published Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Chuck Fleischmann rejects 2nd debate with rival


by Chris Carroll

Poll
Mary Headrick or Chuck Fleischmann?

Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann on Tuesday confirmed he won't debate Dr. Mary Headrick again in Tennessee's 3rd District race.

Fleischmann campaign spokesman Tyler Threadgill cited his boss's "full schedule" before Election Day and said the congressman met a single-debate promise when he squared off against Headrick at a lightly attended forum in Bradley County.

But that's not enough for the Democratic challenger in a district that includes 10 other counties and 692,000 residents.

"It's so unfair he won't debate," Headrick said. "What can I do if he won't? Spend every dollar I get."

Records show Headrick, a physician from Maynardville, Tenn., bought $13,983 in advertising time on two Chattanooga television networks at the beginning of October. Between then and Election Day, that translates to 91 commercials on the city's ABC and NBC affiliates. The ads are slated for news and game shows.

Headrick is planning a similar buy at Chattanooga's CBS affiliate, and she's already running about $8,000 worth of 30-second cable ads throughout the 3rd District, which snakes from Chattanooga to the Kentucky border.

It's the biggest advertising blitz of any 3rd District Democrat in recent history; the last nominee, Chattanooga attorney John Wolfe, spent almost nothing on radio, television and Internet promotion. But it's difficult to determine if Headrick's efforts will influence a conservative district where Fleischmann dominated the airwaves in a tough Republican primary.

While Headrick budgeted about $30,000 for districtwide television this entire election cycle, Fleischmann spent $33,204 on two weeks of Chattanooga network time as he battled GOP challengers Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp.

Fleischmann hasn't spent a dime on network television in Chattanooga or Knoxville media markets since winning the nomination Aug. 2. But Threadgill said a new commercial is running "primarily on Fox News." He declined further details, but acknowledged a sleepier campaign this time around -- no robocalls, fewer debates and scant advertising.

There's another missing piece. While the Fleischmann campaign committed resources to opposition research on Mayfield, Threadgill said that's not the case with Headrick.

"She's left of Obama on most issues," he said. "That's our research."

Headrick briefly suspended her campaign last week and traveled to Iowa, where her brother suffered a heart attack and other ailments. She's back in the district this week.

While numerous Headrick donors are supportive, some are pessimistic. A Democrat hasn't won the 3rd District since 1992, Fleischmann has a 4-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage and Headrick pledged to use her campaign as an example of keeping "big money" out of politics.

"She's a great candidate, but she's not really beating the bushes to raise money. I don't know that that's good," said retired businessman Olan Mills II, whose family has donated at least $10,000 to Headrick. "It would certainly help her campaign."

But Headrick's helping herself. Records show that of $98,139 in total donations, $41,945 came from her own pocket.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

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