CHATTANOOGA (WRCB/TFP) - U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two of his challengers, Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp, participated in a 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by Channel 3 and our partners at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Scottie Mayfield rejected an invitation to the May 21 debate. A campaign spokesman, Joe Hendrix, emailed a statement to the newspaper Wednesday.
"Scottie believes the majority of those who attend debates have already made up their mind who they are going to vote for," Hendrix wrote. "The issues are not where the candidates differ, it's experience."
Fleischmann's other opponents wasted no time attacking Mayfield for missing the debate.
"Refusing to debate disqualifies you from being a serious candidate," Wamp told the newspaper. "There's nothing that energizes me more than a serious discussion about the challenges our nation faces."
"Maybe he needs more preparation," Bhalla said. "Sometimes candidates think they are the leading one, and then debates put them down."
In a phone interview with the newspaper, Fleischmann said every candidate has the right to run a campaign "as they see fit."
The debate was held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Roland Hayes Concert Hall.
Channel 3 Anchor David Carroll served as co-moderator with Dave Flessner of the Times Free Press.
Bhalla, Fleischmann and Wamp were allowed three minutes for an opening statement. After that, candidates answered a mix of questions from audience members and from the moderators.
Candidates who are attacked or otherwise singled out by another candidate were given a chance to respond.
Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are the Democrats in the race, and Matthew Deniston is the lone independent candidate. A future debate with the Democrats is in the works.