The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

A Messy GOP House Primary Taking Shape in Tennessee


In Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, one of the first contested GOP House primaries of 2014 takes shape:

Jim Tracy, who currently represents state senatorial district 14, announced his candidacy for Congress Wednesday at the famed Reeves-Sain Pharmacy in Murfreesboro.

Tracy, a small business owner and conservative state senator, said he was running for Congress because government is both financially and morally bankrupt, and in order to get America back on the right track, the country needs leaders of character and integrity with a core belief in conservative principles serving in Congress.

“I am running for Congress because our government is broken – morally and financially,” said Tracy (Rep., Shelbyville). “I am a conservative in word and deed. I have lived my life both personally and professionally in a way that is consistent with my core conservative values.

“If you give me the honor of serving you in Congress, I will work to implement solutions that cut spending, rein in government and keep taxes low,” he continued. “I promise that I will never embarrass you with my personal conduct or compromise on my conservative principles. I have served my constituents for the past eight years in an honorable and consistent way. I will continue to do so if you give me the honor of serving you in Washington.”

So why would a Republican state lawmaker begin a challenge by declaring Washington to be “financially and morally bankrupt”? The local news web site summarized the trouble that enveloped incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign:

When he was a physician, going through a bitter divorce with his now ex-wife, DesJarlais—now a pro-life, pro family values congressman—had an affair with a patient and pressured her to have an abortion. Initially silent in the wake of the revelations, DesJarlais would soon label the report as “false attacks,” while asking supporters to contribute to a campaign that was about to be slammed by well-backed opposition groups targeting his seat. 

Three days later, DesJarlais would go on a talk radio program to publicly denounce the attacks. Although DesJarlais acknowledged a transcript detailing his conversation with an unnamed woman, including his encouragement for her to terminate a pregnancy, the congressman said there had been no pregnancy and no abortion, insisting that he had been using “strong rhetoric” in order to attempt to lead the woman into admitting that she was never actually pregnant.

The congressman also posted an open letter to his constituents, in which he said the recording of the conversation between him and the woman had been recorded secretly and against his knowledge.  

DesJarlais’ explanation did not deter his opponents from continuing to seek the full story on his past, as Democrats called for the entirety of his divorce records to be unsealed. The congressman also had his endorsement removed from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s website and was lampooned by the pundit Stephen Colbert.

DesJarlais won handily, 55 percent to 44 percent, owing to the heavily-Republican district (R+13 in the Cook Partisan Voting Score) and the heavy GOP wave as Romney won the state by 20 points. But there’s little doubt that DesJarlais will be a big target of Democrats in 2014 if he survives the GOP primary.

In addition to Tracy, State Rep. Joe Carr also has formed an “exploratory committee” to consider the race. Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr has urged Tennessee state GOP leaders to unite behind one primary challenger.

This is an R+13 district, so the GOP primary winner will have a strong advantage in the November 2014 general election.

Tags: Jim Tracy , Joe Carr , Scott DesJarlais


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