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Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais is in trouble. Big trouble.
Whether that trouble catches up with the freshman Member, a physician, on Tuesday or whether it’s his undoing during the 2014 primary season, he’s unlikely to make a career of being a Congressman in Tennessee’s conservative 4th district.
“Religious faith is far more important to voters than party,” one Tennessee GOP operative said, “so lifestyle is going to matter a great deal to voters in both parties there.”
In 2000, DesJarlais pressured a woman — a patient — with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion, according to a story first reported by the Huffington Post in early October. Then, on Sunday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a story about another patient who said she had a sexual relationship with DesJarlais. The woman, who was unnamed, claimed that she smoked marijuana with DesJarlais and that he prescribed her “pain medication on dates at his home,” according to the newspaper.
“The Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting a factually inaccurate story from a noncredible anonymous source, who is lying,” DesJarlais said in a statement relayed to Roll Call by his campaign.
Responding to the Huffington Post article, DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson didn’t deny the story but knocked it in a statement.
“Our opponent and his far-left allies know they cannot attack the Congressman on his record in Congress and as a result have used gutter politics to try to make this election about a 14-year-old divorce,” Jameson said.
Because the stories broke late and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart, doesn’t have a lot of money to push the message out throughout the three media markets that cover the reconfigured district, DesJarlais looks like he has a reasonable path to victory next week. Stewart had only $110,000 in the bank on Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC will have spent $280,000 in the 4th district by Election Day, but it is probably too little too late. Insiders said there were signs in much of the district that the story hadn’t broken through. Still, Democrats held out hope.
“I’m very optimistic about the race,” said John Rowley, Stewart’s media consultant. “But the challenge for Stewart is a month ago he didn’t have a lot of money and [President Barack] Obama’s probably going to lose the district by 30 points.”
Stewart’s campaign made the case that there really was a way for him to win.
“Our latest poll showed that this race was a dead heat,” said Katie Hill, communications director for Stewart’s campaign. She noted that much of the district was new for DesJarlais, whom she called “a do-nothing candidate.”