DUNLAP, Tenn. — With less than two weeks left to go until early voting begins, battle lines have hardened in the Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and challenger Grant Starrett.
Both 4th District candidates participated in Dunlap's traditional July 4 parade Monday. Afterward, DesJarlais made clear he will continue painting Starrett, 28, as an opportunistic outsider whose bid is fueled by cash from the family trust fund.
Starrett, meanwhile, said his plan is to wage a "vigorous battle of ideas." One of his chief and oft-repeated views is that life begins at conception, which political observers see as a deft reminder that the pro-life DesJarlais once supported abortions by two women in his life.
DesJarlais rejected Starrett's call last week to limit the campaign to issues Starrett wants to discuss.
"We run our campaign and everyone's allowed to run their own campaign and I guess when you're a 28-year who doesn't live, work or has never voted in the district, I guess you try whatever campaign strategy you think might get traction," said DesJarlais, 52, a South Pittsburg physician who is running for a fourth term.
He called Starrett "truly an outsider [who] really has no business being in the district."
"Grant, of course has a big trust fund, wrote himself a half-million-dollar check, has 90 percent out-of-state money, California money. He's got it to spend and he's spending it," the incumbent said.
Starrett moved to Tennessee in 2009 to attend Vanderbilt University Law School and in 2015 moved to Murfreesboro, which is in the 16-county 4th District.
He called for "a vigorous battle of ideas over the next month."
"I'm looking forward to seeing it through and telling people about my differences with Scott, whether it's the $700 million in food stamps that he voted for, the hundreds of millions in defense cuts that he voted for or the fact that he refuses to define when life begins," Starrett said.
That was was a reference to DesJarlais' comments in May when asked whether he believes life begins at conception. DesJarlais said that "courts make decisions on this. And I believe that there's exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and so that would be my definition."
In three previous campaigns, DesJarlais has dealt with all revelations from his 2001 divorce that he approved of abortions by his first wife and a former patient with whom he had an affair.
DesJarlais says he since has developed a stronger religious faith and remarried happily.
Some Republican political strategists believe the damaging details are losing their resonance. DesJarlais has a 100 percent pro-life voting record. His second wife, Amy, and their children are a constant campaign presence .
Early voting is July 15-30 and election day is Aug. 4. The district includes all or parts of 16 counties including portions of Bradley County and all of Rhea, Marion, Sequatchie, Warren and Franklin counties.
Other candidates in the GOP primary are Yomi "Fapas" Faparusi and Erran Persley, both of Murfreesboro.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter at AndySher1.
This story was updated to show that Starrett moved to Tennessee in 2009, not 2003.