NASHVILLE — Tennessee's 4th Congressional District Republican primary is firing up yet again, with incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais slamming challenger Grant Starrett as a young West Coast "trust fund millionaire" trying to "buy his way into Congress."
The DesJarlais mailer, the first publicly funded piece by the three-term South Pittsburg physician in the Aug. 4 primary campaign, labels Starrett as "Mr. California."
"Grant Starrett should be running for Congress in California, not Tennessee," the mailer says. It further charges Starrett, 28, with "moving to Tennessee to buy his way into Congress," that he "only moved into our district a year ago" and he "doesn't represent us or our small town values."
The mailer says Starrett "grew up in a ten million dollar home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in California" and notes his campaign is funded "with out-of-state money, including a half million-dollar loan from himself."
Tommy Schultz, Starrett's campaign manager, retorted that "apparently Grant Starrett is getting to Scott DesJarlais."
Schultz blasted the congressman for spending $67,000 of public money on communications with constituents from Jan. 1 to March 31.
"It's not surprising DesJarlais spent more than all eight other Tennessee Congressmen combined with taxpayer-funded 'Mass Communications' and then is blasting out false attack mailers from his campaign," Schultz said in an email to the Times Free Press on Sunday.
Early voting in the GOP primary starts July 15.
Robert Jameson, DesJarlais' spokesman, charged Starrett "is someone who has absolutely no ties to the community and whose establishment views are out of touch with the majority of folks in the Fourth District. California does not need another congressman."
Starrett is from California. He graduated from Sanford University and came to Nashville in 2009 to get his law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School. He has been active in conservative causes at the state and national levels.
Last year he moved to Murfreesboro, the largest city in the 4th District, which includes all or parts of 16 counties and stretches from Cleveland in the east to Murfreesboro in the west and winds south to Columbia.
Starrett's U.S. House personal disclosure states he has an "irrevocable trust" of "unknown value." In his 2016 disclosure, he reported income between $100,001 and $1 million under the House's broad reporting categories. He reported $15,000 in earned income from Lion Real Estate Group, the Los Angeles-based firm where he says he serves as vice president and special counsel.
According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile, Starrett's father, Peter Starrett, is founder and president of Peter Starrett Associates, a retail advisory firm. The elder Starrett has an extensive background at top levels in the retail industry and advises private equity firm Freeman Spogli & Co. Peter Starrett is also chairman of Boot Barn Inc., the non-employee chairman of Pacific Sunware of California, and is founder and former president of Warner Bros. Studio Stores.
Starrett's campaign said it launched a new cable TV ad Sunday and will begin airing network television ads this week. The new ad cites a DesJarlais vote on military spending cuts in a dangerous environment.
"America is under attack by radical Muslims, but Scott DesJarlais voted for hundreds of millions in Obama's military cuts," says the ad, which concludes with a rhyme on the incumbent's name: "You've been betrayed by DesJarlais."
"The more Tennesseans know about what DesJarlais has voted for, the more they dislike," Schultz said, charging DesJarlais' mailer "highlights" his "hypocrisy, desperation, and inability to defend his own record."
The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported he spent nearly $67,000 in the first three months of 2016 for online ads, surveys and other mass communications. That put DesJarlais at No. 3 for communications in the 435-member House. DesJarlais' office said he doesn't apologize for communicating with constituents in his geographically extensive district.
Starrett reported having $908,702 in cash on hand at the end of the first quarter and plans to spend some $400,000 during the primary on television, radio and other communications.
DesJarlais reported a $345,875 balance at the end of March.
In 2014, DesJarlais clung to his seat by just 38 votes after an ugly GOP primary where state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, hammered the congressman over details from his 2001 divorce. Court documents showed DesJarlais approved of his first wife's decision to get two abortions and encouraged a former patient with whom he had had an affair to get an abortion.
DesJarlais said since then he has happily remarried and found faith.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.