NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Republican Party appears to be standing by a freshman congressman seeking re-election despite the revelation of a recorded conversation in which the pro-life proponent urging his mistress to get an abortion.
Executive Director Adam Nickas said in a statement this week that the transcript is the same type of "smear campaign" tactics used against Rep. Scott DesJarlais when he ran in the 2010 election, "which voters overwhelmingly rejected."
Nickas said he believes voters will reject the attacks being made in this year's election.
"The state party is focused on electing Republicans statewide who are working to improve our economy and get more people back to work, which is exactly what voters are focused on right now as well," he said.
The DesJarlais campaign did not dispute the contents of the transcript, but condemned the circulation of "desperate personal attacks."
"Since the congressman's opponents cannot attack him on his independent, conservative and pro-life record in Congress they have once again resorted to pure character assassination," spokesman Robert Jameson said in an email.
DesJarlais on his website espouses a platform that opposes abortion, saying: "All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life."
After receiving Nickas' statement, The Associated Press followed up with questions Thursday on whether the GOP plans to distance itself from DesJarlais and the perception of voters in his district, considering the transcript indicates the congressman acted opposite his platform.
Nickas responded: "We're going to let our statement speak for itself."
The undated phone recording appears to have been made before DesJarlais' divorce from his wife, Susan, was finalized in 2001. The transcript is part of a 200-page memorandum of court records detailing DesJarlais' divorce. The author of the report is not listed.
According to the transcript, DesJarlais tells the unidentified woman that he is concerned that she hadn't taken steps toward terminating the pregnancy.
"You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one," DesJarlais is quoted as saying. "If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let's do it."
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, defeated Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis in 2010. Davis said his campaign was aware of the transcript during that race, but he wasn't able to confirm its authenticity until a recent conversation with DesJarlais' ex-wife.
DesJarlais faces Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart this year. Stewart said at a press conference Wednesday that DesJarlais should be disqualified.
"Scott DesJarlais has proven over and over again that he cannot be trusted and this latest revelation is absolutely disqualifying," Stewart said.
It's not the first time DesJarlais' marital problems have surfaced. The Davis campaign in 2010 ran ads highlighting allegations from court records that said DesJarlais intimidated his ex-wife with a gun, and in one instance put it in his mouth for three hours. The judge who granted the divorce in 2001 criticized the conduct of both the husband and wife.