Cross and put together a coalition of churches. "That's what mayors do, we solve problems," he said.

McWherter, the only remaining candidate who has spoken out against filing a lawsuit to try to block the federal health care overhaul, told of his personal experience in the flooding.

First, McWherter said, he had to work to clean up after 21 inches of water stood in his offices at his beer distributorship in Jackson. "I was watching tadpoles swim around my desk," he said.

Later, when driving to Nashville, he responded to calls for volunteers to stack sandbags to help prevent flooding from the Cumberland River north of downtown.

"I went down there because I wanted to prevent what had happened to me," he said, adding that he was impressed by the coordination of officials bringing the sandbags and the volunteers putting them in place.

"I really understand the role that government can play," he said.

A third Republican candidate, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, did not attend because the chamber he presides over was meeting at the Capitol. But earlier Monday he was in Franklin to help unload a tractor-trailer full of donated items collected over the weekend at the Bristol Motor Speedway.