NASHVILLE — While Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais easily won re-election over Democrat Eric Stewart on Nov. 6, the latest revelations from the Jasper physician's past are encouraging at least three fellow Republicans to take a serious look at challenging him in the 2014 GOP primary.
Middle Tennessee businessman Forrest Shoaf said Friday he is taking a "hard" look at running in the 4th Congressional District.
He accused Democrats of playing "dirty pool" including the successful release this week of the court transcript from the congressman's ugly 2001 divorce.
It shows DesJarlais acknowledging under oath that he had mutually agreed with his then-wife about her getting two abortions and also acknowledged having had extramarital affairs with two patients and other women during the divorce.
The records and other charges "were salacious," said Shoaf, a former general counsel and chief financial officer with the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant chain and a West Point graduate.
Shoaf fears Democrats succeeded in damaging the congressman's future viability, saying, "I think they've hurt Rep. DesJarlais, and I think they've hurt him to the extent we may lose the seat next time. He was lucky to hang on to it, [but] next time I think we need a candidate who is not damaged."
Shoaf ran unsuccessfully in 2002 during the crowded 7th Congressional District GOP primary. He currently doesn't live in the district. But he said after retiring from Cracker Barrel last December, he already had decided to move to Bedford County, where he once lived. He said he has made no final decision to run.
DesJarlais congressional and campaign staffers had no immediate comment Friday evening.
Also weighing bids are state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, and state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
Carr hails from Rutherford County, the largest county in the 16-county district. Tracy used to represent part of Rutherford. State Republican lawmakers redrew the district this year and included Rutherford County thinking state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, would challenge DesJarlais. Ketron didn't.
Carr said he sympathizes with DesJarlais, his current wife and children, noting he has gone through "bloody" campaigns himself.
"But my thoughts are also to the district," Carr said. "As a Republican, as a conservative, we do run on family values, and I think when you run on family values, in the media it's necessary to put a magnifying glass to your lives because your life reflects your rhetoric.
"Unfortunately for Congressman DesJarlais, 12 years ago it didn't [match]," Carr said. "And I understand we all make mistakes, and that's unfortunate. I'm sure God's got forgiveness for him, and it's there and available, and I'm sure he's already beseeched God for that. But at the same time, we still need to be mindful of the men and women we elect to office and who they are."
He said he has made no decision on whether he will run.
The names of two East Tennessee Republicans also have been floated in GOP circles. One is state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland. The other is former Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble.
Efforts to reach Brooks on Friday were unsuccessful. Gobble, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, said, "I really haven't given it any serious thought at this point. I imagine Congressman DesJarlais will continue to run. Right now, I'm happy where I am."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...