published Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Rep. Scott DesJarlais rejects three debates with challenger

by Chris Carroll

The debate over debates shows no sign of stopping in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District.

The latest twist came Sunday, when U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais refused his Democratic opponent's week-old request to argue the issues three times over the next month.

"While I am open to revisiting the question later in the campaign, your lack of clarity on the issues gives me no reason for or basis from which we could currently debate," South Pittsburg Republican DesJarlais said in an email to Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart of Belvidere.

The congressman's campaign distributed the message to the media Monday, but Stewart quickly responded with his own news release, saying DesJarlais' email illustrates "that he does not want to face voters and defend his record in Congress."

"Congressman DesJarlais has bragged about being part of a 'Do Nothing Congress,' and now it's clear that he wants to be a 'Do Nothing Candidate,'" Stewart said.

Asked if DesJarlais has any desire to debate, campaign spokesman Brandon Lewis said, "I think we answered that," indicating that DesJarlais' email says the congressman will evaluate the question "later in the campaign."

But DesJarlais' mind is unlikely to change if history is any indication. After agreeing as the 4th District Republican nominee to debate former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., DesJarlais dropped out on the day of the event.

It was the 2010 race's only scheduled debate, and DesJarlais defeated Davis a week later.

In his email to Stewart, DesJarlais said his decision stemmed partially from his opinion that "the people I serve deserve to know who you feel should lead our nation as president."

The Chattanooga Times Free Press attempted to close that loop, asking whether Stewart supports President Barack Obama or the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"Scott DesJarlais wants to talk about how I might vote in the future, and I want to talk about how he has voted in the past," Stewart said in a written response. "So if he wants to ask me that question, he can meet me man to man on a stage in a debate and we can ask each other those questions."

Stewart has a news conference scheduled today in Murfreesboro. The election is Nov. 6.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at or 423-757-6610.

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