A prominent conservative blog and a well-financed family values group are calling for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' ouster, adding to the national voices wanting new representation in Tennessee's 4th District.
In a Thursday post titled "Scott DesJarlais Must Go," RedState.com contributor Daniel Horowitz spoke of "a golden opportunity in midland Tennessee to show the country that we live by the standard to which we have set for ourselves."
An anti-abortion Jasper physician who promotes a family friendly agenda, DesJarlais supported his ex-wife's two abortions in the 1990s and later had sexual relationships with several female patients and co-workers, court documents show. Some of that information didn't emerge until after DesJarlais won re-election in November.
The RedState piece originally surfaced on a website for the Madison Project, a "pro-life, pro-family" political action committee that spent $2 million during the 2012 election cycle. It urges conservatives to reject DesJarlais in the 2014 Republican primary.
"What has long distinguished our party from the Democrats is that we don't tolerate immorality among our ranks," Horowitz wrote, adding it's time "to throw out a weak incumbent and replace him with one of our guys."
DesJarlais' office did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but earlier this month, spokesman Robert Jameson said the congressman is ignoring 2014 campaign politics and focusing on his job in Washington.
While Tennessee Republican lawmakers have distanced themselves or remained silent when asked about DesJarlais, influential conservatives have become increasingly withering in their critiques since the Chattanooga Times Free Press uncovered details of his personal life.
DesJarlais has defenders who say the revelations are old news for which the congressman has expressed regret.
"I'll take a born-again DesJarlais any day!" wrote one RedState online commenter who cited the congressman's vote against 2011's debt ceiling increase that later set the stage for the "fiscal cliff."
RedState isn't the first widely read blog to denounce DesJarlais. His scandal brought an unusual degree of ridicule to the quiet rural counties between Nashville and Chattanooga.
For example, the political blog Talking Points Memo slipped DesJarlais a 2012 Golden Duke Award, honoring the year's best scandal for "sex and generalized carnality." The website Slate later described DesJarlais as one of "the worst cads of 2012," citing the abortion revelations and "several extramarital relationships with his patients when he was a physician."
"Perhaps the most depressing part of this story?" Slate wrote. "He won re-election."
The criticism isn't limited to national writers. DesJarlais was the only congressman in the Volunteer State's 11-member bipartisan delegation to be omitted from the host list for a Tennessee State Society inaugural ball scheduled for Monday on K Street in Washington, D.C.
Aides to DesJarlais have been bracing for numerous primary challenges from the right. Tennessee state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, recently announced his 2014 bid, and other conservative legislators are expected to follow his lead.
But supporters of DesJarlais say they aren't fazed by the potential foes. In fact, some welcome a scrum of opposition; the conventional wisdom among some activists is that DesJarlais' greatest threat is if a lone Republican challenges him.
"We're his constituents, and we love Scott," said Estill Springs Republican activist Joanne Davis. "I'd like to see a lot [of GOP candidates] in there and just show them how popular Scott DesJarlais is with the people."
The sprawling 4th District includes Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Marion, Meigs, Rhea, Rutherford and Sequatchie counties.
Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...