Politics

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.