4TH DISTRICT MONEY RACE
As of July 16
Lincoln Davis: $788,607
Scott DesJarlais: $321,864
Source: Federal Election Commission
Tennessee is the “eye of the storm” for anti-Democratic sentiment this year, and that could spell trouble for incumbent Lincoln Davis in the sprawling 4th Congressional District, a political expert says.
“The energy on the right in East Tennessee is electric,” David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, said last week. “(Davis is) going to have to run to the right of the national Democratic Party and even the national Republican Party.”
Davis, 66, is a member of the conservative congressional Blue Dog Democrats and a Fentress County homebuilder. He faces Jasper, Tenn., physician Scott DesJarlais, 46, a Republican originally from Sturgis, S.D., in the Nov. 2 general election.
DesJarlais said he moved to East Tennessee 17 years ago after interviewing for a job with a doctor who rode Harley-Davidsons and knew of the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. He said Democrats on the national stage are pushing a “socialist” agenda that doesn’t sit well with the district’s mostly rural voters.
“We need leadership that would be more conservative fiscally,” said DesJarlais, a barber’s son who rode dirt bikes, not Harleys.
Davis said last week that 85 percent of the voters in the 24-county district were born there and are satisfied that his “independent” views reflect theirs.
“I won’t be hamstrung by the Democrats or Republicans,” he said while on his way to one of 23 town hall meetings he has held in the past few months. “Neither party has all the answers.
“I have been in every election immune to the national scene,” said Davis, who first won the seat in 2002. “Voters know who I am.”
But Davis acknowledged that, in a more urban district with a lot of newcomers, he might “have trouble” winning re-election.
The 4th District, which stretches over two time zones, resembles a fishhook curving from a point south of Nashville to the Kentucky state line. Towns in the district include Columbia, Tullahoma, McMinnville and LaFollette. Candidates typically must advertise in three major media markets — Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville — campaign consultants said.
‘Bring our jobs back’
The Washington, D.C.-based Cook Political Report and Chicago-based Real Clear Politics rate the 4th District as “leaning” toward a Democratic victory, the nearest rating to a tossup.
Democrats hold 255 House seats to 178 for Republicans, with two vacancies. Both parties are fighting for control of the House.
“Lincoln Davis has never received fewer votes than the Republican in the primary,” Wasserman said.
He said more than 70,000 voters cast ballots in the Aug. 5 Republican primary and 40,000 in the Democratic primary for the 4th District.
DesJarlais received 27,810 votes, or 37 percent, in a five-person field, according to the Tennessee Department of State website. Davis received 41,256 votes in an uncontested primary, the website shows.
Wasserman said Republican voters had more incentive to show up at the polls, with a contested 4th District primary and a three-way brawl in the governor’s race between ultimate winner Bill Haslam and his opponents U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
But the voting numbers could be troubling in a conservative district where Democrat Barack Obama lost in 2008 to Republican John McCain by 30 percentage points, he said.
He also agreed it doesn’t help the Democratic candidate in a conservative Christian district that some on the right are questioning Obama’s religion and that the president has entered the fray over whether a Islamic community center should be built near site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.
But Wasserman said Davis is skilled at the “retail aspects” of campaigning in the district.
“Davis always wins because he has a knack for making his race more personal than partisan,” Wasserman said.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, hinted in a Twitter posting Aug. 18 that talk of defeating congressional incumbents might be premature.
“Crystal Ball update on missing ‘anti-incumbency wave’ in primaries,” Sabato tweeted. “As of today: 309 members of Congress renominated, only 6 defeated.”
Frances Ferrell, a 79-year-old retired nurse who lives in Columbia, Tenn., said district voters might be concerned about Obama being a “socialist,” but the main concern is jobs.
The issue is a personal one for her. She has one grandson who recently graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and one still there.
“You have children graduating from school, and there are no jobs,” she said. “Bring our jobs back to the U.S. from overseas.”
Davis and DesJarlais have strategies for job creation that center on tax breaks for businesses. In addition, they are focusing on issues that each says sets him apart from his opponent.
DesJarlais , whose mother worked in a veterans hospital in South Dakota for 44 years, said he wants to protect veterans’ rights and benefits.
Neither candidate served in the military.
Davis said he voted against health care reform and the bank bailout and in favor of tax cuts. He said those votes put him philosophically in line with district residents.
However, the National Republican Congressional Committee has criticized Davis for voting for the $862 billion stimulus package, and DesJarlais said voters in the district are not politically aligned with a congressman who voted for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House speaker.
Davis spokesman Tom Hayden noted in an e-mail response that “there has never been a time in recent history that a member has cast their vote for speaker from a different party with the exception of Jim Traficant, who was under indictment and later expelled from the U.S. House.”
In the end, Davis implied that fund-raising might make a difference in the election. Davis, who raised $788,607 by the July 16 Federal Election Commission reporting period, said he has $650,000 in campaign cash on hand. He said he doubts DesJarlais will raise enough to remain competitive.
DesJarlais had raised $321,864 by the reporting period, including $29,400 from his own pocket, according to the FEC website. He would not say how much he had in cash on hand but said he expects to raise more money now that he is the GOP nominee.
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