published Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Weston Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, runs headlong into criticism

Former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter, right, listens as his son, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, concedes defeat in 2010.
Former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter, right, listens as his son, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, concedes defeat in 2010.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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NASHVILLE — The youthful son of a well-known Tennessee politician declares for public office and runs headlong into criticism about his inexperience and effort to ride the coattails of his famous father.

Sound familiar?

You may be thinking of Chattanooga Republican Weston Wamp. The 24-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., recently announced he will try to take the 3rd Congressional District seat his father held for 16 years from incumbent Republican Chuck Fleischmann, 50.

But then again, you could just as easily be talking about Harold Ford Jr.

The Memphis Democrat faced similar questions in 1996 when he announced, at age 26, that he was running to succeed his father, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., D-Tenn., in the 9th District.

Ford won.

Or try Al Gore Jr., the son of former U.S. Sen. Al Gore Sr., D-Tenn. At age 30, a journalist with no political experience other than what he learned from his father, the younger Gore squeaked through a hotly contested 4th Congressional District Democratic primary in 1978 with just 32 percent of the vote.

He easily won the general election, went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and then was vice president of the United States for two terms before losing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.

There’s a good reason why any number of successful Tennessee politicians got their start, at least in part, by being the scions of veteran officeholders.

“No. 1, first and foremost, it gives you name recognition, and name recognition is expensive to buy. So it gives you a leg up,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.

And people who supported the parent may get behind the next generation.

Oppenheimer said these advantages can create a “feedback loop” that “gives you a sense of viability” that may help in fundraising, particularly in a party primary.

Other examples of successful offspring include former state Rep. Brenda Turner. The Chattanooga Democrat was the daughter of the late Chattanooga Police Commissioner James “Bookie” Turner. First elected in 1982, she lost her seat in 2004.

Just last week, Becky Duncan Massey, the sister of U.S. Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan Jr., won the Republican nomination for a state Senate seat in Knoxville.

Their father was U.S. Rep. John Duncan Sr., whom Duncan Jr. succeeded in 1988. Duncan Jr.’s son is Knox County trustee.

Nonetheless, Oppenheimer said, Tennessee and the rest of America — despite various Kennedys and assorted Bushes — are by no means in the grip of some sort of “political aristocracy.” Any number of offspring seek office and lose, he said.

TURNING CRITICISM TO ASSET

When he announced, Weston Wamp acknowledged there would be criticism about a youthful son seeking his father’s former seat.

A managing partner in a Chattanooga-based public relations, creative strategy and social media firm he launched last year, Weston Wamp portrayed both his youth and his heritage as virtues.

Noting “faith in our country and Congress are at all-time lows,” he said. “It’s time for something different; it’s time for the next generation to show some leadership.”

As for being a former congressman’s son, Wamp said, “That’s fine, and I say let’s talk about it. I watched my father serve in Congress for most of my life and I learned from him what public service means. I learned how the Congress works.”

It wasn’t long before one of the first salvos in the campaign was fired by Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith.

“People want to judge our new leaders on their skills and merits rather than their family names,” Smith said. “He’s a very young person and has no past experience.”

Wamp’s retort was that “when the framers of the Constitution said you can serve in Congress beginning at 25, they knew the guys at 25 wouldn’t have a decade of business experience. There are strengths that come with being young and innovative.” He will turn 25 before the election on Nov. 6, 2012.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science professor Rick Wilson said there’s no question the Wamp name can be a benefit in the 3rd District.

“Obviously, name recognition is so important that any time you have a well-known name it’s helpful in establishing a base” for a campaign, Wilson said. “So in that sense, being the son of/ a former congressman is helpful to Weston.

“But after you reach over that threshold, you have to bring [to] the table substance, and it remains to be seen how well he will provide that substance,” Wilson cautioned.

“Both Albert Gore Jr. and Harold Ford Jr. ran and won in open seats without an incumbent the first time they ran,” Wilson said.

Though he called Wamp a “very pleasant young man [who] would be a very strong contender for another office,” running against an incumbent “makes the race more difficult.”

A CAUTIONARY TALE

And, as Oppenheimer noted, name recognition is no guarantee.

Take Democrat Mike McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

With aid from his father and the threat of a bad political year looming for Democrats generally, the younger McWherter, a businessman, succeeded in clearing the Democratic primary field of everyone but himself.

But many criticized McWherter’s campaign and public speaking skills. He lost in a landslide to better-funded Republican Bill Haslam, the Knoxville mayor whose father founded the national Pilot Travel Centers empire of truck stops.

But a number of successful sons, daughters or sisters in Tennessee have run for open seats with varying types of non-elective experience.

In Ford’s case, he had just graduated from law school and was running in an open contest to succeed his father, Tennessee’s first black congressman in modern times.

“All his campaign signs said ‘Jr.,’ which was an attempt to pre-empt the kind of disdain that political opponents would heap on the nepotism of it,” recalled Jackson Baker, a writer for the Memphis Flyer newspaper. “So they just hit that head-on. He ran as ‘Jr.’ that time.”

When Ford in 2006 reached for higher office — the U.S. Senate — he narrowly lost to Republican Bob Corker, of Chattanooga.

In 1982, the offspring of two of Tennessee’s most famous politicians squared off in the 4th Congressional District.

Democrat Jim Cooper, then 28, was the son of former Gov. Prentice Cooper (1939-45), who in 1958 unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Al Gore Sr.

The Republican was Cynthia “Cissy” Baker, 26, daughter of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, himself the son of a congressman.

State and national journalists had a field day, but Cooper won the Democratic-leaning district.

In 1972, Democrat Bob Clement, son of the late Gov. Frank Clement, beat 71-year-old incumbent Hammond Fowler for Tennessee Public Service Commission and become the youngest statewide officeholder in state history.

Having had a governor for a father “no doubt” gave him an edge in his own race, Clement said. “A lot of them [voters] knew the name Clement.”

Clement later lost races for governor and for Congress. In 1987 he was elected to Congress in the 5th District, but he lost subsequent bids for the U.S. Senate and Nashville mayor.

Clement knows Weston Wamp and said the young man meets people extremely well. The experience and contacts he got through his father “will be a great benefit to him,” Clement said.

But noting public frustration with the nation’s economic struggles, Clement said he isn’t so sure voters are looking for experience these days.

“We’re living in strange times,” he said. “They [voters] want something new and different. They feel that government’s not working, government’s not performing, government’s not delivering. Therefore it opens the door for a lot of people.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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memphisexile said...

Take it from someone who lives in Memphis, being compared to anyone in the Ford family is never a compliment. Pointing out that the framers allowed people as young as 25 to run must be viewed in the context of the time when the constitution was written. At that time life expectancies were not nearly as high. A person in 1780s may have had 10 years of business experience at age 25. Most of them would not have been spending their lives at school and would have been working in the real world as soon as they were strong enough. In fact, even in this day and age a person could have 10 years of experience in business at 25. Mr. Wamp, however, does not. If Mr. Wamp did in fact have some years of business experience, I doubt people would be as critical. The simple fact is that he does not. As I mentioned in previous posts, I find it very amusing that Mr. Wamp is calling for a change when the current Congressman has not yet served a full term, and to this date Mr. Wamp has not mentioned any ideological differences from Mr. Fleschmann.

October 9, 2011 at 12:43 a.m.
deputydawg said...

I THINK MR. WAMP NEEDS TO START AT THE LOCAL OR STATE LEVEL AND GET SOME KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT OUR STATE NEEDS.

October 9, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

We did not want Wamp and we don't want his son. Now, please, use your time to write about something of value to our community.

October 9, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.
esaletnik said...

Is he a Progressive?

October 9, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

I agree with deputy. start at the local level get some time under his belt. nothing against him as a person. i do not know the young man. i would have to say though it is bothersom that some one so young with hardly any real life experience, work experience and political experience would even consider themselves well rounded and educated enough for such a position. i dont care what party thay are with. one would ask why? how did that decision come about??? well im 24...seen alot in my time...dont like the way things are going..hey..ill run for congress.

October 9, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.
NoMyth said...

Wamp Junior even considering a run for elected office is beyond the pale and shows what a sheltered and out of touch existence he leads. This is off-the-charts arrogance that results from bad parenting and living a life of privilege. The thought of someone with a silver spoon and not a single accomplishment in life, regardless of party affiliation, acting as a government representative for millions of citizens should make every American's blood boil. Only a fool would support a Wamp Junior ticket. Wamp Senior was a below average Rep w few good ideas and little to show for his service except a nice pension and health benefits. Wamp Junior would be even worse. Again, the arrogance is off the chart. Shame on this kid and shame on his family.

October 9, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

Graduated from college in 2009 and has already started two businesses and is running for congress...wow!! Is there some sort of lump some of money people get when they graduate so they can start businesses???Im going to college...graduate...start a business from my magical money and running for president...lol who can i count on to vote for me?????

October 9, 2011 at 2:06 p.m.
teach_them_all said...

As far as I am concerned, career politicians have not shown to be the greatest thing to ever happen to this country. If Mr. Wamp wants to run and considers himself to be a good candidate, then he cannot be any worse than what we have been experiencing.

October 9, 2011 at 5:04 p.m.

Junior even considering a run for elected office is beyond the pale and shows what a sheltered and out of touch existence he leads. This is off-the-charts arrogance that results from bad parenting and living a life of privilege. The thought of someone with a silver spoon and not a single accomplishment in life, regardless of party affiliation, acting as a government representative for millions of citizens should make every American's blood boil. Only a fool would support a Wamp Junior ticket. Wamp Senior was a below average Rep w few good ideas and little to show for his service except a nice pension and health benefits. Wamp Junior would be even worse. Again, the arrogance is off the chart. Shame on this kid and shame on his family.(noMrth)

Why jes tak owt tha reech kidz partt an yous tokin abowt mrO-Bama owr prez! cept mrO runns onabowt veezuns n luvin mooslems a hole lott mor! ima gessin mrMrth yous a fuul (en yur owhn wurds hehe!)coz yous dun votid fur da sleek toker! da soshelist peeple n jobbs keelur! da Man wit lotts uv reech foks $$$ an gittin reech hissef!

wwhy i dont no mrWump an Jr so gud likey awl yous up thar wwhy yous awl mussta bee leevin wit da Wumps ? Yous awl sownd likey yur in da Wumps haids n awl isn yous skritchin his haid creeters too?!

welll ima thunkin yall wud uv votid fur Wump Jr ifn he war un Demoncrit NO? Hee hic i reely thunk so Boyz yessum

October 9, 2011 at 5:48 p.m.
ChattyinLA said...

Before everyone rushes to judgement let’s all just take a chill pill and wait to hear what he has to say. This is a long process for a reason. As for comments about him being too young? We aren’t talking about replacing everyone in DC with teenagers. DC should represent the people and people in their 20’s are responsible for some of the greatest idea’s in our history. Thomas Edison’s first patent was when he was 22 (ironically it was the electric vote recorder). The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show when they were 24. Einstein came up with a little thing called his Theory of Relativity when he was 26. And if it’s “experience” you think is what’s so important in business you clearly don’t know much about it. Steve Jobs (RIP) started Apple (which now has more cash on hand than the US Treasury Dept) when he was 22. Gates started Microsoft when he was 21. Warren Buffet created the investment company that would later evolve into Berkshire Hathaway when he was 26. I could do this all day. Can we all just agree to give this kid a chance before we rush to judgement?

October 9, 2011 at 10:30 p.m.
lumpy said...

"brat", you seem to have pretty good size beef with the Wamps, Leslie. I don't think he was anything remarkable, just an average politician. I don't think his son has enough life experience to run for office. I think that's important. The whole dynasty thing turns me off, no matter what party. I don't want anymore Obamas in any kind of office.

October 10, 2011 at 2:38 a.m.
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