NASHVILLE - Democrat Eric Stewart's campaign says their new poll shows the 4th Congressional District hopeful in a statistical "dead heat" with Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.
Pollster Andrew Myers said the survey of 400 likely voters shows DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, leading state Sen. Stewart of Winchester by 49-45 percent. That's a "dead heat," he said, because it falls within the poll's 4.9 percent margin of error.
"These data say it is an extremely competitive race today and Eric is very much in the game," Myers added.
The polling was conducted Sunday and Monday in the wake of revelations that DesJarlais in 2000 encouraged a former patient with whom he had had a sexual relationship to get an abortion.
DesJarlais has since acknowledged a transcript of the recorded conversation is genuine but said he was pressing the woman to acknowledge she wasn't actually pregnant. In the transcript, the physician, who was elected to Congress in 2010, also states that he wants the unnamed woman to get an ultrasound.
Myers said the poll shows six in 10 likely voters said they had heard, read or seen "something" about DesJarlais in the past week. He said the congressman is in "free fall" among women surveyed.
The Stewart campaign declined to release the poll in its entirety with campaign manager Kevin Teets saying "we'll just be releasing the polling memo."
The poll was released as the Stewart campaign's latest federal campaign filing showing DesJarlais with a seven-to-one cash on hand advantage over Stewart on Sept. 30.
Stewart is seeking to draw support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The release coincides with today's start of early voting across Tennessee.
DesJarlais' campaign later issued a statement calling Stewart "an unapologetic supporter of President Obama, Obamacare and the devastating liberal policies that have put our economy into a tailspin and cost jobs here in Tennessee. It is only fitting that he would use Barack Obama's polling firm. Our internal polling shows support is strong and the fact that Eric Stewart refuses to release his poll in its entirety shows he is using the same misleading tactics that have characterized his campaign."
For more details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.