It certainly was not a surprise to anyone when former Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman Robin Smith announced her campaign for Zach Wamp's Third District Congressional seat earlier this month. What was surprising was how she handled the media scrutiny her debut brought forth.
While candidates are usually given a bit of a 'honeymoon' with the press early in the campaign, Smith was not afforded that courtesy.
On the very first day of her announcement, the Associated Press asked pointed questions regarding her stint as TNGOP chairman including the infamous press release entitled "Anti-Semites for Obama" that made national news for its use of the now-President's middle name and its depiction of Barack Obama in native Somali garb.
While there was no shortage of controversy during Smith's tenure, it was that press release which was one of the defining moments — and suddenly Smith doesn't want to talk about it.
Smith said bringing up the release was just a tactic by the liberal media meant to embarrass her.
"This is not what this (Congressional campaign) is going to be about," Smith snapped at the Associated Press.
Obviously, the last thing Smith wants to do is run on that release. However, the second to last thing she wants to do is run from it — and the work done on her behalf during those months as chair by her communications director Bill Hobbs.
One can understand why Smith would not want to be defined by the media work done under her watch at the party. Party chairman and Congressional candidate are very different roles. Things which are virtues as a party chairman can quickly become vices as a Congressional candidate.
A party chair can afford to be a bomb-thrower. It’s not just part of the job, many times it is the job. Rallying the base, inciting the faithful and serving as an attack dog are jobs Smith did well. A congressman, however, cannot be consumed by these tasks.
For Smith to try to pull a 180 going from firebrand to statesman in a few months is not realistic. Nor is it advisable. While Smith may want to be seen in a different light, one cannot simply change their image on a whim.
Under Smith, the party achieved a majority in the state House. How much her efforts ultimately led to that victory matters little. The General Assembly was taken over by Republicans during her tenure — she gets the credit and is entitled to it. Of course, to claim the credit, one also has to accept responsibility — for the job you did and who you did it with.
Let's be honest, Smith's attempt to distance herself from the release is not just about that release. It's about the TNGOP's communications shop during those days.
Put simply, this is about Bill Hobbs.
As a party chair, Hobbs was a useful tool to Smith. However, as a Congressional candidate, Smith seems to view her history with him as a liability.
A pity, actually, because no matter what one thinks of the politics and communications strategies of Smith and Hobbs, one admirable thing about that relationship was the loyalty Smith consistently showed to Hobbs.
It is easy to forget, but there was a point in his tenure at the party where Hobbs was at risk. Whether they implied it on the record or said it off the record, many Republicans wanted Hobbs removed from his position.
But there was always one thing standing in their way: Robin Smith. Despite the behind the scenes pressure, Smith refused to throw Hobbs to the wolves. Given the opportunity to cut Hobbs loose and save herself some drama, Smith took a pass.
And like any good deed, it did not go unpunished. Because now, if she's looking to distance herself from Hobbs' handiwork and forge a new image for herself, she's gonna have to take it slow.
Hobbs may not be in Smith's employ any longer, but he is still with her in the public’s mind. Smith and Hobbs are like peanut butter and jelly to many political observers. Eventually, that bond may unravel and the memories may fade — but it won't be tomorrow.
And politically, to be defensive about the work she and Hobbs did together, is folly. Eventually, if Smith wins this seat and serves a few terms and proves herself a pragmatic conservative leader, the memory of 'Anti-Semites for Obama' will be forgotten. But before any of that occurs, Smith will have to win an election. If Smith wants to change her image, and it would eventually behoove her to do so, I would suggest she wait until after she is in Washington.