Elections

Tennessee Rejects Conservatives In Favor Of Outsiders

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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Phillip Stucky Political Reporter
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Republican incumbent for the Fourth Congressional District in Tennessee Scott DesJarlais beat his much more conservative opponent Thursday evening in the Republican primary.

Challenger Grant Starrett grew up in California, a fact that incumbent DesJarlais made sure to mention during his ad campaign for the Tennessee race. In the final weeks of July, DesJarlais launched a TV ad campaign labeling Starrett “Mr. California,” dubbing his challenger the “trust fund millionaire” who was “trying to buy his way into Congress.”

DesJarlais was born in Iowa in 1964, but grew up in South Dakota. He moved to Tennessee in 1993 to practice medicine.

The race had a low voter turnout, with only 46,445 voting in the Republican primary. DesJarlais earned 52.1 percent of the vote, and Starrett only received 43.3 percent. “I don’t like the other guy because he’s a sneak from California,” voter Michael Coates told the Daily News Journal. “I’m from California, and I know a sneak when I see one.”

Starrett issued a statement within hours of the primary results. “We waged a vigorous campaign of ideas about the future of this country: talking about reforming welfare, rebuilding our military, and fighting for life. We waged this campaign across more than 130,000 doors in the 4th District, with personal outreach being the hallmark of our true grassroots effort.”

Founder of Christian interest group Focus on the Family Dr. James Dobson formally endorsed Starrett, “For years, I’ve prayed for leaders who will help America return to its Judeo-Christian foundation. Grant is a key part of the next generation of conservative leaders who will protect life from conception and uphold our values.”

Starrett claimed DesJarlais was not conservative enough, citing several alleged affairs, as well as DesJarlais’ support of abortion.

Starrett raised almost double the funds as DesJarlais. The incumbent raised $533,000 at the end of June, whereas Starrett raised almost $1 million by January 2016. Campaign financial transparency watchdog OpenSecrets has no record of Starrett’s fundraising documents.

Representing the district since 2010, Desjarlais faces largely unknown Democratic challenger Steven Reynolds in November. Reynolds grew up in the district, and is a prominent businessman. He currently serves as the president of the Southern Builders Association and works as a leadership trainer.

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