Twenty months out from his next re-election bid, Rep. Scott DesJarlais drew his first primary challenger Wednesday—state Sen. Jim Tracy.
Tracy, a Republican from Shelbyville, announced his bid to unseat the congressman at a press conference in Murfreesboro. A third-term senator, Tracy is the first candidate to formally announce a challenge against DesJarlais, who ran unopposed in last year's primary before becoming embroiled in scandal after the disclosure of information stemming from his decade-old divorce.
Offering brief remarks, Tracy spared no time in making the case against DesJarlais, whom he said had "betrayed and deceived" constituents.
"It's with a heavy heart that I've decided to challenge the incumbent from my own party," Tracy said in a video recorded by The Tennessean. "For the good people of the 4th Congressional District, who hold our Tennessee values dear—a change in leadership is a must. A place like Washington, D.C., requires someone of integrity, someone of good character. Scott DesJarlais has betrayed and deceived his constituents. America's problems are too great to have our leaders preoccupied with their own personal scandals."
DesJarlais, who will be sworn into his second term tomorrow, came under scrutiny after documents from his decade-old divorce showed he engaged in multiple sexual relationships as a physician with women who were his patients and supported two abortions for his ex-wife. The congressman has said that, despite making public statements during his campaign that went against his sworn testimony, he never intended to mislead voters.
Robert Jameson, spokesman for DesJarlais, said the congressman was not focusing on his political future but rather on his job as a legislator.
"Right now, Rep. DesJarlais is completely focused on the job he was elected to do by residents of the 4th District: ending the deficit spending, repealing Obamacare and returning our government to its proper constitutional role," Jameson said.
With an ample amount of time before the 2014 election, Tracy will undoubtedly turn his focus to raising funds for his bid. Also on Wednesday, Tracy announced his Leadership Team, a list of backers that includes Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; state Sens. Todd Gardenhire, Steve Dickerson, Mark Green, Joey Hensley, Jack Johnson and Bill Ketron; state Reps. Pat Marsh, Mike Sparks and Bill Spivey; and former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn.
Despite defeating his Democratic challenger by 12 percentage points last November, DesJarlais exhausted more than $1.2 million on his campaign, including more than $430,000 in the race's final days. The actions left the congressman with less than $16,000 in his campaign coffer, according to the most recent campaign finance records.
Along with Tracy, several other names have been floated in recent months as potential Republican challengers to DesJarlais. Names include state Rep. Kevin Brooks, Rep. Joe Carr, former Cracker Barrel Executive Forrest Shoaf and former 3rd District congressional candidate Weston Wamp.