(If the Storify article does not appear below, you may click here to read it.)
Here are some additional thoughts, beyond the Nooga.com story, on Saturday’s Tea Party debate among three of the GOP candidates running for the U.S. House 3rd District seat.
Who won the debate?
Like the last one, it was pretty much a draw between U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp. Each was able to articulate a rhetorical starting point and defend it, even if each was light on real substance. Ron Bhalla gets points for earnestness and civic responsibility, but struggles to broaden the scope of his narrative much beyond his idea to have every one of his constituents vote on every bill that comes before the House.
The most “TV friendly” exchange came after Wamp reminded the audience of Fleischmann’s seeming waffle on last year’s debt ceiling debate, and his private meeting with Speaker John Boehner followed by a public change of heart. “I’m sorry, Weston, I didn’t know you were in that room,” Fleischmann retorted, and then went on to describe the content of the meeting, including the fact that cigarettes were smoked (by Boehner, not by himself).
Wamp used that tidbit to levy the old “smoke-filled room” cliché later in the discussion, as he sought to portray Fleischmann as servile to the party establishment’s Washington-insider mechanisms.
A weaker attack came when Wamp used his submitted question to ask Fleischmann to confirm that he stood by sworn deposition in the Winslow v. Saltsman/Fleischmann lawsuit, namely, that he had not fully previewed all campaign ads in the 2010 cycle. Fleischmann essentially responded [paraphrased], “Of course I stand by sworn statements; that’s why they are made under oath. Moving on, then?”
The legal battle stemming from a bitter primary election two years ago makes a great workout gym for strengthening journalism skills, but Wamp risks throwing away valuable voter engagement if he pursues this line further. Reporters and politics junkies eat it up, but the average person “jes’ don’t care.”
Who won the poll?
A poll was handed out after the debate, and the slips of paper were collected along with donations to defray event expenses. Actual vote counts were not provided, but the Tea Party group published percentages on its Facebook page. These numbers demonstrate Wamp’s ability to draw a friendly crowd, at the very least:
- Weston Wamp: 57%
- Chuck Fleischmann: 26%
- Other / Undecided: 13%
- Ron Bhalla: 4%
Who asked the best question?
It wasn’t clear whether all of the questions were submitted by Tea Party members (except those submitted by candidates), or if the moderators brought some of their own, but Brian Joyce’s question to Wamp about why he criticized Fleischmann a month ago for not securing funding for the Chickamauga Dam lock infrastructure project, and then this past week criticized him for not holding the line tight enough on spending, was the best one.
Honorable mention goes to Gregg Juster for the question addressed to the milk jug.
Who will win the primary?
Congressional incumbents are very difficult to defeat. That said, perhaps the best chance one would have is during an incumbent’s freshman term, and in a party primary (unless the district is more evenly balanced).
It is no secret that many Republicans in Hamilton County were displeased with Fleischmann’s win over Robin Smith in 2010. What has never been clear, ever since Smith herself declined a rematch, is how many of the formerly disgruntled have patched things over and are willing to at least tepidly support Fleischmann.
Obviously Wamp has tapped into some new money as well as drawn a lot of his father’s friends to his side; but how much of that will translate to actual votes on primary day is not easy to predict. Turnout among Wamp’s younger admirers may be key here.
The Mayfield candidacy is the most interesting. He and his team seem to be betting on pure name recognition, although one suspects that broadcast advertising will show up at some point. You may be thinking that name recognition is a bad strategy for a primary, when only activists show up, and you’d be mostly right.
What you may not have considered is a quiet insurgency among said activists to support Mayfield as the anti-incumbent who has life experience (Wamp’s deficit), even if he’s light on policy specifics. There’s no evidence that such a thing exists; but it could really change the game.
How this vote will split, and who will benefit from that, is not something that can be determined with much certainty right now. Even Bhalla’s weaker effort gets to be a factor with this many variables in play.
Expect another update around the time early voting begins, unless something major happens before then.
With redistricting all but finished (caveat: lawsuits could be filed) and the official start to the August primary election season just over a week away, it’s time to check-in on recent happenings around the state. Some congressional districts have been rather dormant, like those in the northeastern corner of the state, while others are heading for a tempestuous election year.
The 3rd District race got a shake-up this week when Scottie Mayfield, president of the eponymous Athens, Tenn. dairy company, announced that he is seriously considering (and, if you ask me, with an emphasis on “seriously”) jumping into the race as a Republican. I take an initial look at the potential impacts in my latest Nooga.com column.
Meanwhile, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann showed the first signs of being a candidate for re-election this week by naming Tom Decosimo as campaign treasurer. (Fleischmann’s typical response to inquiries about the race to date, save a professed enjoyment of ice cream sandwiches, has been that he is focused on doing his job serving the people of the district.)
Weston Wamp has generally been quiet of late in the local news media, ever since he gave the Pulse interview. But he was the subject of a feature in venerable Beltway publication The Hill, so there’s that.
Democrats in Hamilton County (the largest in the district) got to meet the two candidates who are vying for the chance to take on the Republican nominee in November. Dr. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor both focused on the idea that Congress is “broken” and needs to be restocked with individuals who would truly represent their districts.
With all this attention on Fleischmann, Wamp, and Mayfield, the other GOP candidates—Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill—are struggling to maintain their profiles.
And finally, a few fourth quarter fundraising numbers are out ahead of the reporting deadline. Here are the two leading GOP candidates’ cash-on-hand totals:
- Fleischmann: $617,323
- Wamp: $285,141
Though there is an obvious gap between the frontrunner and the challenger, the two men raised roughly equal amounts during the quarter. Much more information is available on these two campaign finance releases in Chris Carroll’s Times Free Press article.
The federal filing deadline for Year-End 2011 is January 31.
As a teaser for the 4th and 8th District roundups (on their way): the Third is shaping up to be the most interesting congressional race in the state by far. In 2010 we had competition with other open seats that changed party hands, but things will be somewhat quieter in those districts this time around. There could be surprises, though. Stay tuned.
Ron Bhalla, the newest candidate to seek the GOP nomination in Tennessee’s Third Congressional District, wants to change how business is done in the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview on Monday, he said that he would communicate every bill to his constituents, and based on a majority opinion of their responses, would cast his vote as a mere vessel to communicate the district’s will. “I’m going empty-handed,” he said quietly.
Bhalla shuffled quickly through photocopied sketches of how he perceives the current process vs. how he says he will operate, if elected. Stick figures and flowchart shapes depict what Bhalla says is a “disconnect” between an elected representative’s constituents and the votes cast by said representative, while there is a clear connection between the elected official and a combination of lobbyists, the national party, and other powerful interests. On the next page, there is a direct line connecting the constituents to their representative.
When asked how he would avoid becoming yet another well-meaning politician who packs up and heads to the Capitol with the best intentions, only to be sucked into the prevailing political machine, Bhalla smiles. He points to a printed pledge he says that, as signed, will protect against such influence. He also says that since special interests will have no response from him, they will quickly decide he is not worth their efforts.
Instead, the plan is to ask the district’s voters to weigh in on each bill that is up for deliberation. (Various communication solutions are being considered for executing this.) Whatever fifty percent plus one decide, says Bhalla, is how he will vote. His campaign assistant, Ken Orr, quickly added that the only override would be when a bill was clearly unconstitutional.
Votes on pending legislation aren’t the only thing on which Bhalla says he will seek direct input from constituents. He will ask citizens to set his salary, too, “from zero to the full extent” set by Congress, depending on the voters’ assessment of his performance.
Bhalla, who originally hails from India, faces two formidable opponents in Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and the incumbent’s immediate predecessor’s scion, Weston Wamp, both of whom have demonstrated an ability to raise lots of campaign cash. Dr. Jean “Lady J” Howard-Hill is also running for the nomination. Bhalla says he is not aiming to compete for the large donors, adding that he does not want to be a “puppet.”
Chattanooga attorney J.B. Bennett released a statement saying that he is not running. Two other potential candidates still apparently deciding are Savas Kyriakidis and Tres Wittum.