By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee Republican congressman won re-election on Tuesday overcoming revelations that he once had an affair with a patient and urged her to get an abortion.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Jasper physician before going to Congress, beat Democratic challenger Eric Stewart on Tuesday. With 76 percent of precincts reporting, DesJarlais had 111,988 votes, or 57 percent, compared with Stewart’s 83,835 votes, or 43 percent.
DesJarlais, who opposes abortion rights, largely withdrew from public sight a month ago after news accounts based on his 2001 divorce emerged. His campaign used a heavy rotation of TV ads to link Stewart to President Barack Obama, an unpopular figure in the conservative 4th District.
It’s the second time DesJarlais has overcome explosive allegations stemming from his divorce. During his first campaign in 2010, the Democratic incumbent ran ads based on court records that said DesJarlais repeatedly pulled the trigger of an unloaded gun outside his first wife’s bedroom door and another time held a gun in his mouth for three hours.
“It’s been the second election in a row that’s been more about, I guess, a 14-year-old divorce than about the issues,” DesJarlais said Tuesday night. “But sometimes I guess that’s the way politics goes.”
“The voters have spoken,” Stewart said in a statement. “I’m proud of the campaign we ran.”
Tennessee voters also chose Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama and elected the GOP’s Bob Corker to another six-year term in the U.S. Senate.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who lost to Rick Santorum in the state’s Republican primary in March, had few problems gaining Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 1.4 million votes, or 59 percent, compared with Obama’s 934,835 votes, or 39 percent. Tennessee has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in each election since 2000.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, easily defeated Democrat Mark Clayton, a part-time floor installer who was disavowed by the state party after the primary for his anti-gay views. Corker had 1.46 million votes, or 65 percent, compared with Clayton’s 687,100 votes, or 30 percent.
Corker said in his victory speech that he hoped the nation’s focus would quickly turn from elections to the federal budget.
“I really believe that we are one fiscal reform package away from being able to focus on the greatness of this nation,” Corker said. “It’s my hope that tomorrow we will begin as a nation — Republicans and Democrats — working toward that end.”
DesJarlais was able to reach the finish line of his re-election bid before potentially damaging trial transcripts from his volatile 2001 divorce were made public. DesJarlais’ attorney blocked the release until a transcript was complete, and Democratic Party officials said the court reporter couldn’t finish the work in time for voters to evaluate the records before the polls would close.
Stewart, who benefited from some outside money from a Democratic political action committee, had hoped that conservative voters who backed Romney were upset enough by the revelations about DesJarlais’ personal life to split their tickets and vote for him.
Heather Grader, a 27-year-old preschool teacher from Murfreesboro, said she voted for DesJarlais because she voted straight Republican. She was not bothered by the allegations against the congressman because she saw them as part of political mudslinging.
She criticized both Stewart and DesJarlais for running negative campaigns. “I would say they both did it,” she said.
DesJarlais’ win means that all nine members of the Tennessee congressional delegation were re-elected.
Among the remaining Republican members of the congressional delegation, freshman Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin faced no opposition after trouncing Lou Ann Zelenik in the Republican primary in August; Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City defeated Democrat Alan Woodruff of Gray; Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan won over Troy Goodale, both of Knoxville; Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga defeated Mary Headrick of Maynardville; Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood won over Credo Amouzouvik of Clarksville; and Stephen Fincher of Halls beat Timothy Dixon of Germantown.
Among the Democrats, Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville beat Republican Brad Staats and Rep. Steve Cohen defeated George Flinn in Memphis.
Voters expressed strong interest in the presidential race even though Tennessee was expected to go strong for Romney.
In the Memphis suburb of Collierville, financial adviser Kevin Baltier, 44, said he voted for Romney because he believed the Republican’s tax plan and economic strategy would spur investment in the United States and help the overall economy. He praised Ryan’s knowledge of budget issues and ability to work with fellow members of Congress.
The married father of two boys also said Obama’s campaign failed to reach him.
“This class envy that the president has created to get re-elected, I don’t know whether he believes it or not, but he certainly has used it as a populist message,” he said.
In Knoxville, Micki Fox said she has known who she was voting for four years.
“Barack Obama in 2008, and I have never wavered,” said Fox, an administrator at the University of Tennessee College of Law.