A 45-second cell phone video obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press captures Chuck Fleischmann and Robin Smith sniping at each other during a Fourth of July celebration in Collegedale.
The pair, two of 11 Republican candidates gunning to replace Rep. Zach Wamp for the 3rd Congressional District, started arguing onstage before they led the Pledge of Allegiance for a large crowd.
Their feud stemmed from a then-upcoming newspaper story about Mrs. Smith leaving the state Republican Party with a $19,090 bank overdraft, low cash balances and high amounts of obligations at the end of her chairmanship in 2009.
Several anonymous GOP officials confirmed the numbers behind the report.
Smith campaign spokesman Mark Winslow disputed the story’s validity Friday and said the Fleischmann campaign put the news tip on a reporter’s radar.
“Robin knew Chuck was shopping the story around,” he said. “She told him onstage that it was hurting the (Republican) party.”
Mr. Fleischmann said that was untrue.
“If I had all the money in the world in front of me, I could not name the independent sources who spoke with the newspaper,” Mr. Fleischmann said.
The video begins after the Pledge of Allegiance as Mrs. Smith ignores Mr. Fleischmann, instead facing the cell phone camera and verbally slamming Mr. Fleischmann’s political consultant, Chip Saltsman, who was not at the event.
“I will stand on truth every time, Chip Saltsman,” Mrs. Smith says. “Every time.”
On Friday, Mr. Winslow clarified the remark, saying Mrs. Smith was blaming Mr. Saltsman for planting the “financial misconduct” story with the media.
Before joining the Fleischmann campaign, Mr. Saltsman ran for Republican National Committee Chairman in 2009 before dropping out. Mrs. Smith, then the Tennessee GOP chairwoman, did not grant Mr. Saltsman’s request for support during his run, according to Mr. Winslow.
“After she said ‘no,’ Robin got a call from one of Chip’s money people to endorse Chip,” Mr. Winslow said. “The only relationship the guy had with the state party was writing checks, so we knew what that meant. She said it sounded like a threat.”
“Chip needs a win, wants to beat Robin, and Chuck is the fellow bankrolling the operation,” Mr. Winslow said.
Mr. Saltsman declined to comment on his relationship with Mrs. Smith.
Mr. Saltsman managed the 2008 presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has campaigned and advertised for Mr. Fleischmann.
In the video from Collegedale, Mr. Fleischmann circles toward his opponent and denies planting the story about Mrs. Smith.
“You’re threatening to sue when you don’t even know ... I had nothing to do with that,” he says.
As “America the Beautiful” begins to play in the background, Mrs. Smith extends her hand to Mr. Fleischmann.
“I look forward to winning — working with you, buddy,” she says.
This week, Mr. Fleischmann said Mrs. Smith is simply getting desperate.
“She has chosen to be adversarial with some of the other campaigns, including ours,” Mr. Fleischmann said. “She sees the writing on the wall that we’re going to take this race from her and a bunch of Washington insiders and return it to people of the 3rd District of Tennessee. She can’t deal with it.”
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Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...