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DesJarlais ahead of Stewart in 4th District race

ERIK SCHELZIG • Nov 6, 2012 at 10:36 PM

NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais posted a strong lead in his bid for re-election to Congress on Tuesday despite revelations he once had an affair with a patient and urged her to get an abortion.

With 59 percent of precincts reporting, the Jasper physician had 72,436 votes, or 59 percent, compared with Democrat Eric Stewart's 50,756, or 41 percent. But no results had been released in Rutherford County, where more than 100,000 people voted four years ago.

DesJarlais was the only one of the nine-member Tennessee delegation in Congress to face a serious challenge.

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 74 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had more than 1.17 million votes, or 64 percent, compared with Obama's 618,384 votes, or 34 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 1.2 million votes, or 69 percent, compared with Clayton's 445,282 votes, or 26 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 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 blamed both Stewart and DesJarlais for running negative campaigns. "I would say they both did it," she said.

DesJarlais has blamed "a disgruntled, defeated ex-congressman, a vindictive ex-wife, and a desperate Democratic candidate" for dredging up details from his past. More than 120,000 ballots were cast during early voting in the district, which stretches from Rutherford County, across southern Middle Tennessee to Bradley County in East Tennessee.

In the Memphis suburb of Collierville, financial adviser Kevin Baltier, 44, said he voted for Romney because he believed the Republican's his 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.

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.

Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville beat Republican Brad Staats. No results were available in fellow Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen's race against Republican George Flinn in Memphis.

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