Rep. Scott DesJarlais turns back tough challenge from Grant Starrett

U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais speaks at the La-Z-Boy furniture plant on Thursday, June 2, 2016, in Dayton, Tenn.
U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais speaks at the La-Z-Boy furniture plant on Thursday, June 2, 2016, in Dayton, Tenn.

U.S. House 4th District

240 of 240 precincts reporting Scott DesJarlais (I) - 24,207Grant Starrett - 20,131 Erran Persley - 1,614 Yomi Faparusi - 493(I) - incumbent; all vote totals are unofficial until certified by the Election Commission; some vote totals include write-in votes

photo Grant Starrett says he intends to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the GOP primary next year.

Hamilton County general and Tennessee primary election stories

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais won Tennessee's 4th Congressional District Republican primary on Thursday, turning back a tough challenge from Grant Starrett, according to unofficial returns.

The 52-year-old South Pittsburg physician, who barely survived his 2014 GOP primary by 38 votes, beat Starrett more convincingly with the independent 28-year-old attorney from Murfreesboro conceding the race about 10 p.m. EST - despite outspending DesJarlais by as much as three to one.

"Despite my opponent spending nearly $2 million trying to distort my conservative voting record, the people of the Fourth District know I will always fight for Tennessee values and principles," DesJarlais said in a statement.

He said he is "honored by the opportunity to continue to serve my constituents and I promise to remain steadfast in my defense of conservative constitutional principles."

Starrett, meanwhile, said, "We waged a vigorous campaign of ideas about the future of this country: talking about reforming welfare, rebuilding our military, and fighting for life."

The challenger said he had a great deal of support and was "grateful for their prayers, support, and vote of confidence to be their next congressman.

"While it was not enough, I'm proud of our campaign, and I'm incredibly grateful for everyone involved," Starrett said, noting he had called DesJarlais to congratulate him. "I wish him the best in his work as a representative for our district."

In the 16-county district, Starrett led DesJarlais in only three: Bradley, Meigs and Rhea. The incumbent even led the challenger in Starrett's own home county, Rutherford.

DesJarlais faces Democrat Steven Reynolds of Murfreesboro in the Nov. 8 general election. The district is rated as a safe Republican seat.

During the course of a hard-fought campaign, Starrett sank $900,000 of his own money into what at last count was at the very least a $1.6 million effort.

First elected in 2010, DesJarlais was widely seen as vulnerable. He eked out his 2014 win after court documents from his messy 2001 divorce were released by a court in late 2012.

Documents showed among other things that the self-described "pro-life" congressman had once urged a former patient he'd had an affair with to get an abortion and gone along with his former wife's decision to have two abortions.

While avoiding hitting DesJarlais directly on his past actions, Starrett did slam the congressman for refusing to define when life begins. And he attacked the congressman for not questioning the head of Planned Parenthood at a congressional hearing last year into the alleged selling by the national abortion provider of aborted fetus parts.

DesJarlais hit Starrett, who grew up in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and moved to Tennessee in 2009 to attend Vanderbilt University Law School - and who moved into the district only last year - as trying to buy a seat in Congress.

The three-term incumbent, who raised about $550,000, featured Starrett in a tongue-in-cheek direct mail and television ad hit, a take-off on the old TV series "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," painting the 28-year-old Starrett as a trust-fund millionaire.

"Starrett grew up in a $10 million ocean-view mansion, moved to the 4th District last year just to run for Congress, using inherited fortune and out-of -state cash to join the club in Washington," the narrator said.

The largely rural district includes half of Bradley County, all of Rhea, Marion and Grundy counties near Chattanooga and extends west into Rutherford County before heading south into Maury County.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter at AndySher1.

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