Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

DesJarlais’ Paltry Fundraising Raises Doubts About Re-Election #TN04

DesJarlais had a tough fundraising quarter, taking in just $39,000. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, the anti-abortion Republican physician accused of encouraging his wife and mistress to have multiple abortions, raised just $39,000 in the second quarter, according to his most recent report to the Federal Election Commission. It’s a paltry sum for an incumbent member and signals more trouble for his re-election prospects in 2014.

DesJarlais’ weak fundraising quarter and measly $88,000 in cash on hand casts doubt on whether he can run a competitive campaign against two well-funded Republican primary challengers. His 4th District is the state’s largest and most expensive congressional district in which to run a television campaign.

DesJarlais’ primary opponents — state Sen. Jim Tracy and state Rep. Joe Carr — raised $303,000 and $100,000, respectively, in the second quarter and count former DesJarlais supporters among their donors, according to sources from both campaigns.

“The question from Republican viewers of the race isn’t just, ‘Where does he go for the money?’ but, ‘Where does he go for the support from voters?’” an unaffiliated Tennessee GOP operative said of DesJarlais.

A person close to the DesJarlais campaign attributed the smaller haul to the fact that the congressman spent the second quarter focusing on his work on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, instead of hosting fundraisers.

“He absolutely plans on staying in the race and is confident he’ll win in 2014,” this source said. “Congressman DesJarlais believes the people in the 4th District deserve a break from campaigning. He plans to focus more on fundraising starting in August.”

While he enjoys financial support from House GOP leadership — including Speaker John A. Boehner and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy — DesJarlais’ second-quarter fundraising haul is significantly less than what he raised in the first three months of the year.

And waiting until the third quarter to begin a push gives Tracy and Carr a potential leg up in the race, as they now have hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank a year ahead of the August 2014 primary.

Congressional primary losses are rare in Tennessee. The last time an incumbent was defeated in a primary election there was in 2008, when Republican Phil Roe defeated then-Rep. David Davis in the 1st District. Before that, a Tennessee congressional incumbent hadn’t lost in a primary in 42 years.

But Republican operatives in the Volunteer State have speculated that DesJarlais would be in serious trouble in 2014 since damning allegations from his decade-old divorce proceedings surfaced late in the 2012 cycle.

The divorce proceedings revealed allegations that DesJarlais carried on multiple affairs with patients and coworkers, and prescribed prescription drugs to at least one. He acknowledged encouraging a mistress and his wife to have multiple abortions, despite billing himself as an anti-abortion advocate.

Despite the late-breaking revelations, DesJarlais stayed in the race and was re-elected to this deeply conservative district with 56 percent of the vote last year.

In May, DesJarlais was fined by the state’s top medical disciplinary panel for two affairs he carried on with patients while he was actively practicing medicine.

This cycle, DesJarlais faces two formidable primary opponents, making his return to Congress less certain. GOP operatives suggested that if his paltry fundraising continues, the race could become a two-person contest between Tracy and Carr.

As a state senator, Tracy represents the largest geographic chunk of the district. He also has the biggest war chest of the candidates, plus a top GOP ad-maker, Brad Todd, is advising him. Todd has worked with Tracy since the late 1990s and is also a top consultant for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“I think it gives him a sizable advantage — inside the Beltway especially,” one Tennessee Republican operative said. “And here in Tennessee, it certainly shows that Tracy is serious about this and that he is going to run a smart campaign.”

Tracy has unsuccessfully run for Congress before. In 2010, he came in third in a Republican primary against now-Rep. Diane Black and businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik.

Carr represents a smaller chunk of the district as a member of the state House. But he represents Rutherford County, the largest in the 4th District, with a high concentration of conservative voters. He also counts veteran GOP operative Chip Saltsman among his top advisers.

In addition to support from some members of House GOP leadership, online reports showed two other House Republicans donated to DesJarlais: Reps. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and Aaron Schock of Illinois.

No prominent Democrats are running for the seat, which is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
  • ButlerCreek

    Correction- he won 62%. his asset, he’s proven on Tea Party principle as 100%. Tracy is Tea Party Light, insurance salesman that refuses to take a stand on immigration and is in bed with Lamar Alexander and Corker, both deeply hated by us republicans here in TN04

  • bpai99

    DesJarlais is wasted on Tennessee’s 4th District. With that level of hypocrisy, he should be a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. With confessed serial adulterer Newt Gingrinch blazing the trail last year, DesJarlais’ political future is limitless.

  • El Puma

    It is tempting to write him off as too beset by scandal to win, and that may very well be accurate – this time. Perhaps after a hiatus from office, Mr. DesJarlais will seek another post, and win it. That certainly seems to be the emerging theme this year. However, as dismal as these numbers are, it is still far too early to say his goose is proverbially cooked.

  • dectra

    DesJarlais is a Hypocrite. Period.

    If this sleazy P.O.S. is what the Teaparty is promoting, count me out.

  • FrancisChalk

    Owing to the difference between Republicans and Democrats, DesJarlais
    will likely not get reelected. Republicans actually hold elected officials
    responsible for their behavior. If he was a Democrat, he would be a shoe-in for
    reelection, not because Democrats worship at the altar of abortion, but because
    the Left only cares about advancing leftism/socialism. Hypocrisy is of no
    concern to a Democrat voter.

  • Rich Vail

    stick a fork in him…

  • cubanbob

    Still better than any democrat.

  • Serr8d

    Hmmmph. I’d rather vote a (now disappeared because the Democratic party has shifted so far-Left as to be indistinguishable from Communists) Blue-Dog Democrat than a known lying crapweasel Republican.

  • Serr8d

    He’s not. Do you even know what the TEA Party is, or are you simply accepting what’s being disgorged by both the elitist blue-blood “McCain – Romney” GOP and far-Left “Neo-Commie” Democrats, both with agendas that prefer Statism and Big Government over Constitutional constraints, so as to keep their own power and perks flowing unabated?

  • Serr8d

    Agreed. Lamar Alexander needs to shuffle off to the same pasture that’s long been awaiting ‘Maverick’ John McCain (and his hefty daughter).

  • Bookwench

    You actually reveal that you know nothing about political science. Almost all analysts agree that, if anything, the Democrats have shifted Right, while the Right has gotten more extreme

  • Bookwench

    No, we’re going by the fact that, despite the many truly despicable scandals attached to him during his 2012 campaign, he was still easily re-elected last year in a bastion of tea party supporters

  • Bookwench

    I remind you that he WAS re-elected despite the scandals…so, guess no difference between Reps & Dems. And then, of course, you have to look at Sanford, Vitter, Ensign, Gingrich, et al. Do you even follow the news?

  • Serr8d

    Re-elected in a case of ”vote for the slimeball Republican, or the far-worse-for-our-already-harmed-Republic Democrat who will caucus with Pelosi”. Much like many TEA Party sorts mistakenly voted for Romney.

    DesJarlais wasn’t my chosen Representative. He became my Rep because, redistricting. I was very happy with Diane Black in the 6th; but no, that changed.

    What’s important is that there’s a serious primary challenge to DesJarlais. We’ll be sure he knows that pretense to staunch values isn’t good enough, srry, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • Serr8d

    No, your ‘analysts’ are incorrect, and likely are as far-Left as most Democrats. If you can’t smell the sour coming from the Democratic Party, you’re simply one with them.

    What did the Democrats do after losing in 2000, with that imbecile Gore as their candidate? Did they meekly move to Center, as they are cajoling the GOP to do, or did they race to Left? Think about it for a moment. And don’t link Huff’n’blow, because that’s not ‘analysis’.

    What happened to the ‘Blue-Dog’ Democrats I used to vote for? Those were truly Center-Right. They were run out by their own Leadership, SanFran Nan and her ilk, who are about as far-Left as they can get.

    And, Democrats have learned how to attract voters using the contents of the federal Treasury. We’ve allowed the Democratic Party to become entrenched because they’ve purchased soft, needy, ‘Americans’ who are nothing like their precedents. It’s now the era of entitlements, not of selflessness and sacrifice, the traits that made this Republic great.

    It’s become a handout culture in Washington. Because of it, the debts we’ve accrued will come due soon enough, and none of us will care for that.

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