published Monday, April 26th, 2010

Hopefuls squabble over support


by Dan Whisenhunt

IF YOU GO

* What: Huck for Chuck Rally with Mike Huckabee

* When: 2 p.m. Wednesday

* Where: Lee University, 1120 North Ocoee St., Cleveland

There's only one Mike Huckabee, and there's not enough of him to go around for two Republicans vying to be the party's nominee in the 3rd Congressional District race.

The former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate will be in Chattanooga this week to stump for Chuck Fleischmann, a Chattanooga attorney.

But a supporter of another candidate, former state Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith, claims the real Huckabee supporters are behind her.Mrs. Smith's campaign manager, Chris Meekins, said Mr. Huckabee endorsed Mr. Fleischmann because he employs people who worked for past Huckabee campaigns. Chip Saltsman, a campaign consultant for Mr. Fleischmann, and Jordan Powell, a campaign spokesman, both worked for Mr. Huckabee.

But Mr. Powell said his and Mr. Saltsman's ties to Mr. Huckabee have nothing to do with the endorsement.

"At the end of the day, he believes Chuck will make the best representative," Mr. Powell said.

At the heart of the disagreement is an April 6 news release endorsing Mrs. Smith, reportedly from Team Huck Tennessee, a grassroots arm of Huck PAC, Mr. Huckabee's political action committee.

The author of the news release, coordinator Ted Boyatt, resigned from Team Huck three hours after writing it. Mr. Boyatt, who lives outside the 3rd District, is a political science major at the University of Tennessee.

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On the same day as the Boyatt news release went out, the Team Huck Web site posted an endorsement of Mr. Fleischmann.

Mr. Boyatt said his endorsement shows the "real people in Tennessee" are behind Mrs. Smith.

J. Hogan Gidley, executive director of Huck PAC, characterized the Boyatt endorsement as one former coordinator going rogue.

The biggest beneficiaries of the rift appear to be the state Democratic Party.

Chairman Chip Forrester said fighting among the Republican candidates "continues to bode well for our Democratic nominee in November."

Democrats who have filed are educator Brenda Short, Dr. Brent Staton and attorney John Wolfe.

Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, said as endorsements go, Mr. Huckabee is as reliable as it comes.

"I think he's generally popular enough that he's more of an asset than a liability," Dr. Bullock said.

Mr. Fleischmann and Mrs. Smith are among eight Republicans vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who is running for governor.

Other candidates in the GOP primary are Cleveland businessman Art Rhodes, Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, Chattanooga area businessman Tommy Crangle, attorney Van Irion, educator Jean Howard-Hill and retired Air Force Capt. Rick Kernea.

Two independents, engineer Greg Goodwin and businessman Mark DeVol, also are running.

The 3rd District covers 11 counties from the Kentucky to Georgia borders and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.

The general election is Nov. 2.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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