With just a 35-vote lead, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has declared himself as the winner of Thursday's primary race in Tennessee, but state officials won't be finished finalizing the vote for at least another two weeks.
DesJarlais campaign spokesman Robert Jameson told The Tennessean
that his team does not believe enough ballots remain uncounted to change the outcome in the race against state Sen. Jim Tracy.
"I am truly honored that the folks of the Fourth Congressional District put their faith in my ability to continue to serve them effectively in Washington," DesJarlais said in a statement. "My campaign made it clear from the beginning we would run on my independent, conservative record and that is precisely what we did."
But Tracy has not conceded the race, nor will he do so until the results are final, said his spokeswoman, Stephanie Jarnigan. That process could take a few weeks, possibly putting the race at risk of a recount in September, as candidates have five days after an election is certified to challenge it.
Elections commissions in the district are being asked to move up their certification meetings, said Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins Friday. The meetings, for now, are set over a two-week period, with the final meeting scheduled for Aug. 25.
The race has been a hotly contested one, with election officials naming DesJarlais as the unofficial winner on Thursday. But the Associated Press reported Thursday DesJarlais had a 33 point lead, and by Friday morning gave Tracy the lead by just two votes.
The primary also brought out far more voters with 77,492 ballots cast, which is almost 30,000 more votes than in the 2010 Republican primary.
In addition, there are still provisional ballots that have not yet been counted, The Tennessean reports, so the outcome of the race is not yet clear.
DesJarlais had been plagued by scandal during the race after files from his 2001 divorce were released in late 2012 showing that the congressman, a physician campaigning on a pro-life platform, had slept with his patients and encouraged one of them to have an abortion. In addition, the papers showed he had encouraged his now ex-wife, Susan, to have two abortions.
The papers didn't stop DesJarlais, a two-term incumbent, from being reelected, but just two months after the 2012 election, Tracy announced he'd campaign against him.
DesJarlais, now married to his second wife, Amy, said he’d put his 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.
The confirmed winner will go on to face Democrat Lenda Sherrell, an accountant, and engineer Robert Rankin Doggart, an independent, in November.
Tracy was endorsed by most Republican leaders in the state and was able to outraise DesJarlais by three-to-one, but was reluctant to attack his opponent about the personal scandal, The Tennessean reported.
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