NASHVILLE — More than a week after 4th District GOP primary rival Grant Starrett began airing a new television ad assaulting U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' record, the Tennessee congressman plans to begin returning the favor with his own TV spot slamming Starrett.
DesJarlais' "Mr. California" ad is slated to begin airing in the Chattanooga market on Tuesday. It portrays Starrett, an attorney who lives in Murfreesboro, as a youthful, out-of-state trust-fund millionaire trying to buy a seat in the largely rural 4th Congressional District.
Starrett has been running ads since early June, but this is DesJarlais' first in the 2016 primary and comes as early voting is under way in the Aug. 4 election.
Running to DesJarlais' right, Starrett has slammed the three-term incumbent on several votes and repeatedly has skewered him for passing on a 2015 opportunity to grill the head of Planned Parenthood at a congressional hearing.
DesJarlais' first spot, which borrows heavily from an earlier direct-mail piece, is a take-off on the old TV series "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," featuring a gushing narrator with a British accent.
"'Mr. California,' starring Grant Starrett, the 28-year-old California trust-fund millionaire," the announcer says. "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."
Doctored images include a smiling Starrett on a California beach or grabbing his moment on a Hollywood red carpet, and images of $100 bills raining down on the candidate.
The ad shows DesJarlais speaking with a farmer and an elderly couple as the announcer, in an American accent, says, "Dr. DesJarlais fights for us, not the Washington establishment, making Scott DesJarlais the fourth most conservative congressman in the country."
Tyler Privette, DesJarlais' campaign coordinator, said the candidate has made a "significant ad buy covering both cable and network in the Chattanooga and Nashville media markets."
Federal Communication Commission filings by Chattanooga broadcast TV stations on political advertising show an initial purchase of $11,029.
Starrett, who grew up wealthy in California, does have a trust fund and has loaned some $476,000 to his effort, campaign disclosures show. He attended law school in Tennessee and moved to the 4th District last year.
Tommy Schultz, Starrett's campaign manager, called DesJarlais a "hypocrite."
"Just two years ago he called personal attacks 'gutter politics,' but now he's exclusively attacking Grant personally."
In 2014, challenger Jim Tracy stung the pro-life DesJarlais over revelations he once had supported his ex-wife's two abortions and urged one for a former patient with whom he'd had an affair. DesJarlais eked out a 38-vote victory in that race.
Schultz said Starrett will continue focusing "on the contrast" on issues, including welfare reform and opposition to abortion.
One of Starrett's latest ads is called "Sonagram." With an apparent image of a fetal sonogram in the background, it features DesJarlais' comment that "as far as when life begins, I don't know that I have that answer."
The congressman's full quote to the Murfreesboro Post was "I know my district favors pro-life, and I voted 100 percent pro-life with my district. As far as when life begins, I don't know that I have the answer."
Schultz said the campaign plans to spent $400,000 on radio, TV and other means to reach v4th District voters.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow Twitter @AndySher1.