Map of Tennessee 7th Congressional DistrictTennessee’s 7th Congressional District runs from Mississippi to Kentucky, giving new meaning to the concept of gerrymandering.

Marsha Blackburn has represented District 7 for the past five years, and was appointed assistant majority whip almost as soon as she arrived in Washington. In short, she is a vote-getting rising star in the GOP sky. [She was also voted the "hottest woman in U.S. politics" in a 2006 Internet poll.]

Thus one would think that Blackburn would have little to fear from a challenger, particularly one that has been limited to Shelby County public service for the past seven years.

But Tom Leatherwood has thrown down the gauntlet and Blackburn is taking it very seriously indeed. Because she seems to be most vulnerable on ethics and funds mismanagement, Blackburn is attempting to find similar skeletons in Leatherwood’s closet by examining everything imaginable:

A volunteer for Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign has asked the county for thousands of pages of documents about Republican primary challenger and Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood.

In a letter dated April 25, Nashville resident Tyler E. Jones requested every e-mail Leatherwood has sent since taking the register’s office in 2001, what kind of county vehicle he drives, travel expenses and purchases he’s charged to the county credit card and a copy of his official schedule. He also requested information about the register’s office, including budget numbers and contracts since 2001.

In the letter, Jones said he was authorized to spend up to $1,000. The county charges 25 cents a copy.

Leatherwood, meanwhile, is nonchalant about Blackburn’s investigation, pithily returning fire:

Leatherwood said he doesn’t use the county e-mail for personal messages, he gave back his county credit card and passed on a county-funded car. He drives his own Ford Explorer to work, he said.

"It’s anybody’s right to request this information," Leatherwood said. "I’m not concerned about what they might find. I know that they will not find any corruption on my part. … They will not find any gross negligence where I lost track of hundreds of thousand of dollars entrusted in me. Both of those things have happened in her campaign."

Leatherwood, of course, is referring to the recent revelations about Blackburn’s campaign fund mismanagement and nepotism:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign committee has made dozens of mistakes in its financial reports through the years, even misreporting the payment of a fine assessed by federal regulators for errors her committee made.

The Brentwood Republican’s campaign bookkeeping problems came to a head in April when she announced that an audit she initiated of all her campaign finance records had caused her to refile all 32 periodic reports she has made to the Federal Election Commission since she first ran in 2002. More than $440,000 in campaign donations and disbursements had not been reported or were misreported, she said. . . .

Ten times in just more than two years, the commission reminded the campaign it was supposed to separate individuals’ contributions from those received from political action committees. . . .

Since she began running for the House, Blackburn has paid her daughter and son-in-law, a company they both owned and one her daughter now runs by herself, MK Fundraising and Events, $317,623, according to an analysis of campaign data compiled by Congressional Quarterly.

Incumbents are hard to beat and this race is an uphill battle for Leatherwood. You also have to consider the fact that Leatherwood raised less than $25,000 in the first quarter of 2008 and ended with less than $5,000 cash-on-hand, while Blackburn raised over $620,000 and ended the quarter with about $800,000.

Still, if Leatherwood hadn’t had a penchant for tilting at windmills he never would have won his first race, when he tackled 27-year incumbent Leonard Dunavant in a race for the Tennessee Senate. And we all know windmills can be toppled — just ask a guy named Obama.