NASHVILLE (AP) — Scandal-plagued Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais and challenger Jim Tracy's race was still too close to call Friday as election officials in Tennessee's largely rural 4th Congressional District tallied outstanding votes.
In unofficial results, DesJarlais was ahead of Tracy by just 35 votes in their contest for the Republican nomination. But that number could shift as possible provisional ballots are counted, and the final result could drag out for weeks as election officials certify results and consider potential challenges.
DesJarlais, a physician, won re-election in 2012 despite revelations he urged a patient he was dating to seek an abortion.
Tracy far outraised the DesJarlais campaign and had been expected to easily defeat the incumbent. But DesJarlais' tea party base appeared willing to overlook his past personal problems.
"Tennesseans chose to judge me on my record in Washington," DesJarlais said in a statement.
In the other high-profile Tennessee primary contest, Republican Lamar Alexander became the latest U.S. senator to fend off a tea party challenge, defeating a state representative who had used a familiar tactic in trying to cast him as an out-of-touch insider.
The former two-term governor ended up beating state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro by 9 percentage points in what was a far closer race than the 29-point spread that Alexander's internal pollster had suggested late last month.
In both of DesJarlais' previous elections, he tried to cast doubt on reports of violent behavior toward his ex-wife and about multiple extramarital affairs before his divorce was finalized.
But court transcripts released the week after the November 2012 election revealed that he admitted under oath that he had eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his first wife during an argument.
And last year, DesJarlais was fined and reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in May for having sex with patients before he was elected.
DesJarlais dismissed those details as "old news," noting that he now is happily re-married while stressing familiar tea party attacks on President Barack Obama over issues like health care and the assault on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Tracy, a state senator and former college basketball referee, stressed themes of integrity in his campaign against DesJarlais. That message resonated with some voters like Linda Warpool of Murfreesboro, who said she was tired of the incumbent's scandals.
"Too much sex. Too many abortions," she said.
But Tracy was unable to persuade enough voters in the more rural counties around DesJarlais' home in the southeastern part of the state, many of which voted overwhelmingly for the incumbent.
In the state's majority black 9th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, a white and Jewish Memphis native, cruised to a 34-point win over Ricky Wilkins, who is African-American.
And in the 3rd District in eastern Tennessee, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann defeated Weston Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp, by less than 2 percentage points.
Three Democratic members of the Tennessee's Supreme Court survived a concerted effort by conservatives to deny them another eight-year term. Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey had spearheaded the effort to oust the three justices appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
The defeat of even one of the incumbents would have given the GOP control of the highest court in Tennessee, which is the only state in the nation where justices name the attorney general.