NASHVILLE — A Democratic super PAC will pour money and advertising into Tennessee's increasingly high-profile 4th District congressional race that pits a state senator against a Republican doctor who encouraged his mistress, a former patient, to get an abortion.
The House Majority PAC, which is associated with top House leaders, is spending "over $100,000" on a television ad. The ad, titled "Trust," was to begin airing Friday evening on Chattanooga and Nashville television stations.
It is the first evidence that Democrats think Scott DesJarlais, a first-term congressman who has campaigned as being anti-abortion, is vulnerable in his contest with Democrat Eric Stewart. And it comes a day after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shifted the 4th District to one of 55 high priority "red to blue" districts Democrats think they can take from Republicans nationwide.
"Scott DesJarlais' incredible hypocrisy is just staggering," said Alixandria Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, which is linked to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement. "Tennesseans deserve better than Scott DesJarlais, for whom touting the values of trust and faith was nothing more than lip service."
DesJarlais' campaign issued a statement charging Stewart "has tried to run from his strong backing of Barack Obama and Obamacare throughout this campaign by pushing out recycled, 12-year-old garbage to keep from talking about his support of liberal policies that are killing jobs in Tennessee."
"His out-of-state, liberal attack team that works hand in hand with Obama is now trying to hijack this race from Tennesseans -- but they are too smart to fall for that."
The television ad begins with an announcer saying, "Trust and faith. As a doctor, Scott DesJarlais earned his patients' trust." The ad then cuts to extensive news coverage of the abortion controversy.
After the transcript of the recorded 2000 telephone conversation first emerged last week, DesJarlais told the Times Free Press that he was trying to get the woman to admit that she wasn't pregnant.
"I was attempting to use strong language to get her to tell me the truth," said DesJarlais. "There was no pregnancy, and there was no abortion," he said, adding he had not seen the woman in several months.
DesJarlais said his relationship with the woman, whom he treated briefly for a foot injury, was short. At the time, the congressman says he was legally separated from his then-wife, Susan DesJarlais, as a result of divorce proceedings. The couple divorced in 2001.
The messy divorce figured prominently in DesJarlais' successful 2010 campaign in which he defeated U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., but the abortion issue was never raised.
In an open letter to constituents posted last week on his Facebook page, DesJarlais said that "through grace and redemption, God has truly given me a second chance. I have had an incredible marriage to my wife Amy of 10 years and have been blessed with an opportunity to raise three wonderful children. I have a strong pro-life record in Congress and history of fighting for values important to Tennesseans. I hope you will judge me on these facts because that is who I am."
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, ...