Fleischmann hopes to unify GOP after bitter election battle

Fleischmann hopes to unify GOP after bitter election battle

August 7th, 2010 by Larry Henry in Politics Local

Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann, the winner Thursday in a bitterly fought 3rd Congressional District GOP primary election, said he hopes to unify the party heading into the November general election against the Democratic nominee, John Wolfe.

"I look forward to working with the Republican Party and ask them to please approve my message of fiscal conservatism," Fleischmann, 47, said Friday.

Fleischmann, who was endorsed by Fox News weekend host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, is set to attend a unity event held by the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee in Nashville today.

Fleischmann and GOP rival Robin Smith, a Hixson health care consultant, engaged in a fierce primary battle that included campaign attacks in television advertising and mailers.

Fleischmann aired a television commercial accusing Smith of leaving the party with a financial shortfall when she handed over the reins in 2009.

Smith aired radio advertising asserting that Fleischmann, who put more than $700,000 of his own money in the race, became rich in part by suing a local rifle club, Walmart and a church.

Wolfe, a 56-year-old Chattanooga attorney who won the Democratic primary in the district in 2002 and 2004, said Friday he wants to debate Fleischmann in each of the district's 11 counties.

Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell said it is too early after the "contentious" primary election to commit to debates.

"We'll worry about that later," he said.

In a news release late Thursday, Smith said she "accepts" the election results. She finished with 28 percent of the vote in an 11-person Republican field, only 1,409 votes behind Fleischmann, who captured 30 percent of the vote.

Smith said she is "proud of path we chose to take in this race."

"We took a leap of faith that we could run a positive campaign, focused on issues, and stay away from the mudslinging and harshness that has poisoned not just our politics, but our entire culture," she said. "Tonight I will look at our kids and know I can tell them we conducted ourselves with honor."

On Thursday, Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," named Smith and the anti-tax Club for Growth political action committee the "worst persons in the world" for a mailer the PAC sent in the district attacking Fleischmann. The mailer asked recipients to call a phone number that connected to a sex hotline.

By federal law, the PAC, which endorsed Smith, could not coordinate the mailing with her campaign.

Fleischmann's campaign consultant, Chip Saltsman, said that since Smith was well-known with entrenched Republicans in Hamilton County, where 51 percent of the vote is, Fleischmann's campaign took advantage of his newcomer status and focused much of its vote-getting strategy in the northern counties of the district. Smith outpolled Fleischmann in Hamilton County, but he collected more votes than her in Anderson and other northern counties.

The district stretches from the Georgia to Kentucky borders and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., has held the seat since 1995 but ran for governor, finishing second behind the eventual GOP nominee, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.