Scandal-Ridden Rep. DesJarlais Wins GOP Primary by a Hair

Image: Scandal-Ridden Rep. DesJarlais Wins GOP Primary by a Hair U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais. R-Tenn. (Handout/U.S. Congress)

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 12:01 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Two GOP primary races in Tennessee went down to the wire Friday morning with scandal-scarred Rep. Scott DesJarlais apparently winning by just 35 votes in one district while Rep. Chuck Fleischmann survived a close call in another.

DesJarlais, who was socked with shocking divorce revelations during the campaign, defeated state Sen. Jim Tracy by 34,787 votes to 37,752 with all precincts counted, although the results are still unofficial, The Tennessean reported.

The voting was so close that Tracy had declared victory in the 4th Congressional District on Thursday evening, only to learn that a rural area close to DesJarlais’ home had driven the incumbent back into the lead.

"We're glad that the voters chose to judge the congressman on his record in Washington, rather than the disgusting, disingenuous smear tactics propagated by Sen. Tracy's campaign," said Robert Jameson, a DesJarlais spokesman.

But Tracy has not thrown in the towel just yet.

"We eagerly await the final outcome once the counting is completed and verified," his campaign said, according to The Hill. "There are ballots left to be counted."

Although Tennessee does not have an automatic recount law, a candidate can ask state and party officials to conduct one, the newspaper said, noting that there could be uncounted absentee or provisional ballots.

The embattled DesJarlais was, in fact, expected to lose the election after court records from his 2001 divorce came to light showing that the pro-life Republican had pushed his then wife to have two abortions.

The records also revealed that the physician had several affairs with patients before his divorce was finalized and that he had encouraged one to have an abortion, The Tennessean said.

DesJarlais, who is now married to his second wife, Amy, said he’d put his past mistakes behind him while reaching out to faith communities in his district and asking for forgiveness.

His campaign was dealt another blow last month when DesJarlais announced he’d been diagnosed with neck cancer and had to cut back on his election speeches to have treatments.

If confirmed the winner, DesJarlais will face Democrat Lenda Sherrell, an accountant, and engineer Robert Rankin Doggart, an independent, in November.

Meanwhile, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann beat 27-year-old Weston Wamp, the son of the man he replaced in Congress in 2010, by just about 1,400 votes, according to The Hill. But, in this case, Wamp called to concede the race to Fleischmann.

The tense primary battle was a rematch from 2012 when Wamp, the son of the district’s former Rep. Zach Wamp, came in third behind Fleischmann and dairy magnate Scottie Mayfield.

In this election, Wamp took the unusual step of reaching out to Democratic voters by saying that Fleischmann was too conservative while he would work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get things done in Washington. Despite his small majority, Fleischmann was thrilled to come out on top in the end.

"I was a little bit surprised with the nature of the closeness, but it was a hard-fought race," he said. "Overall I’m very pleased, and I’ll take a close win over a close loss any day.

"I thought [Wamp] was going to make a very conciliatory concession speech, but he just told me that I had deceived tens of thousands of Tennessee voters and he hung up on me. I was saddened by that. I wish he had been a little bit more gracious."

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