According to several Chattanooga-based Republicans speaking with the Times-Free Press, state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is seriously weighing a GOP primary challenge to Fleischmann.
And Watson, 54, isn’t denying it.
“I have people encourage me all the time,” Watson told the Times Free Press last week when asked if he is running. “I don’t rule that out. … I think every election cycle you look at what opportunities might come up.””
Watson noted “we’re still in session here” in the Tennessee General Assembly. “And this is what my responsibility is and so that’s what I’m focused on.”
The legislative session is expected to adjourn toward the end of April.
One helpful thing for Watson: He can run without having to give up his state Senate seat. He was elected to a third four-year term last year and won’t face re-election until 2018.
Should Watson run, Fleischmann would be facing his fourth seriously contested primary in the 11-county district, which stretches from Chattanooga up north through Oak Ridge.
In an emailed statement Friday, Fleischmann spokesman Tyler Threadgill said the congressman is paying attention to constituents’ interests in the U.S. House. Last week, he said, the House “passed the first real entitlement reform in decades and a taxpayer friendly budget.”
“The Congressman is going to keep doing the job he was elected to do,” Threadgill said. “I’ll let others play in the political rumor mill.”
Fleischmann has never had an easy race in the district. As a political newcomer in 2010, he narrowly won a bitterly fought, six-person contest with Robin Smith, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman, as his main rival.