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Tennessee congressman in abortion controversy could face GOP challenge

October 27th, 2012 4:27 am by ERIK SCHELZIG,Associated Press

Tennessee congressman in abortion controversy could face GOP challenge

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Even if U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais wins re-election after the revelation that he once urged his mistress to get an abortion, he could soon face a challenge from a fellow Republican.

An operative familiar with state Sen. Jim Tracy's plans told The Associated Press on Friday that the Shelbyville Republican has met with donors and could launch his candidacy for the 4th District congressional seat before Christmas. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Tracy has not yet announced his plans.

When reached by AP, Tracy said he was focusing on his current re-election campaign and supporting other conservatives for state and national office.

"That's all I'm concentrating as we speak today," Tracy said.

Tracy, who considered a congressional bid this year, expressed concern over the "serious allegations" against DesJarlais, but said he voted for the congressman in early voting.

Tracy, an insurance agent and former college basketball referee, also ran for Congress in 2010 before his county was moved from the 6th District as part of the redistricting process. He came in third behind Murfreesboro businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik and state Sen. Diane Black, the eventual winner, in a GOP primary contest separated by just 566 votes.

The final campaign finance report filed before the election show DesJarlais struggled to raise money since the news about his abortion discussion emerged on Oct. 10.

DesJarlais reported raising $12,516 from individuals and $17,700 from political action committees for a total of $30,216 in the 17-day fundraising period that started Oct. 1. Democratic opponent Eric Stewart's campaign said he had raised more than double the incumbent's total.

DesJarlais still had nearly $320,000 on hand for the final stretch of the campaign, or more than three times Stewart's balance. But outside Democratic groups like the national House Majority PAC have been running more than $100,000 in television ads opposing DesJarlais, while independent GOP groups have largely remained on the sidelines.

The congressman reported spending nearly $303,000 in the period, led by more than $216,000 on TV advertising, nearly $52,000 on direct mail and $7,000 for polling services just days after the news about his abortion discussion emerged Oct. 10.

The conversation between DesJarlais and the woman who had also been under his care as a Jasper physician took place while he was trying to reconcile with his first wife, Susan.

"You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one," DesJarlais told the woman who is not identified in the transcript. "If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let's do it."

DesJarlais, whose campaign platform includes his opposition to abortion rights, does not dispute the contents of the transcript but has argued it leaves out the context that he was trying to pressure the woman to admit that she was not pregnant. He has said there was no pregnancy and no divorce, and that he and his former wife had an agreement to see other people before the divorce was finalized in 2001.

Other than the barrage of television ads, DesJarlais has largely maintained a low profile since the abortion discussion became national news.

DesJarlais' report shows he gave $2,000 to Mitt Romney's campaign on Oct. 1, though that didn't keep the congressman's endorsement from being quietly removed from the Romney website after the details of transcript emerged nine days later.

DesJarlais did receive one prominent endorsement on Friday, when the National Rifle Association gave him the nod over Stewart. The NRA cited DesJarlais' support for a proposal to let people with concealed handgun permits to carry their firearms in other states even if they have stricter laws.

The gun rights group said it opposes Stewart because he voted against a state law allowing people with handgun carry permits to bring their guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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