U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais gets ready to speak at Thursday’s press conference. (Photo by Sam Stockard)
Struggling with fundraising and possibly losing support from peers, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais accused his Republican primary opponent, state Sen. Jim Tracy, of trying to buy the 4th District congressional seat to “further his own political career” and even compared him to President Barack Obama.
In a Thursday interview at his West Main Street office, DesJarlais, a primary care physician from South Pittsburg, said he believes he needs to win 40 percent of the Rutherford County vote in the Aug. 7 primary to defeat his challenger. Rutherford makes up 38 percent of the newly-formed 4th, which stretched from here down to Lincoln County and east to Bradley County.
But while he’s been concentrating on legislative affairs in Congress, DesJarlais said Tracy has been focusing on raising money for more than a year.
“Apparently, Mr. Tracy is putting his emphasis on fundraising,” DesJarlais said. “He certainly possesses a Mr. Obama-like fundraising quality.”
At the end of the 2013 campaign finance reporting period, DesJarlais had raised about $270,000, including $17,580 in the final quarter last fall, and showed $154,474 in the bank, according to the Federal Election Commission. Tracy, on the other hand, brought in more than $1 million in the 2013 reporting period, including about $230,000 in the last quarter, and touted some $850,000 in cash on hand.
DesJarlais admitted he hadn’t put enough emphasis on raising re-election funds in the last year, and he plans to focus on fundraising to deliver his message over the next six months. He said it was interesting, however, that Tracy announced his candidacy in late 2012, before either one of them was sworn in for their next terms in Congress and the state Senate.
During his previous re-election campaign against former Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart, DesJarlais had the backing of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, during a congressional hearing on the economy at MTSU. But support from peers may have dried up if his financial report is any indicator.
In the first half of 2013, DesJarlais netted about $52,000 from political action committees, which can include those set up by members of Congress, but he reported zero PAC contributions from October through the end of December. He downplayed that shortfall during the interview.
“A lot of times with big money comes big promises,” DesJarlais said. “I’ve developed a reputation as someone who’s not a pay-to-play member, and that’s not always popular in Washington.”
People who have followed him since he was elected more than three years ago understand that he’s stood by his word, he said, and that he’s beholden to the constituents of the 4th Congressional District, not special interests.
DesJarlais contended that when Tracy announced he was running in late 2012 he had no problem with the congressman’s voting record. Instead, Tracy felt “it was his place to judge me more from a moral standpoint and that’s the basis for his candidacy,” DesJarlais said.
Shortly before DesJarlais, a pro-life candidate, won election over Stewart in November 2012, reports surfaced about divorce court documents stating that his former wife had two abortions and that he tried to persuade a mistress to go to Atlanta to have an abortion. He was later penalized by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for having affairs with two patients.
Without alluding to those missteps, DesJarlais said, “I don’t think the voters of the 4th District are going to let Jim Tracy simply come in and buy a seat. … They’re going to ask him what he’d do differently.”
Tracy responded Thursday to DesJarlais’ statements by saying he is humbled by the donations people across 16 counties in the 4th District are giving his campaign. “They believe in you as a person and a candidate,” he said.
“We’ve got over a thousand donors,” he said. “When they give you money, that means they’re going to support your campaign.”
As for the comparison to Obama, Tracy called that “a sign of a desperate campaign when you’re not raising much money.” He noted that he doesn’t have the congressional power of franking and Washington fundraising and has to focus on a grass-roots campaign.
MTSU political scientist John Vile pointed out that incumbents typically hold the financial advantage.
“If someone were running against me and they had that much of a fundraising advantage, it makes sense to make a negative of it,” Vile said.
DesJarlais said his legislative focus is on the IRS targeting of conservative groups and on the Secretary of State’s slow response to the raid on Benghazi where American citizens were killed. He said he’s also been concentrating on the Farm Bill that passed the House, as well as fallout from the Affordable Care Act, which he adamantly opposes.
He pointed out that he and the Republican-controlled House voted 43 times to change or repeal the new health-care law, and he noted that President Barack Obama has made 23 changes to it.
“We are experiencing a lot of problems with a very flawed law,” he said.
Meanwhile, DesJarlais said he hasn’t heard Tracy state what he would do differently in Congress, other than work to get things done.
“He looks like a politician trying to further his own career,” DesJarlais said. “I don’t know what he’s going to agree on with (Senate Speaker) Harry Reid and Barack Obama that would be palatable to conservatives in this district.”
Tracy agreed that, as a conservative, he would vote similarly to DesJarlais but that he would take a new perspective to Washington, D.C., because he is a “totally different person” from DesJarlais.
“As I’m traveling around 16 counties in the 4th District, people are tired of somebody just voting ‘no’ all the time,” Tracy said, touting himself as a person who meets with both sides on every issue before making a decision. “They want somebody to come up with solutions and I’m going up there to do that.”