CHATTANOOGA — In a heated primary battle, Republican congressional hopefuls Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp are offering voters starkly different approaches as the Aug. 7 election date nears.
Fleischmann, the two-term incumbent, has criticized Wamp’s alleged support for amnesty and a failure to offer criticism of President Barack Obama — a Democrat in conservative’s clothing was Fleischmann’s nutshell depiction of Wamp in a televised debate between the two earlier this month.
Wamp, the 27-year-old upstart politician seeking to reclaim his father’s seat in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, has hit back at Fleischmann’s failure to reach across the aisle to Democratic colleagues in Congress, accusing him of being emblematic of what Wamp calls a “do-nothing Congress.”
Fleischmann is clearly leaning on the strong conservative tendencies of voters in the sprawling 3rd District, while Wamp is basing his hopes on voters’ weariness with a Congress that has a 13 percent approval rating in the latest public polls.
In an interview with the Independent Herald earlier in the campaign, Wamp criticized the Republican-led Congress’s lack of action that led to a government shutdown last October.
“I thought that was just such a terrible window in American history where leaders in the Republican Party were so anti-Obamacare that they tried to shut the government down,” Wamp said. “Realistically, there was no way for them to shut Obamacare down. They couldn’t even do it and they knew it, and they were just being disingenuous with the American people.”
The primary battle is one of the most heated in the nation ahead of November’s midterm election. It has been often testy and, at times, borderline dirty.
Scottie Mayfield, the dairy mogul who ran against both men in the 2012 Republican primary — finishing in second place between them — said earlier this year that Wamp secretly recorded a private conversation between the two of them.
Wamp, on the other hand, has accused Fleischmann of deliberately distorting his position on amnesty for illegal immigrants. In an ad that appears in this week’s Independent Herald, Wamp states that Fleischmann “was sued for untrue and slanderous campaign tactics in the past.”
In a letter to viewers last week, Chattanooga’s WTCI TV called on Fleischmann to withdraw a mailer to 3rd District voters that the TV station said included an unauthorized use of its logo.
Both men are touting heavyweight endorsements as the Aug. 7 primary nears. Fleischmann has been endorsed by Mayfield, while also landing endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Coalition — encompassing both the Second Amendment and pro-life issues that are typically hot-button issues in the socially conservative 3rd District.
Wamp, meanwhile, on Friday rolled out an endorsement from Rick Santorum — a former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate who has consistently polled well on social issues with conservative voters. He has also received the endorsement of the two men’s hometown newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The two men’s contrasting styles were on display in the debate, held in Chattanooga, earlier this month.
“It was Bill Frist and Zach Wamp, two Bible Belt conservatives, working across the aisle with the Clinton administration,” Wamp said of efforts led by his father to secure funding for the Chicamauga Lock. He used the point to illustrate a need for both major political parties working together.
Fleischmann hit back by pointing out his bill for renewed funding of the lock, which passed Congress with only four dissenting votes.
“I didn’t have to go over and seem like a liberal to Nancy Pelosi; I stood by my conservative principles, and they came over,” Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann repeatedly accused Wamp of attempting to cozy up to Democrats, at one point calling Obama “your president” and at another point saying that Wamp wants to “kiss up to” Democrats who want to “over-tax, over-regulate, and over-spend.”
Wamp shot back by saying that Democrats don’t “have cooties.”
“We can’t have civil discourse in this country? That’s part of the problem,” Wamp said.