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some text Chuck Fleischmann and Mary Headrick debate about pressing issues during a live televised Congressional debate at WTCI PBS TV station in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Monday, October 27, 2014.
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VOTE EARLY

Early voting runs through Oct. 30, and residents can choose from four polling locations:

• Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 North Moore Road: 10 a.m to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

• Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday.

• Northgate Mall, former Golf Shop across from T.J. Maxx: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

• Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

WATCH THE DEBATE

The debate was filmed live, but a recording is available on timesfreepress.com and it will be rebroadcast on WTCI at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 2.

After about an hour of debate, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Democratic challenger Mary Headrick agreed on one thing: The U.S. Postal Service distribution center on Shallowford Road should stay open.

That's where their consensus ended.

With only a few days left before early voting ends, and just more than a week before the Nov. 4 election, Fleischmann and Headrick met for one-on-one debate.

The two tackled issues ranging from sending U.S. troops to Iraq, health care reform, abortion law, veterans affairs and the fate of the nation's post.

Fleischmann said he agreed with President Barack Obama's recent decision to send support to moderate Sunni forces in Iraq, and the decision to begin airstrikes against ISIS, the so-called Islamic State. But Fleischmann said he's not prepared to commit troops to the fighting.

Headrick agreed that the U.S. must fight ISIS, but giving resources to "undefined allies" without a clear objective was folly.

"We do need to fight ISIS, they are a dreadful force, and there are others who are also dreadful. But we need to fight them in our own time," she said. "Right now, we cannot define our enemy, nor can we define our reliable long term ally."

With regard to health care reform, in particular the Affordable Care Act. The candidates could not be further apart.

Fleischmann called the ACA "a disaster" and criticized Democrats for using a majority in the legislature to pass the bill before it was vetted thoroughly. Although Fleischmann did not offer any specific replacement to so-called Obamacare, he said states, insurance companies and physicians should come together and develop a system that would allow the free market to work.

Headrick, a 30-year physician, said the patient protection aspects of the ACA, such as doing away with exclusions for pre-existing health conditions or denying insurance to people who are ill, have been largely successful. And she blamed many perceived failings of the bill in Tennessee on the state's move not to expand its TennCare program.

Perhaps the most stark difference between the two candidates is their stances on abortion.

Fleischmann said during the debate he would like to see abortion outlawed federally, saying the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion rights of women, was "flawed precedent then and its flawed precedent now."

Headrick's remarks were simple.

"I trust women. They are very careful in this very serious and sad decision when they have to make it. I trust women," she said.

Headrick is challenging Fleischmann for his 3rd Congressional District seat. Fleischmann is running for a third term.

After the debate, Fleischmann said he appreciated the civil and cordial discussion.

"We are giving the voters a real discussion, very typical of the discussion going on across the country," he said.

Headrick said she would have liked to speak more about immigration, and giving states more rights to offer temporary work visas to immigrant workers.

Last time Headrick challenged Fleischmann, in 2012, she took 35 percent of the vote to Fleischmann's 61 percent, with 256,909 ballots cast in the total election.

But this year is a midterm election. There is no Mitt Romney - or other high-ticket Republican - driving conservatives to the polls.

In a similar midterm election in 2010, only 162,056 people turned out in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District, 63 percent of the turnout in 2012. Fleischmann won that election - his first term - with 92,032 votes, or 57 percent, in a race against Democrat John Wolfe and six independent candidates.

Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer says he doesn't know if voter participation will be as low as 2010.

"But I expect turnout to be brutally low," he said.

For Fleischmann, Oppenheimer said the goal should not just be to win - but to maintain 60 percent of the vote.

"If [Headrick] can hold him under 60 percent, it might be more likely that another Republican will challenge him in two years," he said. "Has he finally fended off primary challenges, or will he have another primary election."

But Headrick's camp, of course, is looking for a win.

Headrick's campaign says this time, more people know who she is, and Fleischmann is running a general election following a far from comfortable primary win.

Headrick can likely count on the 23,646 votes she got in the August Democratic primary. And while that number is half of the 46,556 votes Fleischmann got on the Republican side, both candidates will be fighting over the 45,082 GOP votes that went to Wamp.

But Oppenheimer questions the idea that Democrats crossed over en masse to vote for Wamp during the primary. And he doubts many dissatisfied Republicans would vote for Headrick.

"It might have happened in some counties, but I think relatively few were crossover Democrats. I just don't think they bothered, districtwide," Oppenheimer said.

The debate was produced by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WTCI, the local PBS station. Times Free Press Business Editor Dave Flessnor moderated.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.

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