MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Republican incumbent Scott DesJarlais defeated Democrat newcomer Lenda Sherrell in Tuesday’s election, keeping the seat in GOP hands despite facing a series of personal scandals.
In early returns, DesJarlais had won 59 percent of the vote Tuesday night.
DesJarlais won the right to defend his 4th District seat after a victory of just 38 votes in the August primary against state Sen. Jim Tracy. The 4th District stretches from the suburbs of Nashville to the outskirts of Chattanooga.
DesJarlais was the only one of Tennessee’s nine incumbent House members to face a serious challenge in the general election. Republicans Phil Roe, John Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher all cruised to victory. So did Democrats Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen.
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who now opposes abortion rights, won despite a series of personal scandals that included affairs with patients, urging a mistress to seek an abortion and once holding a gun in his mouth for hours outside his ex-wife’s room.
“When I first ran for office, I pledged to be an independent conservative voice that would stand up to the Washington establishment and always vote in the interest of hardworking Tennesseans,” DesJarlais said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing our fight.”
Sherrell is a retired accountant from Monteagle who stressed during the campaign that she is not a “career politician.” She outraised DesJarlais by more than $300,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.
DesJarlais announced earlier this year that he was diagnosed with cancer. Robert Jameson, a DesJarlais campaign spokesman, has said the congressman’s treatments for cancer stalled his fundraising efforts at one point, but he was able to get back on the campaign trail.
In both of DesJarlais’ previous elections, he tried to cast doubt on reports of violent behavior toward his ex-wife and about multiple extramarital affairs before his divorce was finalized. But court transcripts from divorce proceedings released the week after the November 2012 election confirmed many of those revelations.
DesJarlais also has been fined and reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for having sex with patients before he was elected.
Paul Hayaux, a retired health care administrator from Murfreesboro, said DesJarlais’ opponents have criticized at the congressman without success.
“What happened 10 years ago, or however long ago it was, is not really pertinent today,” Hayaux said.