NASHVILLE — While the Republican candidates lawyer up to determine who won their squeaker of a 4th Congressional District GOP primary, Democratic nominee Lenda Sherrell is happily off and running to the Nov. 4 general election.
"Once the [GOP] primary is decided we're ready to take on whoever it is," Sherrell said in an interview Friday. "I'm ready to challenge [the winner] to a series of debates so that voters have the necessary information to choose the best candidate."
Today, the Monteagle resident kicks off a "listening tour" of the district, which includes all or parts of 16 counties including Bradley, Rhea, Marion, Grundy, Sequatchie, Warren, Franklin and Rutherford.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting Thursday, incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais led state Sen. Jim Tracy by just 35 votes. Both campaigns told the Times Free Press on Friday they are consulting with attorneys.
One area of interest will be provisional ballots -- those cast by voters without government-issued photo identification or who said they were registered but whose names did not appear on the voter rolls.
Both men have declared victory -- Tracy late Thursday night, then DesJarlais on Friday.
For her part, Sherrell -- a certified public accountant with deep family roots on the Cumberland Plateau -- said she's focused on attempting to persuade voters in the Republican-leaning district to take a look at her.
Sherrell said it makes no difference to her whether that's Tracy, the state senator from Shelbyville, or DesJarlais.
"I don't have a preference really at all," she said. "I really think on the issues those two are very close. They have not done a whole lot to contrast themselves with each other."
DesJarlais, a two-term South Pittsburg physician, was seen as one of the nation's most vulnerable Republicans due to revelations he had had sex with two patients, one of whom he urged to get an abortion; that he had prescribed one of them painkillers, and that years earlier he had agreed to his ex-wife's decision, prior to their marriage, to get two abortions.
All the information is in testimony, including his own, from his 2000 divorce in which his then-wife also accused him of physical intimidation and threatening suicide. The full transcript of the divorce hearing came out after DesJarlais' 2012 re-selection.
Tracy hit DesJarlais with all of it in the weeks before the primary. But DesJarlais asked voters to forgive his troubled past and judge him by his conservative voting record and his successful marriage to his second wife, Amy.
DesJarlais' apparent victory has drawn national interest in the largely rural district.
Asked whether she intends to use the scandal, Sherrell said news accounts often bring it up but "my sense is that people are a little bit tired of it."
"When I talk to people throughout the district that's not the first thing they bring up. The first thing they bring up is are they going to have a good job that pays a fair wage, or are their kids going to have a good education. That's what I'm concerned about."
Legislative Republicans redrew the 4th District lines in 2012 in hopes of making it safe for their party. But Sherrell said appearances can be deceiving.
"We've looked at the numbers very carefully," she said. "Remember, this was a district that was held by Democrats until four years ago. There's a lot of Democrats still here. There's also a lot of independent swing voters who simply vote for the candidate."
She said that's why "it's important for voters to have that information in a very public way in a debate."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
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, ...