Chattanooga lawyer Charles Fleischmann was elected to succeed GOP Rep. Zach Wamp, who ran unsuccessfully for governor though he lacked political experience, Fleischmann campaigned on popular themes for Republicans in 2010: Fiscal conservatism, deficit reduction, and aversion to the policies of President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress.
Fleischmann was born in New York City. His father, Max, who worked in the food-services business, “did not have a college education, but he worked himself up into good, white-collar jobs in purchasing for food-service distributors,” Fleischmann recalled in an interview with The Almanac of American Politics. The family moved often, following his father’s job opportunities; Fleischmann, an only child, lived in Philadelphia and New Jersey before finishing high school in Chicago. His mother, Rose Marie, was diagnosed with terminal cancer when he was 9, and passed away when he was 14 years old.
Fleischmann excelled in school, graduating from University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1983. During that time, he got involved with College Republicans; he still has a photograph of himself taken with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
He went to the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, for his law degree in the mid-1980s and adopted the state as his home. He clerked for Knoxville lawyer Foster Arnett, and then started his own law firm with his wife, Brenda. Their firm, Fleischmann & Fleischmann, is still operating today and focuses on personal-injury and commercial law. In 1996, Fleischmann, then 33, became the youngest person ever elected president of the Chattanooga Bar Association.
When Wamp announced that he would leave Congress to run for governor in 2010, Fleischmann said he decided to run because there was “an open seat, a desire to serve” and he was “very, very upset with the way things were going in Washington, D.C.” In the August primary, his most formidable opponent was health care consultant Robin Smith, a former Republican state party chairwoman. Fleischmann put $544,000 of his own money into the campaign and ran ads that accused Smith of mismanaging funds when she chaired the Tennessee GOP. In late July, the Smith campaign went after Fleischmann’s record as a personal-injury lawyer, saying that he had sued gun clubs, Wal-Mart stores, and churches—popular institutions with the state’s conservative voters. It was a potentially fatal line of attack, but Fleischmann defended himself by saying, “I make a living standing up for the little guy, people who have traditionally not had a voice and who have been dealt injustices and harm.” The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a story that backed up his claims, reporting that the gun-club incident in 2003 involved a man who was working on his own property when a bullet fired from a machine gun struck him in the abdomen. In the end, Fleischmann edged out Smith by garnering 30 percent of the vote to her 28 percent.
Fleischmann’s Democratic opponent, radio talk-show personality John Wolfe, was the unsuccessful Democratic challenger Wamp faced in 2002 and 2004. Fleischmann raised $1.2 million to Wolfe’s $5,000. He refused to treat Wolfe as a serious opponent, steering clear of debates and candidate forums with him.