NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Add former Gov. Winfield Dunn to the list of prominent Tennessee Republicans maintaining a careful distance from embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais following revelations the congressman once urged a woman he had an affair with to seek an abortion.
Dunn has been an active campaigner for Republican candidates and causes since leaving office in 1975. But he told reporters after attending the launch of the bipartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt-Tennessee on Wednesday that he had not been asked to campaign on DesJarlais’ behalf.
“He’s got a campaign well under way, but of course he has some matters to deal with that obviously are going to cause him quite a challenge,” Dunn said. “But he’ll make his way.”
Dunn acknowledged DesJarlais had some “serious personal problems in the past” but hoped the congressman would be able to prevail.
“He can put them behind him and go on to become a great representative, and I hope he will,” Dunn said.
DesJarlais in the transcript of the more than 12-year-old conversation appeared to urge the woman to go Atlanta to get an abortion. The congressman has said he only used stark language to persuade the woman, who had also been under his care as a doctor, to admit she wasn’t pregnant, and that there was no abortion.
Most prominent Republicans in the state have kept their distance since the details of the abortion discussion were first reported two weeks ago.
None of DesJarlais’ six Republican colleagues in the state’s congressional delegation have returned calls from The Associated Press seeking comment, while Gov. Bill Haslam has said he wants to defer judgment until speaking with the congressman.
That conversation has yet to take place, though the governor said he had received a text message from DesJarlais expressing his willingness to talk.
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party said it filed a motion in Marion County Chancery Court to unseal portions of DesJarlais’ divorce from his first wife, Susan, in 2001.
The filing request expedited handling because early voting is already under way for the Nov. 6 election.
According to the filing, “time is of the essence if the public is to be provide an opportunity to evaluate the full court record regarding allegations” against DesJarlais.
Former Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis, who lost the 4th Congressional District seat to DesJarlais in 2010, on Wednesday denied that he was the source of the transcript that caused the recent furor. He also lamented the tone of political contests.
“Politics today has gotten to where it really just appears to be a game for folks,” he said. “This is serious business.”
Davis declined to say whether he believed DesJarlais’ explanation for the discussion about abortion.
“I think the voters have to make that decision,” he said