Monday, September 22, 2014 · 8:18 p.m.

Embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais declares "double-digit lead" in 4th District race

Poll contradicts Eric Stewart's memo

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Eric Stewart (left) and Scott DesJarlais (right), candidates in the 4th District. (Image: Staff)

The campaign for Rep. Scott DesJarlais said Sunday it had reason to believe Tennesseans will still support the congressman at the polls in nine days—despite new information that the Jasper physician engaged in a sexual relationship with a second one of his patients 12 years ago. 

The DesJarlais campaign issued a polling memo Sunday, indicating the freshman congressman held a 13-point lead over his Democratic challenger, Eric Stewart. Among 400 "likely voters" surveyed by a Virginia-based research firm between Oct. 22-23, the poll showed DesJarlais leading Stewart 49-36.

If accurate, the numbers would go against a memo issued by the Stewart campaign in the week following the first reports of a previous affair between DesJarlais and a first unnamed woman, whom he urged to terminate a pregnancy during a phone conversation recorded in September of 2000. 

Stewart declared the race in a "dead heat" on Oct. 18, basing his analysis on a survey that included questions specifically addressing the events from DesJarlais' 12-year-old divorce. 

The closing of the gap was followed by a markup in the 4th District race profile by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, along with the injection of a $100,000 ad campaign against DesJarlais, sponsored by a Democratic super PAC. 

The polling memo from DesJarlais' camp made no mention of a Chattanooga Times Free Press report Sunday, which detailed the claims of an anonymous woman who said she had become involved in a relationship with the congressman at a time when she was one of his patients and he was going through a divorce.

Along with the affair, the report mentioned "illicit drug use" between DesJarlais and the woman. The congressman's campaign denounced the claims as not credible and issued a separate statement on Sunday addressing the matter. 

"It is clear that the Chattanooga Times Free Press has no interest in informing their readers about the real issues facing Tennesseans," Brandon Lewis, campaign manager for DesJarlais, said. "Rather than focusing solely on a 14-year-old divorce, why don't they talk to the congressman's wife, Amy, who he has been married to for more than 10 years?"

With less than two weeks remaining before Election Day, the congressman showed roughly a 3-1 cash-on-hand lead over his challenger. The tally indicates that DesJarlais has spent nearly half his campaign war chest since the last fundraising reporting deadline at the beginning of October. 

As of Oct. 17, the latest campaign finance numbers showed DesJarlais with $319,743 remaining and Stewart with $110,449 left to exhaust on his bid to win the 4th District seat. For Stewart, the new tally shows an increase in campaign cash since the end of the third-quarter filing deadline—a fact that the candidate was quick to point out in a statement detailing his funds.

During the Oct. 1-17 period, Stewart outraised the congressman by a 2-1 ratio. In the two-week period, Stewart added $63,707 to his cash-on-hand tally, while DesJarlais only netted $30,216 from supporters. Despite the shorter cycle, it marked the first time Stewart had topped DesJarlais in fundraising for a reporting period since entering the race.

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