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Commentary: United GOP must pick someone to oust Scott DesJarlais

10:44 AM, Jan 7, 2013   |    comments
U.S. Representative Scott Desjarlais, The Tennessean
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By Gail Kerr | The Tennessean

If Tennessee's Republican leaders want to unseat the embarrassment that is U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, and they do, they need to gang up on him.

Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell need to lead the way. Yes, it's early. The race is not until 2014, and DesJarlais has made it more than clear he will not resign. If the GOP leadership does not come out of the gate early and put all its support and financial resources behind one opponent, DesJarlais could very well get re-elected.

If you get three or four primary opponents in it, the vote is going to be divided. And the incumbent, DesJarlais, could sneak back in.

He was re-elected despite reports that he tried to persuade a patient with whom he had sex to have an abortion, primarily because the 4th Congressional District leans decidedly right. But most of the roughest stuff came out after he was elected, after Democrats successfully fought to get his 2001 divorce records released. They showed that the Jasper physician lied during his campaign; had sex with two patients, one of whom he tried to talk into an abortion in a recorded phone call; and agreed that his first wife should have two abortions. That, despite his alleged pro-life campaign stance. State officials are investigating whether he should lose his medical license for the patient sex.

In short, DesJarlais has acted as a lying hypocrite, and the entire GOP leadership is steering well clear of him. What these leaders need to do is get aggressive. Gather in a conference room somewhere and make a decision: Who is the best candidate with the greatest chance to beat him?

The names out there:

State Sen. Jim Tracy is the only one who has formally announced. Ramsey has already thrown the strong weight of his support to Tracy, as have a growing list of Republicans.

State Rep. Joe Carr has an "exploratory committee" looking at the race. He's backed by top GOP fundraiser Lee Beaman. Former Cracker Barrel executive Forrest Shoaf is considering a run. He was once defeated for Congress by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. And state Rep. Kevin Brooks is also interested in the race.

They need to face it: Four candidates equal a DesJarlais third term.

Traditionally, both the Republican and Democratic parties in Tennessee do not make endorsements in contested primaries. In races like this one, it's time to rethink that. Want an example of why? The Democrats' disastrous primary, in which Mark Clayton ended up as their nominee against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Because they failed to vet the field or get behind the candidate they preferred, Clayton -- an anti-gay conservative listed by Southern Poverty Law Center as a supporter of a hate group -- got the nomination.

This is a similar situation. Republicans know and, behind the scenes, say out loud that DesJarlais has lost all credibility. To get him out, the GOP top dogs have to agree and run only one candidate.

This is not a divide-and-conquer situation. It's unite to win.

Gail Kerr's column runs on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. She can be reached at 615-259-8085 or gkerr@tennessean.com.

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