WASHINGTON — Not only does Rep. Scott DesJarlais trail his 2014 Republican primary opponent in campaign fundraising, he remains significantly behind his own pace of two years ago.
But his campaign staff says the negative publicity about his 2001 divorce over the past year is not a factor.
A transcript of the divorce, which became public in late 2012, showed the congressman admitting multiple extra-marital affairs, as well as encouraging some women to have abortions.
During the first three quarters of 2013, covering fundraising for his 2014 re-election, the Jasper congressman raised $265,968, including $47,031 from special interest political action committees. In contrast, by this point in 2011, covering fundraising for his 2012 race, he had raised raised $452,818, including $172,061 from PACs.
But DesJarlais is ahead of his 2009 pace, when he launched his first campaign for Congress. During the first three quarters of that year, covering money for his 2010 race, he raised $126,650.
Among incumbent House members, DesJarlais' current total ranks 348th out of 431 according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks political dollars. There are four vacancies in the chamber.
Meanwhile, his opponent in next year's Republican primary in the 4th Congressional District, state Sen. Jim Tracy, has raised $921,649, which would rank him 66th highest among incumbent House members, figures from the center show.
DesJarlais' campaign staff says the incumbent trails his 2012 pace not because of bad publicity but because he waited until August to launch serious fundraising for 2014.
"It was important to give people (contributors) a break," campaign spokesman Robert Jameson. "The congressman officially launched his campaign only three months ago."
Records from the Federal Election Commission, though, show DesJarlais has been raising money since the first of the year. He raised $113,531 in the first quarter; $39,187 in the second and $113,249 in the third.
A pace of about $100,000 per quarter matches what he did in previous campaigns, Jameson said.
DesJarlais' donors, the campaign spokesman said, continue to appreciate "his independence and conservative opposition" to President Barack Obama on matters ranging from the president'shealth care plan to raising the debt ceiling.
"Unlike his opponent, who is campaigning full time, DesJarlais is remaining in Washington and doing the job voters elected him to do," Jameson said.
However political analysts suspect the publicity surrounding DesJarlais' 2001 divorce is hurting his fundraising more than his campaign staff acknowledges.
"Statements like these from campaigns prove denial is not just a river in Egypt. But if I were in their shoes, it'd be tough for me to spin, too," David Wasserman, analyst for The Cook Political Report, said in an emailed comment.
Tennessee political analysts also doubt the statements of DesJarlais campaign staff.
"I suspect that the staff is downplaying Rep. DesJarlais's fundraising because they know he is in some trouble for next year," said David Kanervo, professor emeritus of political science at Austin Peay State University. "My sense is that because of his personal problems and bad publicity, the Tennessee Republicans are not particularly proud to have Rep. DeJarlais as a representative of the party."
Bruce Oppenheimer, political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said: "I suspect that he's finding it not as easy to raise money, given both the negative publicity and the fact that he has a serious primary challenger."