State Sen. Eric Stewart discusses his bid for the 4th Congressional District seat during an Aug. 14, 2012, press conference outside the Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
State Sen. Eric Stewart kicked off a tour Wednesday of the 4th Congressional District as part of his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the November election.
"I cannot meet everyone in the 4th District, but I sure can try," Stewart said, during the first stop of the 16-county tour in Cleveland.
The Democratic senator from Belvidere launched the tour as part of a larger effort to gain name recognition in the newly aligned 4th District, which was changed under redistricting by the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year.
Stewart, who represents the 14th District in the Tennessee Senate, is scheduled to hold an event Friday, Sept. 7, in Rutherford County.
Dubbed the "New 4th District Tour," Stewart said he hopes voters will take the opportunity to meet him personally to discuss concerns regarding public policy matters.
"No one knows how to build a community better than the folks who live in it," Stewart said. "Politicians would know this if they actually took the time to listen."
Following visits to local businesses and senior centers, the first leg of the tour culminated with a military veteran roundtable and community forum. Stewart said he also plans to hold town halls in the near future.
Prior to the tour, DesJarlais declined participating in a series of debates that would have been held throughout the 4th District, which prompted Stewart to start an online petition demanding the first-term congressman agree to meet before voters.
DesJarlais contended Stewart, who at the time refused to say who he supports in the presidential election and had not taken a firm stance on various issues, was only clamoring for a debate in order to become more recognizable in the district.
"As you know well, defining your candidacy and building awareness is both difficult and expensive," DesJarlais said in an Aug. 14 letter sent to the Stewart camp. "However, taking a firm stand on issues and offering thoughtful solutions is not. I have yet to see you put forth any substantive platform, only empty slogans and negative attacks."
DesJarlais added, "While I am open to revisiting the debate question later in the campaign, your lack of clarity on the issues gives me no reason for or basis from which we could currently debate."
Stewart countered those claims Aug. 17, saying he would work hard to fight for the people of the 4th District, regardless of who is in the White House, if elected.
"I will be voting for President (Barack Obama) because I cannot support a platform like DesJarlais' that raises taxes on the middle class," he said, "and continues to reward companies that ship our jobs overseas."
He also requested to debate again.
"I renew my call to DesJarlais for three debates," Stewart said. "I have answered his questions, now (we will) see if he will man up, sit on a stage with me, and answer questions from voters."
In a continued effort to put more pressure on DesJarlais, Stewart took the opportunity Thursday to slam him for recent votes in Congress.
"He betrayed working families when he voted to end Medicare as we know it, raise the Social Security retirement age to 70, and redistribute our hard-earned money to folks making (more than) $1 million dollars a year," he said. "If he is not willing to explain these votes to working families, I will do it for him."