After winning highly contested election contests during his first three campaigns for Congress, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., has yet to attract any announced opponents for his re-election bid this year and appears headed toward winning a fifth two-year term in the U.S. House.
He possibly could become a subcommittee chairman over congressional appropriations if the Republicans are able to regain control of the U.S. House.
Fleischmann said he has $1.7 million in his campaign war chest and hopes to raise even more and spend some campaign money and his time this year to help elect other GOP members to Congress. Fleischmann helped create the Nooga Political Action Committee two years ago and said he plans to raise money for the fund to help Republicans regain control of the House.
"If things go well and we [Republicans] get back to a majority in the House, I will probably be made what is affectionately known as a ''cardinal,'' or a subcommittee chair on the Appropriations Committee," Fleischmann said last week. "I think I am in a very good position for the people I serve."
Democrats insist they are not conceding Tennessee's 3rd congressional district, which spans 11 counties in East Tennessee stretching from Chattanooga to the Kentucky border in Claiborne County.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Mary Mancini said while "we have not got a candidate yet" in the 3rd Congressional District, "we absolutely want to make sure we have candidates running in every race."
Democrats have not won Tennessee's 3rd congressional district since former Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd narrowly won a fifth term in 1992 over Republican Zach Wamp, who then won the seat in 1994 after Lloyd decided not to run again.
Fleischmann, a 57-year-old attorney from Ooltewah, won the 3rd Congressional district race to gain his seat in Congress in 2010, after Wamp decided not seek a ninth term in the House.
Fleischmann narrowly won a 30% plurality in the GOP primary to get the Republican nomination for Congress in 2010 in his first bid for elected office and subsequently faced tough primary challenges from Weston Wamp, the son of the former Congressman Zach Wamp, in both 2012 and 2014.
As Fleischmann has gained name recognition, seniority and political power as the only Tennessee congressional representative on the powerful House appropriations committee, he has had more convincing victories in the GOP-leaning 3rd district.
President Donald Trump won the 3rd District over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by better than a 2-to-1 margin, and Fleischmann said Trump "is even more popular among voters today" in his district. Despite the impeachment of Trump in the House last month, Fleischmann said he fully supports the president and works well with the administration.
"I will offer an electoral opinion today that Donald Trump will be re-elected in an Electoral College landslide, the Republicans will hold the U.S. Senate with some gains and some losses, and the battle for the House should be very interesting," he said. "If we get back the House for the Republicans, I think the issue that will make the difference will be that the Democrats pursued this partisan impeachment."
Fleischmann was the top fundraiser among Republican leaders last year for the fundraising effort Take Back the House 2020, and he is co-chairing a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraising dinner in March to help elect more GOP members to the House.
But the Chattanooga Republican said he is not an ideologue opposed to federal spending and he tries to work in a bipartisan manner on a host of issues important for the 3rd District, including securing more than $6 billion in federal appropriations for Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge and supporting the Tennessee Valley Authority, national parks, a new Veterans Affairs clinic and funding for a new replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam. As the ranking Republican member on the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Fleischmann said he also helped lead the fight to secure $1.375 billion in fiscal 2020 for continued construction of a southern border wall despite Democrats' opposition to funding it.
"We've been able to get an awful lot done and help a lot of people," Fleischmann said of his role as the only House appropriator from Tennessee.
With former Chattanoogan mayor Bob Corker leaving the U.S. Senate last year and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Maryville and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Jonesborough not seeking re-election, Fleischmann and Rep. Scott DesJarlais will become the most senior GOP members in Tennessee's congressional delegation. Fleischmann also said he will offer a key East Tennessee voice in a state increasingly being led by Middle Tennessee Republicans, including Gov. Bill Lee, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and the leading GOP candidates vying to succeed Alexander as U.S. senator.
After this year's elections and the decennial census count, the University of Tennessee projects Tennessee's population will have 629,987 more residents in 2020 than it did in the 2010 census, or nearly 70,000 more residents in each of the state's nine congressional districts. Since the biggest growth has come in Middle Tennessee, the redistricting that the Tennessee Legislature will adopt in 2021 is likely to reshape and potentially expand East Tennessee districts like the 3rd District Fleischmann represents for the 2022 elections.
"That's up to the Legislature, but I do hope that they don't try to split Hamilton County," Fleischmann said.
Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.