"When Chuck Fleischmann goes back to Washington, I will be that strong fiscal and social conservative, leading the values of 700,000 voters of the 3rd District."
"I come from a math background. I come from a science background. And right now, with what we face, we need that. We need someone who will look at the numbers and add one and one and get two -- not two and a half and deny science."
"As the federal government grows, whether it's Department of Education or any federal department, our liberties are constrained. And it's a bad thing."
"My opponent has extrapolated from our regulation of the school system to say that we shouldn't have federal regulation of anything. That just isn't so."
"This is a point where Dr. Headrick and I could not disagree more. ... Raising taxes will not solve this problem. It will make it worse."
"We need to have fair revenue, even if it means more taxes in some areas and fewer taxes in other areas.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Dr. Mary Headrick on Monday accused U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of failing to represent ordinary citizens, using the only scheduled 3rd Congressional District showdown to present herself as a listening ear to the middle class she believes her opponent ignores.
Bolstered by more than $100,000 in unspent ad money that Headrick doesn't have, Fleischmann barely acknowledged his challenger's specific critiques and made general appeals to cut taxes, reduce government and oppose President Barack Obama. He said a continuation of his first-term voting record would benefit all 3rd District residents.
The two differed dramatically over education, health care and government's role in society, with each nominee labeling the other's belief system as the cause of national dysfunction. Headrick blamed lax federal oversight and tax policies that favor the nation's wealthiest, while Fleischmann said her approach would add layers of government to an already excessive regulatory system.
But for all the buildup less than a month before Election Day, the hourlong debate merely exposed to a small audience what both candidates have said for months, and an independent observer said one debate was unlikely to tip the scales in a congressional district that has elected Republicans since 1994, sometimes by 2-to-1 margins.
Both candidates hit thematic notes long planned by their campaigns, with Fleischmann, a Republican, emphasizing his record of voting dozens of times to repeal Obama's health care law and painting Headrick as a localized extension of the president's "tax-borrow-and-spend" policies.
"As the federal government grows in whatever area, as you add on more layers of government at the federal level," he said, "it's always a problem."
Headrick, his Democratic opponent, insinuated several times that Fleischmann's true constituents are deep-pocketed donors and multinational corporations, but she drew the night's loudest applause when she addressed people making more than $250,000 per year.
"They need to pay their fair share of taxes, and if they want to harbor their money in the Cayman Islands," she said, "let them give up their citizenship and move to the Cayman Islands."
A lukewarm campaign, which has played out as a confident congressman ignores his challenger's request for numerous debates, took an aggressive turn Monday as both nominees found themselves on equal footing, seated at separate tables and facing each other for the first time.
It was a conflict of two distinct ideologies, with Headrick pushing a Democratic vision of government helping with health care, hungry children and economic growth, and Fleischmann insisting that government get out of the way of businesses stifled by "Obamacare" and regulation.
Headrick used the opportunity before 150 gathered at Cleveland Middle School to paint Fleischmann as a cog in the Republican machine of obstructionism, depicting him as an ideologue whose interests align with corporations and political anti-tax pledges, not everyday residents of Chattanooga, Oak Ridge or the 3rd District's scattershot rural counties.
"I would ask for your vote because I really care about you -- the working class of Tennessee, the children of Tennessee, your grandchildren and the future," the Maynardville, Tenn., acute care physician said. "I will look beyond ... a two-year re-election horizon."
But Fleischmann often appealed to his own work ethic, using his closing statement to tout an honor he recently began emphasizing to Republican audiences.
"I'll leave y'all with this thought, whether you love me or not: 'The Washingtonian' magazine voted on a bunch of congressmen," he said. "What they said about me was I was voted the second least-likely to be involved in [a] scandal in Washington, D.C. I called my wife."
Fleischmann actually tied for second with three other members of Congress.
Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer, a longtime observer of Tennessee politics, said the debate was Headrick's best opportunity to gain momentum in a tough district for Democrats.
"She needs every bit of free media coverage she can get," he said. "At the debate, Fleischmann had to have done something out of the ordinary, unacceptable or untoward to make a difference."
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.