NASHVILLE — Republican Grant Starrett held the fundraising edge over U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the third quarter, but it wasn't by much and disclosures show the congressman continues to dominate contributions coming from people who live and vote in the 4th Congressional District.
Federal Election Commission filings show 27-year-old challenger Starrett, an attorney from Murfreesboro, raised $92,909 in the July 1-Sept. 30 period versus $78,360 for DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician who two years ago was reeling from revelations about his scandalous pre-congressional personal life.
But when it comes to cash on hand, Starrett holds a better than 3-to-1 advantage over DesJarlais, who won the GOP primary in 2014 by a cat's whisker against state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville.
Last cycle's tough contest was the result of revelations in a 2000 divorce showing that DesJarlais — an anti-abortion lawmaker first elected in 2010 — had urged a former patient he'd slept with to get an abortion. The records also showed he went along with his then-wife's decision to get two abortions.
But despite that, the congressman survived. And some Tennessee-based political operatives, as well as impartial observers, think the congressman may have weathered the storm.
Starrett, however, has plenty of cash to mount a vigorous fight. And his previous work on behalf of former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has helped as he tries to run to the right of DesJarlais, who has been ranked as one of the most conservative House members.
Starrett's campaign war chest stood at $693,510 on Sept. 30. DesJarlais reported $208,186 cash on hand, according to his disclosure. Starrett has raised $599,586 in the past two quarters. During the second quarter he also loaned his campaign $226,561.
Starrett's campaign manager, Tommy Schultz, said in a statement that "the goal of every campaign is to raise as much money as possible, as early as possible. And we're doing just that."
He said the campaign team has blanketed the district and Starrett "is in a strong financial position to win this race." He said campaign workers "will continue to remain laser-focused on our strategy to elect Grant Starrett."
DesJarlais' campaign has criticized Starrett, a California native who lived in Williamson County outside the 4th District before deciding to run and moving to Murfreesboro, as an opportunist who is "simply using his parents' money" and family ties to run.
Starrett's 4th District contributions included $250 from Joseph Riley of Etowah, who listed himself as a U.S. Army officer, and Jim Barrier of Columbia.
Other Tennessee donors outside the 4th include attorney/lobbyist Lee Barfield of Nashville, brother-in-law of former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; and David Colquitt, a regional manager with Pilot Flying J, the firm owned by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and his family, which gave $1,000.
Dewitt Thompson of Nashville gave $200. His address matches that of Dewitt Thompson IV, who is a part owner of the Nashville Predators hockey team.
Former Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Richardson Williams of Knoxville gave $500 to Starrett.
Contributors outside Tennessee included several investment bankers and financial advisers from California, New York and Jackson, Wyo.
Dennis May of Carmel, Ind., CEO of electronics retailer H.H. Gregg, contributed $2,700 in the primary and $1,300 for the general election. Kymberly Wolff of Atlanta, a senior vice president for Habitat for Humanity, gave $750.
DesJarlais, meanwhile, continued to see a rise in support from Cleveland and Bradley County, which is inside the district and where he saw fundraising nearly evaporate in 2014. He got $500 from District Attorney Steven Crump of Cleveland. William Allen Jones of Cleveland, president of payday lender Check into Cash and an industry giant, contributed $900. So did Jones' son, a student.
John Lemmons, a partner in whitewater rafting company Ocoee Outdoors in Benton, gave $250. Ross Tarver of Cleveland, CEO of Tarver Distributing, contributed $2,000, as did Floyd Sherman, CEO of Hartco Flooring Co. Former state Sen. Lou Patton, R-Cleveland, gave $250.
And Michael Inman of Shelbyville, CEO of The Celebration, the premiere event for the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, gave DesJarlais $1,000.
DesJarlais also saw his political action committee contributions pick up. General Motors' PAC gave him $5,000. Murfreesboro-based Cracker Barrel's PAC gave $1,000. And DesJarlais' House colleague, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Calfornia, whose bid to become House speaker was derailed last week, gave $10,000 through two PACs.
The National Rifle Association, which supported DesJarlais in 2014, gave $1,000.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.