NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., overcame damaging personal revelations to win re-election last month, but the effort largely emptied his campaign war chest even as four fellow Republicans consider challenging him in 2014.
The Jasper physician, who had admitted having sexual relationships with at least two patients and pressing one to seek an abortion in 2000, spent $1.26 million to beat back a challenge from Democrat Eric Stewart.
While DesJarlais won handily, he reported having just $15,660 in cash as of Nov. 26, according to his Federal Election Commission filing this week. He burned through $436,000 during the final 19 days of the campaign, mostly for television ads and direct mail aimed at 4th District voters.
Stewart spent $655,244, including $264,891 during the Oct. 18-Nov. 26 reporting period. He ended with a $9,831 cash balance. A Democratic "super PAC" also spent $180,000 attacking DesJarlais from mid-October to the Nov. 6 election.
DesJarlais' campaign manager, Brandon Lewis, said in a statement that Stewart and his "liberal allies" spent nearly a half million dollars in the race's final days "trying to distract voters from Congressman DesJarlais' consistently conservative voting record."
Some health care political action committees have said they don't intend to contribute to DesJarlais again, given revelations from a nearly 700-page transcript of his 2001 divorce trial released a week after the election.
Lewis, however, said, "We are confident that we will continue to receive support from like-minded conservatives and small-business organizations." He also said it is "important to note that unlike many other campaigns, the congressman's is completely debt-free."
The transcript showed that DesJarlais, who now describes himself as "pro-life," supported his former wife's two abortions before they were married. It also contained admissions of eight affairs, including two with patients, and that he pressed one former patient who told him she carried his child to have an abortion.
And DesJarlais acknowledged brandishing what he said was an unloaded pistol while arguing with his then-wife, which she said had frightened her. During his 2010 campaign, he denied the erratic behavior.
DesJarlais raised $132,045 after the initial scandal over the pregnant patient erupted with political action committees giving $71,816. Among them was the National Pro-Life Alliance PAC, which contributed $500. Several conservative House Republican colleagues also gave, including Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Graves.
But not a single one of DesJarlais' five Tennessee Republican House colleagues gave him money after the scandal erupted. And they and top elected Republicans at the federal and state level have shunned him publicly.
DesJarlais has said he has straightened out his life since his 2001 divorce and subsequent marriage to his second wife, Amy. He told a Nashville talk radio show host last week that God has forgiven him and he hopes "fellow Christians" and constituents will, as well. He said he will not resign.
However, the congressman still faces complaints filed with Tennessee's Board of Medical Examiners over his affairs with patients and with a congressional ethics panel over allegations he made misleading statements to the public.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...