By Andy Sher
NASHVILLE - Robin Smith of Hixson said she is stepping down as Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman effective May 30 and will actively explore running for the 3rd Congressional District's GOP nomination.
"I'm looking at whether I'm the right person to run," Ms. Smith said today in an interview after she notified the GOP's State Executive Committee by conference call that she intends to step down from the party post she has held since August 2007.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., has announced he is not seeking election to the 11-county district in order to run for governor in 2010. Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann announced this week he is running in the GOP primary, joining Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble.
"I've been overwhelmed by contact from grassroots supporters, from elected officials, from major donors asking me to take a strong look at the 3rd Congressional District seat," she said. "While I love serving as chairman of the Republican Party here in Tennessee, I know I have accomplished the goals I specified in August of 2007."
In a statement, Ms. Smith, who turned 46 today, said that "working together, Tennessee Republicans made history by putting forward a message of freedom and limited government that rejected the national shift toward unchecked liberalism and delivered the first Republican majority in the Legislature since Reconstruction."
Republicans won majorities in the state House and Senate for the first time since 1869, although House Democrats later managed to elect a Republican to their liking. Ms. Smith said she is "resolute" that Tennessee Republicans will win the governorship, boost its legislative majority and elect "true conservative leadership" in the state House.
In the interview, Mrs. Smith, a former Hamilton County GOP chairwoman, said she continues to believe that the principles of limited government and spending as well as governmental accountability are vital to the country.
"Right now a lot of people are asking me if I'm crazy (to run) because in Washington there's so much going on" with Democratic control of the White House and both chambers, she siad.
But she said people believe "there needs to be a voice that sometimes has the courage to stand up and maybe serve not just necessarily in stark opposition but can speak candidly about a new opportunity for vision."
On the Democratic side, former state Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers of Oak Ridge has announced she is running. Democrat Brent Benedict, a computer systems analyst from Chattanooga who ran against Rep. Wamp in 2006, has said he intends to run. State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, has said he will not run.
Earlier this week, state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he would not run. State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, has said he would take a look at the contest.
The 11-county district includes Hamilton and Bradley counties along the Georgia border and stretches north through Rhea, part of Roane and into Anderson County and into Claiborne County on the Kentucky border before dropping south to take in Grainger County and part of Jefferson County.