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Chuck Fleischmann

IF YOU GO

The Oak Ridge League of Women Voters will hold a 3rd Congressional District candidate forum at 7 p.m. today at the Oak Ridge High School Auditorium,1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

IMPORTANT DATES

• Early voting: Oct. 15-Oct. 30

• General Election: Nov. 4

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Dr. Mary Headrick answers questions asked by moderator Cindy Sexton during a U.S. House District 3 forum hosted by The Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute and UTC at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Fine Arts Center's Roland Hayes Auditorium on July 21, 2014.

After winning a hotly contested GOP primary, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's campaign trail has been pretty quiet.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Mary Headrick has been pounding pavement around the district.

Political experts say there's good reason for that. If Headrick wants to win, she has got to get her name and her message to as many voters as possible -- and Fleischmann is not inclined to help her.

"When you are in a district that leans your way, you don't want to give your opponent free media coverage," said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.

On Monday, Fleischmann senior adviser Brian O'Shaughnessy said the Ooltewah Republican has not committed to any forums or debates with Headrick. He said the two shared a stage in July at the University of Tennesse Chattanooga for a forum held by the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute.

"We were able to hear some of [Headrick's] positions on different issues at an earlier forum at UTC. It was pretty, 'It's their big government versus our small government.' I don't think it's going to be really necessary," he said.

Fleischmann narrowly defeated Republican challenger Weston Wamp in August, after a campaign filled with political ads, mailers and public appearances. Oppenheimer said Fleischmann may be staying quiet because any publicity he gives Headrick could hurt him, but Congress is also back in session.

O'Shaughnessy said official duties have kept Fleischmann from the campaign trail, but he would be in the district as soon as time allowed.

"With respect to any debates going forward, right now, Chuck is really focused on the ISIS issue as is the rest of the legislature, and he's kind of out of the campaign trail," O'Shaunghnessy said.

Headrick said she's thrown the gauntlet, and if Fleischmann doesn't pick it up, it will be his own decision. She will attend a forum today in Oak Ridge, along with independent candidate Cassandra Mitchell, but Fleischmann will not be there.

"I will make time anywhere [for a debate]. If it doesn't happen, it's Fleischmann's avoidance," she said.

Headrick says Fleischmann's silence will not help him, because the district isn't as red as some believe.

She said the 3rd District's middle class is shrinking because of Fleischmann's politics. She's campaigning to raise the federal minimum wage, close tax loopholes for the wealthy and improve health care for Americans.

"The median-income households -- the real middle class -- is justified in thinking things aren't getting better," Headrick said. "Business owners aren't the job creators. The only job creators are the ones who go out and buy things. That's what stimulates the economy."

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

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