DesJarlais reports $436,000 cash-on-hand, faces potential threat from Ketron

Authored By James Harrison

Rep. Scott DesJarlais isn’t wasting any time revealing end-of-year fundraising figures for his 4th District re-election campaign.

DesJarlais, who now finds himself amid a drastically reshaped district that includes Rutherford County, announced Monday he raised a total of $154,127 in the fourth fundraising quarter. The three-month tally was the congressman’s strongest to date and leaves him with $436,823 cash-on-hand for securing his re-election.

The announcement came as speculation swirled that state Sen. Bill Ketron would announce his intention to challenge DesJarlais, who has only represented the 4th District for one year. Ketron, who has made his congressional aspirations known in the past, now resides within district lines.

Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education for Vanderbilt University, said that despite DesJarlais’s new numbers, a Ketron candidacy could still pose a potential threat.

“Ketron may have the ability to raise enough money, and [he] has name identification in the new part of the district,” Oppenheimer said. “That’s one of the problems DesJarlais will face. It’s going to be a very expensive primary.”

So far, Democrat Sen. Eric Stewart is the only person to have officially announced he will challenge DesJarlais.

Of DesJarlais’s $154,000 raised in the past three months, $80,500 came from political action committees. The donors included committees associated with various Republican leaders, including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Whip Eric Cantor.

In a news release, the congressman claimed that his fourth-quarter haul was more than his Democratic predecessor, Lincoln Davis, ever had on hand at the end of a non-election year and called it “historically high” for the 4th District.

“I ran for Congress because I wanted the people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District to have an independent, conservative voice in Washington,” DesJarlais said. “From the beginning, I promised my constituents that above all else, I would never lose sight of the fact that I work for them.”

Reaching voters in new areas in the district may prove difficult for DesJarlais, who has already launched his first district-wide radio ad. Along with the addition of Rutherford County, the proposed district hooks eastward to include half of Bradley County, an area the congressman has never had to represent.

Chip Saltsman, chief of staff for 3rd District Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, said that losing parts of Bradley to the 4th was not necessarily what people “want or like.”

“We know this is a very tough process for the Legislature; we don’t have anything to do with drawing. It’s a struggle every 10 years,” Saltsman said. “You take counties where you’ve worked hard to get to know the folks, you lose them and get new folks, and that’s always tough.”

Fleischmann, who is conducting a re-election bid of his own, lost Bradley County in the 2010 primary but won the area with overwhelming support in the general election. His most significant primary challenger so far, Weston Wamp, also expressed disappointment to see the proposed split, calling it “strange” to see two counties partnered in economic development projects be separated.

“Bradley and Hamilton counties have been partners in economic development for years and have played off each other’s strengths for years,” Wamp said. “It would be strange to see that area represented by someone not as familiar with it.”

State lawmakers are expected to decide as early as this week on whether the lines will be approved. If the proposed map is passed, the boundaries will shape elections for the next decade.