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Tennessee primary: Lamar Alexander wins, Scott DesJarlais in cliffhanger

Alexander beats back Tea Party U.S. Senate challenger; DesJarlais battles to keep U.S. House seat amid messy personal scandal

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has taken a major step towards securing a third term by easily beating back a Tea Party-inspired GOP primary challenge from State Rep. Joe Carr.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

Alexander took 50 percent of the vote in the August 7 primary, where he faced Carr and five other challengers. Carr, who had the support of Tea Party and outside conservative groups that had targeted Alexander for defeat, took 41 percent.

Alexander was one of five sitting Southern Republican senators targeted in primaries this year. All five survived.

In a closely-fought Democratic primary, Gordon Ball, a former federal prosecutor, narrowly defeated Terry Adams, a Knoxville attorney, by less than 2,000 votes. Ball will face Alexander in November.

After a fractious primary in which half of the voters from his own party voted for someone else, Alexander, 74, sounded a note of conciliation in his victory speech at a Nashville pizza parlor, reaching out not only to his GOP opponents but also to Democrats and independents.

“After we make our speeches, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, get together, work with each other and get something done,” he said. “That’s the Tennessee way. That’s the American way.”

Meanwhile, in Tennessee’s 4th District, with some absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais held a lead of just 35 votes over his primary challenger, State Senator Jim Tracy, amid a messy personal scandal that took a toll on DesJarlais’s popularity.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

Given the district’s strong GOP tendencies, the GOP nominee will be favored for re-election in November over Democrat Lenda Sherrell, a retired accountant from Monteagle.

DesJarlais, 49, was facing voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from the case file of his bitter 2001 divorce from his first wife. In it, the congressman admitted having a string of extra-martial affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his then-wife to have two abortions.

DesJarlais (pronounced Dez-yar-lay), a medical doctor, also admitted having relationships with two female patients, which prompted the Tennessee State Board of Medical Examiners to reprimand him for unprofessional conduct and fine him $500.

Details about DesJarlais’s divorce became an issue in his contentious 2012 re-election campaign, which he won with just 56 percent of the vote. However, he successfully fought to prevent release of the full transcript of the case file until after the election.

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