NASHVILLE — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais held a better than 7-to-1 cash advantage over Democratic challenger Eric Stewart as of Sept. 30 and is using it to dominate the television airwaves in their 4th Congressional District contest.
DesJarlais' campaign declared Tuesday that Stewart is "running on fumes" with campaign manager Brandon Lewis saying, "Eric Stewart is a strong supporter of Barack Obama, a proponent of Obamacare and believes in the liberal borrow and spend policies that have exploded our national debt and ruined our economy."
But Stewart campaign manager Kevin Teets retorted the campaign has seen a major turnaround since last week. That was when it was revealed that DesJarlais once encouraged a woman with whom he had had a relationship to get an abortion.
"We've seen a huge momentum in involvement, donations and support," Stewart campaign manager Kevin Teets said Tuesday.
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who touts his opposition to abortion, has acknowledged the 2000 transcript of the recorded conversation with the woman is genuine.
But the congressman says he discussed the abortion to get the woman, whom he once treated for an ankle injury, to acknowledge she wasn't pregnant. In the transcript he had also pressed her about getting an ultrasound.
The lawmaker now says there was no pregnancy and no abortion.
The finance disclosures, filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission, cover the period from July 14 through Sept. 30. DesJarlais reported a $599,163 balance while state Sen. Stewart of Winchester disclosed just $84,849 on hand.
DesJarlais raised $193,477 while Stewart report $114,619 in contributions.
Since the disclosure period ended, DesJarlais has jumped onto Chattanooga and Nashville broadcast media with around $160,000 in ad buys, his campaign confirmed, noting Stewart has made buys only amounting to about $26,000.
Stewart's campaign declined to state what its purchase has been.
But the Stewart campaign is banking on twists and turns the campaign has taken since the emergence of the transcript, first reported by the Huffington Post, and counting on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee entering the fray with independent expenditures.
The latest splash came Monday when the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with Tennessee's Board of Medical Examiners, charging DesJarlais' sexual relationship with the patient violates the state's medical code even if, as DesJarlais says, the situation was "mutual."
Also on Monday, Tennessee Conservative Union Chairman Lloyd Daugherty told the Times Free Press that he's talking with other Republican-leaning groups to decide whether to demand DesJarlais resign.
The 4th District has been on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's radar all along, but it has yet to purchase ads. But "that can change at any moment," a committee official said.
The prospect of that happening has House Republican leadership worried they would then have to jump in with financial aid to help what was widely seen as a sure victory, several Tennessee Republicans tell the Times Free Press.
For now, both candidates' campaigns are ignoring the recent revelations in their television ads.
The congressman's 30-second spot features two older men playing checkers with the first complaining that "we need a congressman who does what he says." The other replies, "DesJarlais did" and repeats it in response to another complaint from his friend.
"DesJar who? Did DesJar what?," the puzzled first speaker asks.
The friend then informs his pal, "DesJarlais. The doctor. Scott DesJarlais did. Scott DesJarlais did exactly what he said he would do. He fought to cut wasteful spending, cut the debt, and he's fighting to repeal Obamacare." Well, the first man says, "DesJarlais has my vote."
Stewart's ad features the candidate leaning on a wooden fence, saying, "Congress is a mess. They can't even pass a budget. As a small businessman and a senator I've balanced dozens of budgets. I've even cut my own paycheck twice."
He then says DesJarlais "voted to raise taxes on the middle class and increase the deficit by $3 trillion. DesJarlais voted to destroy Medicare and he voted against pay raises for our veterans. No wonder that he chickened out on debates."
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, ...