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Matthew Deniston, 27, is running as an Independent candidate in Tennessee's 3rd U.S. Congressional District race.


Who: Matthew Deniston

Age: 27

Family: Single

Education: Graduate of Bradley Central High School; some college at South University in Savannah, Ga.

Occupation: Co-owner of Terra Auld Farm in Ooltewah; sells solar panels

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Matthew Deniston, the only independent candidate in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District race, said he'll refuse the customary $174,000 congressional salary and work for free if he wins.

"I don't need 175 grand," the McDonald, Tenn., resident said. "I sell solar panels, so hopefully I'll sell enough to support myself."

Deniston also said that, if he reaches Capitol Hill, he's not sure he'll hire any help -- not a legislative director, not a press secretary, maybe not even an administrative assistant.

"I can do everything myself," said Deniston, who co-owns an organic farm in Ooltewah.

Deniston, 27, is a soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran who earned an honorable discharge after two tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. He considers himself a lifetime soldier who fixes problems, so he sees Congress as a natural next move. He said the military exemplified the "waste, fraud and abuse" he hopes to root out of government.

Deniston's political philosophy pings between environmentalism, austerity and libertarianism on social issues. He's personally against abortion but wouldn't prevent anyone from getting one. When asked about gay marriage, he shrugged and said, "It's fine. It's not hurting anybody."

Mostly, he's about honesty in government. Deniston admitted he's been in jail three times for misdemeanor charges -- once for driving under the influence -- but he doesn't believe that should hold him back from being in Congress.

He said he doesn't drink anymore.

"I realized I had a drinking problem," he said, "and I'm sorry for getting in my car and driving that night."

Deniston said he hasn't raised any money yet, but he plans door-to-door visits and a postcard mailer.

A supporter identified by Deniston as Matthew Morrison, a Libertarian Party operative, could not be reached for comment late last week.

The 3rd Congressional District curves through 11 counties and much of East Tennessee, stretching from Chattanooga to the Kentucky and Virginia state lines.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is battling for the GOP nomination with Ron Bhalla, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp. The Democrats are Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor.

Deniston said he's waiting until after the Aug. 2 primaries to "kick things off."

"They're all spending their money beating each other up. I can sit back and get my platform together."

The general election is Nov. 6.