Robin Smith, who finished second in the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary election, says she is moving on after the bitterly fought race but is leaving her options open for another run in 2012.
"Chuck Fleischmann is the winner," she said Wednesday. "I have extended a hand."
Fleischmann faces Democrat John Wolfe in the Nov. 2 general election.
During a rally Wednesday morning, Fleischmann, a Chattanooga attorney and political newcomer, said he hopes for party unity going into the November general election and welcomes those who voted for the 10 other Republicans who ran in the primary.
"For those who chose another candidate, welcome home to Team Chuck," he told supporters at the Hamilton County Republican Party headquarters on North Market Street.
Fleischmann addressed 19 staff members and supporters in kicking off a three-day "thank you tour" of the district's 11 counties.
In a news conference after the address, Fleischmann said he has not responded to an e-mail request from Smith to meet and reconcile differences that arose during race.
He accused her in campaign television advertising of leaving the state party with a financial shortfall when she handed over the reins in 2009. Her campaign maintained the party owed vendors for previous contracts but held a fundraising function a few months later to retire the debt.
Smith, a Hixson health care consultant, said she expects the 3rd District to be redrawn after the 2010 census, possibly leaving a more compact area in the southern end than the current configuration.
"Recognizing the district in 2012 will be configured differently," she said, "all options (for an election bid) are open."
Like a ribbon, the 11-county district now extends from the Georgia to Kentucky state lines and includes Chattanooga, Cleveland and Oak Ridge.
Smith defeated Fleischmann in Hamilton County in the Aug. 5 primary, but he ran well in the northern counties and finished first overall in an 11-candidate field with 30 percent of the vote. Smith, a former state GOP chairwoman, received 28 percent of the vote.
U.S. House members serve two-year terms.
Fleischmann said the event Wednesday shows the party is unified behind him and that voters in the district want him to talk about issues such as job creation and lower taxes.
"We need to make sure we reduce income tax rates," Fleischmann said. "We need to make sure Americans keep more of their money."
Among those in attendance were former state Rep. Bobby Wood and legislative candidate Teresa Wood, who is seeking the House District 28 seat held by Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who also attended the event, said he does not think any post-election rift between Smith and Fleischmann is a prelude to a 2012 rematch.
"I think she will support Chuck for Congress and that we'll all come together in that cause," he said.
McCormick said he is running for the position of state House speaker in anticipation that Republicans will capture majority control of the lower chamber in November. Other potential contenders for House speaker include Reps. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Glen Casada, R-Franklin.
Smith later noted that, even if McCormick does not become House speaker, he probably will serve in a leadership capacity and would play a significant role when the 2011 General Assembly redraws the state's congressional districts.