Former U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales talks with U. S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, left, before speaking at the Brainerd Kiwanis Club meeting at the Chattanooga Choo Choo on April 21, 2015, in Chattanooga.


Anyone seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann next year will need deep pockets.

Tennessee's 3rd District Republican got a big jump-start on fundraising Friday during a private event at the Mountain City Club in Chattanooga.

The room was packed with monied supporters from across the 11-county district, and Fleischmann was joined by U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and 8th District U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.

When Fleischmann arrived, federal reports show his campaign had nearly $147,000 on hand. By the time he left, he had more than $500,000.

The Ooltewah lawyer raised more than $370,000 Friday afternoon alone.

For perspective, in 2013 and 2014 combined, Fleischmann raised a total of $1.6 million.

The purse was the biggest Fleischmann has ever collected at one time.

"This time, I am making sure we have the financial wherewithal early, so we can defend any primary challenge," Fleischmann said after the event. "I'd prefer to have no primary challenger, but I'll be ready."

Fleischmann has never had an easy primary run in three elections to date.

Last year, he eked out a win against then-27-year-old Republican challenger Weston Wamp, son of former Rep. Zach Wamp. Fleischmann won the race with 51 percent of the vote to Wamp's 49 percent.

And in 2012, he battled the younger Wamp and Athens, Tenn., dairy icon Scotty Mayfield in the primary. Fleischmann got 39 percent of the vote, Mayfield got 31 percent and Wamp pulled 29 percent.

His first run in 2010 was a six-candidate scrum.

McCarthy said Friday the Tennessee Republican has been "very effective" for the 3rd District by getting funding for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and helping to move things along at the Chickamauga lock from his coveted spot on the House Appropriations Committee.

"I don't know if I've ever seen someone get on that [committee] faster than our own Chuck Fleischmann," he told the crowd.

No one has officially announced a campaign to challenge Fleischmann in the 2016 primary, but politicos have nodded toward state Sen. Bo Watson. And Watson hasn't denied the rumors.

In March, Watson said he was focusing on his job in session, not a campaign. But he didn't say whether he would run.

"I have people encourage me all the time," Watson said. "I don't rule that out. ... I think every election cycle you look at what opportunities might come up."

Watson did not return a telephone message left Friday afternoon for comment.

Weston Wamp has said he would not seek to run in 2016, but he didn't rule out future bids.

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