U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais declared victory in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District, as state officials hustled to finalize results from Thursday's vote.
Robert Jameson, a spokesman for the DesJarlais campaign, said they do not believe enough ballots remain uncounted to shift the outcome of the race. DesJarlais holds a 35-vote lead over state Sen. Jim Tracy in an unofficial tally.
"I am truly honored that the folks of the Fourth Congressional District put their faith in my ability to continue to serve them effectively in Washington," DesJarlais said in a prepared statement. "My campaign made it clear from the beginning we would run on my independent, conservative record and that is precisely what we did."
Tracy spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnigan said he would not decide whether to concede the race until results are finalized, a process that could take a few weeks.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett and coordinator of elections Mark Goins said Friday that they are asking election commissions in the 16-county district to move up meetings to certify the results of the race — the first step toward making the results official. Local commissions had planned to hold certification meetings over a period of two weeks, with the final one taking place Aug. 25 in Lincoln County.
Candidates have five days after certification to file challenges, which would be taken up next by the Tennessee Republican Party. That could push any recount process into September.
Election officials released unofficial results showing DesJarlais as the winner Thursday night, though other tabulations have shown different outcomes. In an illustration of just how close the race was, the Associated Press, which Thursday night put DesJarlais' lead at 33 votes, briefly reported on Friday morning that Tracy had taken the lead by two votes.
One Maury County precinct was later added to bring the count in line with the state's official tally.
With 77,492 ballots cast — nearly 30,000 more than in the 2010 Republican primary — DesJarlais led Tracy by less than five-hundreths of 1 percent. Provisional ballots still must be counted, but it was not clear Friday that enough have been cast to change the outcome of the race.
In Rutherford County, home to nearly one-third of the district's voters, only eight provisional ballots were cast. State officials said they were still trying to find out the number district-wide.
Tracy made his own declaration of victory on Election Night, and Jarnigan said he would await more results.
"There are ballots left to be counted in the Fourth District Republican primary," Jarnigan said in an email. "We eagerly await the final outcome once the counting is completed and verified."
The central issue in the race has been DesJarlais' ability to continue in Congress following the release in late 2012 of his divorce file from a decade before. That file showed the pro-life congressman slept with patients before his marriage ended and encouraged one to get an abortion. It also said DesJarlais supported two abortions by his former wife, Susan.
The release came too late to shift the result of the election that year, but most analysts predicted it would mean the end of the South Pittsburg physician's political career. Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, announced just two months after the 2012 election that he would take DesJarlais on.
Tracy wrapped up endorsements from most of the state's Republican leaders and outraised DesJarlais three-to-one, but he struggled to find a message that drew voters to support him rather than the incumbent. In ads and on the stump, Tracy told voters he would bring "integrity" to the office, but he appeared reluctant to attack DesJarlais directly over his personal life.
Since his divorce records became public, DesJarlais has appeared frequently in the district with his current wife, Amy, and made use of the advantages of incumbency, such as constituency mail and district forums. He has asked voters to judge him based on his personal life now and his work as a congressman, a request that a spokesman said Tennesseans had responded to.
Reach Chas Sisk at 615-259-8282 and on Twitter @chassisk