published Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Scott DesJarlais may face GOP challenge in 2014

Scott DesJarlais, from left, Eric Stewart
Scott DesJarlais, from left, Eric Stewart

NASHVILLE — While Republicans believe U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais will be re-elected next month, they expect he'll face at least one challenger from his own party in 2014 following revelations he once encouraged a woman he dated to get an abortion.

Political operatives and GOP legislators say state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has met with donors about a bid and could decide on a 4th Congressional District run after the Nov. 6 election.

DesJarlais now faces Democrat Eric Stewart, a state senator from Winchester.

Stewart has repeatedly attacked DesJarlais after a partial transcript was leaked of DesJarlais' discussion with a patient about the abortion. The information came from sealed court records in DesJarlais' 2001 divorce.

Tracy said Friday he's focused on "getting to know the folks in my new district and working on my re-election and helping other Republicans and Mitt Romney get elected."

He said the questions about DesJarlais "are serious allegations and I have some concerns about it."

DesJarlais, first elected in 2010, has acknowledged he encouraged the woman in 2000 to get an abortion. But he says he knew the woman wasn't pregnant and he was simply trying to get her to acknowledge it. He said the relationship occurred when he and his then-wife were in divorce proceedings and had agreed they could see other people.

Prominent Republican officeholders ranging from Gov. Bill Haslam to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga have distanced themselves from DesJarlais but publicly have held their tongues.

"People are going to hold their nose and push a button one more time for DesJarlais. They don't want [House Democrat Nancy] Pelosi to be speaker," a senior Republican said. "But he's going to have major primary competition" in 2014.

In 2010, before redistricting, Tracy, ran for Congress from the 6th District, coming in third in a race with Murfreesboro businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik and state Sen. Diane Black. Black won.

GOP-controlled redistricting reshaped the 4th District with the addition of part of Bradley County and all of Rhea, Meigs and Rutherford counties plus Tracy's home county of Bedford.

This year, legislative Republicans thought state Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro, would challenge DesJarlais in this year's primary. But the confrontation never materialized.

Final funding

Meanwhile, DesJarlais' last financial report before the Nov. 6 election shows him struggling to raise money since the Oct. 10 disclosure of the transcript in the Huffington Post.

DesJarlais reported raising $30,216 in the 17-day period from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17. That included $12,516 from individuals and $17,700 from political action committees, including $5,000 from a PAC with which he is affiliated.

Stewart reported raising more than double that.

But DesJarlais still had nearly $320,000 in cash for the final days of the campaign, or more than three times what Stewart had.

Stewart is getting help from the House Majority PAC, a Democratic group that is spending nearly $100,000 on television ads attacking DesJarlais. No independent Republican group had jumped in to help the congressman as of Friday.

However, DesJarlais spent almost $303,000 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 17. He spent about $191,000 on television, $25,000 on other media, nearly $52,000 on direct mail and $7,000 on polling.

His ads attack Stewart for peddling "recycled garbage" about revelations of erratic behavior in his divorce papers. But information about his relationship with the unidentified woman and the abortion never surfaced until this month.

NRA backs incumbent

Also on Friday, the National Rifle Association endorsed DesJarlais. The NRA cited DesJarlais' support for a proposal to let people with concealed handgun permits carry their firearms in other states.

Critics have charged it would have allowed states with a more lax permitting process to carry their weapons legally in states with tougher requirements.

The NRA was critical of Stewart, citing his vote against a state law that allows handgun-carry permit holders to bring their guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, provided they do not drink.

about Andy Sher...

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, ...

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