Rep. Scott DesJarlais' career finished, pundits say

10:39 AM, Nov 17, 2012   |    comments
U.S. Representative Scott Desjarlais, The Tennessean
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By Paul C. Barton, Tennessean Washington Bureau

At least one prominent Tennessee Republican said Friday he's seriously considering challenging Rep. Scott DesJarlais in 2014, as political observers said revelations about DesJarlais' divorce portend serious trouble for his career.

"We've worked a long time to win this (4th Congressional District) seat and I don't want to lose it," said retired Cracker Barrel executive Forrest Shoaf of Lebanon.

"I'm giving strong thought to running in the (2014) primary."

If not Shoaf, it will be someone, several Washington political observers said. And none saw the Jasper Republican, just re-elected to a second term, making it to a third.

"It's a fairly safe prediction that the congressman's tenure will end in the GOP primary in 2014. His affairs could fill a whole season of a soap opera, and that's not acceptable for the 'family values' party in the Bible Belt," said University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato.

A transcript of DesJarlais' 2001 divorce showed that he and his then-wife, Susan, made a mutual decision to have two abortions.

Still another woman has charged that DesJarlais encouraged her to get an abortion as well.

DesJarlais, a doctor whose congressional seat was a Democratic stronghold before he won it using tea party themes in 2010, also acknowledged in the court case he had sex with at least two patients and he said he prescribed painkillers for at least one of them.

He also admitted to affairs with eight women while his divorce was pending.

Transcript release called 'dirty pool'

Shoaf said it was "dirty pool" for state Democrats to release the transcript of DesJarlais' 2001 divorce.

"I don't know how much of this is true," Shoaf said. But because it is a trial transcript, "I have reason to think much of it is true."

Shoaf ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in the 7th Congressional District in 2002, a seat won by Marsha Blackburn and held ever since.

When asked for his own view of the revelations about DesJarlais, Shoaf said he believes in redemption and the chance of "turning over a new leaf" for anyone.

However, Shoaf said, "I'm afraid voters won't be able to forgive him."

Other Washington political observers agreed the divorce-trial revelations will prove hard to shake.

Thomas Mann, congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, said DesJarlais may not even make it to 2014.

"What I could guess is the tea party types and other activist conservatives will heckle him into leaving (Congress)," Mann said.

Regardless, he said, "He can expect a (primary) challenge."

David Wasserman, analyst for The Cook Political Report, also said DesJarlais' political career looks in doubt.

"I think the consensus in Washington and in Tennessee is that he is in deep trouble," said Wasserman, who specializes in tracking House seats.

Like Mann, Wasserman said he expects DesJarlais to face a Republican primary challenge in 2014.

When asked if anything could save DesJarlais, the analyst said: "A very divided field (of challengers)."

'A political liability'

Some political observers were even more stinging in their comments.

"The revelations make him look like a hypocrite and a sleazebag," said John Pitney, political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California and an expert on conservative politics.

"It will cause him trouble with Republicans and conservatives because he is a political liability. Some conservatives are already calling on him to quit."

But Pitney didn't stop there.

"Anthony Weiner (former Democratic congressman from New York) had to resign because of inappropriate photos and tweets. What this guy did was far worse."

And Stephen Wayne, congressional expert at Georgetown University, said, "I don't think Republicans will view him as a role model."

Wayne added: "In view of the behavior of public figures, formally or informally associated with the Republican Party, perhaps leaders of that party should re-evaluate its sanctimonious position on a range of social issues."

Shoaf, meanwhile, said that if he runs, it will be as a "pro-military, pro-individual and pro-business Republican."

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