The majority of local candidates for next month's elections will be gathered in Hamilton County to state their views in a nonpartisan political forum tonight, and the majority of them will be Democrats.
At least two Republicans from prominent races will be absent, along with several from other state races.
Both Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and 10th District state Senate candidate Todd Gardenhire will not be in attendance at the forum, held by the Brainerd Unity Group at the Eastgate Town Center.
The status on attendance to the event for District 27 Rep. Richard Floyd and District 30 Rep. Vince Dean—both Republicans—was described by organizers as "tentative." District 29 candidate Mike Carter and District 26 Rep. Gerald McCormick, both Republicans who are running unopposed, will not be in attendance.
Capping off the list of GOP candidates declining invitations to the event is Sen. Bob Corker.
House District 27 candidate Johnny Horne could potentially be the only GOP candidate to participate in the forum.
Although Gardenhire said he would not be able to attend because of an already-scheduled meeting with the Farm Bureau of Bradley County, a representative for Fleischmann's campaign said the congressman would not be able to engage with voters Tuesday night because of "private meetings," the matter of which he declined to disclose.
Tyler Threadgill, spokesman for Fleischmann's campaign, said the congressman had initially declined an invitation because of the possibility that his duties in Washington, D.C., would prevent him from being in his home district Tuesday.
But Fleischmann and his House colleagues cast their final votes Sept. 21, adjourning and returning to their home districts to campaign at its earliest pre-election date since 1960.
Threadgill said that Fleischmann was not informed until "a day or so ago" that he wouldn't need to return to D.C., to vote on additional bills, and he suggested the congressman's schedule had already become full since receiving the news.
"We found out a day or so ago that they weren't going to go back this week," Threadgill said. "[Fleischmann] had a number of different things on his schedule that he needed to catch up on and get done since he had a little more time in the district than he expected."
Since winning his party's primary two months ago with 39 percent of the vote, Fleischmann has accepted only one invitation to present his positions in issues in the same room as his opponent, Dr. Mary Headrick.
The two are scheduled to meet for one hour next Monday at Cleveland Middle School at 6:30 p.m.
Headrick, an acute care physician from Maynardville, issued a statement Monday that included a description of the congressman's reticence to meet her in locations across Tennessee's 3rd District as a "disservice to the voters."
"Mr. Fleischmann's campaign office has refused or made no reply to other forum and debate invitations," Headrick said. "Voters deserve to see their opponents appear together to answer questions and summarize positions. It is a disservice to voters when Mr. Fleischmann avoids debates."
Threadgill said the congressman was upholding a campaign commitment in debating Headrick next week and that he would remain busy talking with voters across the 3rd District in coming weeks. The district sprawls from Hamilton County and East Tennessee to areas west of Knoxville, including counties near and adjacent to the Virginia border.
Along with Headrick, candidates who will be on hand for the event Tuesday are House District 27 Democratic candidate Frank Eaton; House District 28 Rep. JoAnne Favors and her Republican opponent Johnny Horne; House District 30 Democratic candidate Sandy Smith; state Senate 10th District Democratic candidate Andraé McGary; and U.S. Senate write-in candidate Angela Stinett.
Chattanooga mayoral candidate Andy Berke will also attend, and an official with the Hamilton County Election Commission will make a presentation on the state's new voter ID law.
The event, held in the food court at Eastgate Town Center, will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a candidate meet-and-greet and will follow with a political forum.