Robin Smith, a former state Republican Party chairwoman who finished second in the Aug. 5 primary election for the 3rd Congressional District seat, will not attend a GOP unity breakfast Saturday for Chuck Fleischmann, the Chattanooga attorney who narrowly defeated her in the bitterly fought race.
That was revealed this week in a spirited e-mail exchange between her campaign spokesman, Mark Winslow, and Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell. A Times Free Press reporter was copied on the e-mail exchange.
In one e-mail, Winslow said Smith was made aware of the unity event "through a release to the media, rather than directly."
"With more than two days notice she might have been able to adjust her schedule," Winslow wrote. "She will be unable to attend."
The event is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Country Place restaurant at 7320 Shallowford Road, but Winslow told the Times Free Press that Smith is helping her daughter move into a dorm at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., that morning.
Smith, a Hixson health care consultant, also did not attend a statewide GOP unity event last weekend in Nashville.
Powell said Thursday he hopes Smith is able to attend the Chattanooga event but that he does not want "to get into the back and forth" over whether a feud exists that could divide local Republicans for some time.
"We are focused on everybody coming together in November," Powell said.
In a crowed GOP field, Fleischmann finished first by 2 percentage points over Smith last week, but she beat him in Hamilton County by 1,174 votes.
Fleischmann faces Democrat John Wolfe in the Nov. 2 general election. Wolfe ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee in 2002 and 2004.
During this year's campaign, Fleischmann aired television ads accusing Smith of leaving the state GOP with a financial shortfall when she handed over the reins in 2009. She accused him in radio advertising of being a "slip-and-fall" attorney who got rich in part by suing a local rifle club, Walmart and a church.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairwoman Delores Vinson compared the post-election feud to a football game in which the players and coaches ultimately accept the outcome but the fans remain angry. The county party is co-sponsoring the unity event with the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club.
"Some of the supporters and staff members are having a hard time dealing with disappointment and success," Vinson said.
Vinson, whose daughter worked for Smith during the campaign, said the candidates should meet to resolve differences and that "it falls to Chuck to reach out."
Fleischmann angered some in the local party in May by refusing to attend the annual Hamilton County Lincoln Day dinner. He said he boycotted the event over what he called a "pay-to-play" scenario in which candidates paid $2,000 to speak.
The Smith campaign said Fleischmann did not attend because he knew she had a strong base of support locally and would win the straw vote, which she did.
Dr. Richard Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said time will heal wounds between the two camps. However, even if Smith supporters decide not to turn out for Fleischmann in November, he said, the district is so conservative that a Democrat will have a difficult time winning.
"The Republican is a very strong front-runner," he said.
The 11-county 3rd District stretches from Georgia to Kentucky and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who has represented the district since 1995, ran for governor this year instead of seeking re-election to Congress. He finished second in the GOP primary last week to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who faces Democrat Mike McWherter in November.
Date: Aug 11, 2010. 7:05 EDT
Thank you for the invitation. Appropriate protocol would have been to coordinate this event with the individual campaigns to ensure availability and success. To date, your candidate has made no effort to reach out to Robin and I regret to inform you she has a previously scheduled conflict. Unfortunately she was made aware of this event through a release to the media, rather than directly. With more than two days notice she might have been able to adjust her schedule. She will be unable to attend.
Date: Aug. 11, 2010. 7:19 EDT
Thank you for the etiquette instructions; I will try to do better next time. I do need some help clarifying Mrs. Smith's position, though - has she conceded the race publicly and I just missed it? Because it is my understanding she has not called Chuck to concede or congratulate him. She had the opportunity to do so at the Pachyderm luncheon on Monday, but as you and I know, she chose to use her time in a less constructive manner.
Date: Aug. 11, 2010. 7:24 EDT
Considering that she first called you to verify the numbers and then called Chuck, I am sure you know she did call to congratulate him on election night. We've had enough lies during the campaign, Jordan. Let's not continue them after the fact. I believe Chuck is on record publicly stating that she called him. So let's make sure we have our story straight before we try another lie.