By Jim Ellis
Aug. 8, 2016 — Volunteer State voters went to the polls in their unique Thursday primary last week to choose congressional and state office nominees. The evening featured two of the most watched congressional races in the state, the GOP primary challenge to three-term Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg) and the crowded open 8th District from which three-term Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Frog Jump/Jackson) is retiring.
Former Mitt Romney campaign official and attorney Grant Starrett challenged Rep. DesJarlais, who had been plagued for two cycles with the past scandal of engaging in extra-marital affairs with several of his female medical practice patients. Yet, he managed to survive in close contests. Two years ago, the congressman nipped former state Sen. Jim Tracy (R) by a mere 38 votes in winning with less than a majority in a multi-candidate field.
On Thursday, DesJarlais’ percentage was much better, defending himself against Starrett’s attacks from the ideological right and winning 52-43 percent, from a vote pool of just under 47,000 cast ballots. Though Starrett talked a great deal about ethics in his ads and public appearances, he did not reference DesJarlais’ affairs. Starrett had a significant resource advantage, possibly outspending the incumbent by 75 percent or more. We will see the final expenditure totals when the candidates soon file their post-election financial disclosure reports. Starrett will have likely spent in the $1.5 million range. Rep. DesJarlais now looks to be a sure re-election bet in the fall.