Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stumped for 3rd Congressional District candidate Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee Wednesday, but Mr. Fleischmann's campaign sparred throughout the day with his main rival for the GOP nomination, Robin Smith.
Mrs. Smith attempted to show division among Mr. Huckabee's supporters over his endorsement of Mr. Fleischmann. E-mails from the two camps flew to media outlets throughout the day as claims were batted back and forth in a game of political pingpong.
Mrs. Smith has claimed that Mr. Huckabee's real supporters, including Team Huck Tennessee, have endorsed her, but the Team Huck website claims it endorsed Mr. Fleischmann.
The author of the release announcing the Team Huck endorsement, Ted Boyatt, sent out another e-mail Wednesday, claiming Huckabee delegates were coerced into retracting their endorsements for Mrs. Smith.
Mr. Boyatt, who resigned from Team Huck, sent out his e-mail after Mr. Fleischmann's camp put out a news release saying Mrs. Smith's claims of Huckabee delegates endorsing her were "fabricated."
Mrs. Smith claims Mr. Huckabee is in town not because he supports Mr. Fleischmann, but because Mr. Fleischmann employs former Huckabee staff. It is true that some of his former staff work for Mr. Fleischmann, but Mr. Huckabee said Wednesday that is unrelated to his appearance here.
Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Mike Huckabee speaks at Lee University's Conn Center on Wednesday. The former governor of Arkansas was in Cleveland to raise support for 3rd Congressional candidate Chuck Fleischmann.
Mrs. Smith also posed the question of whether Mr. Huckabee is being paid to speak on behalf of Mr. Fleischmann.
Mr. Fleischmann says he is not.
Speaking to media after he landed at the Chattanooga airport, Mr. Huckabee called Mrs. Smith's tactics dishonest.
"If a person is dishonest in getting a job they will be dishonest in the manner in which they carry out the job," Mr. Huckabee said.
Mr. Huckabee also took a direct jab at Mrs. Smith's campaign manager, who he said is the source of most of the claims against Mr. Fleischmann.
Smith campaign manager Chris Meekins said the campaign is not about him.
"This campaign is about the candidates," he said. "And Robin has a record and Chuck has money he's made as a trial attorney."
During his Tennessee trip Wednesday, Mr. Huckabee did not rule out a 2012 presidential run, but said his appearance here was not a nod toward his intentions. Mr. Huckabee won Tennessee in the 2008 Republican primary.
At a rally in Cleveland, dozens of Fleischmann supporters -- and a few Smith backers -- gathered in an auditorium at Lee University. Following chants of "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck," Mr. Huckabee took the stage. His speech fluctuated between light-hearted jokes and somber seriousness as he discussed the importance of Republicans taking control of Congress.
"If we don't change this Congress, then frankly it's not going to matter a whole lot about 2012," he said. "There may not be much of a country left if we don't stop the runaway spending."
During his speech, the Smith supporters sat quietly. Clinton Wilson, a member of Mrs. Smith's campaign staff, said the attendance was to show "our presence." As for the fighting between the two candidates, Mr. Wilson took it in stride.
"I think each candidate's voice needs to be heard," he said. "In order to be heard, you have to present opposing viewpoints."
Dale Grisso, a volunteer for Mr. Fleischmann, was equally unimpressed by the back-and-forth.
"It's expected," he said. "It's an important race."
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.
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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 ...