A second Democratic candidate has entered the running against Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the 2018 race for the 4th Congressional District seat.
Mariah Phillips, a Rutherford County teacher and MTSU graduate, is among the candidates being trained and supported by Emerge Tennessee, founded last year to help more women seek public office.
Phillips joins Steven Reynolds, of Manchester, who ran unsuccessfully against DesJarlais as a Democrat in 2016.
The district includes portions of Maury, Bradley and Van Buren counties. It also contains all of Bedford, Bledsoe, Grundy, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Meigs, Moore, Rhea, Rutherford, Sequatchie and Warren counties.
DesJarlais, a Republican seeking his fifth term, also has a primary opponent. Jack Maddux is a military veteran and former police officer from Cleveland, who now works as a businessman.
Phillips, whose Facebook page shows a fast-paced schedule of events in the sprawling district, said in a statement that “In order to change the way Washington works, we need to change the type of people we are sending to Washington.”
“Year after year, we watch politicians campaign on promises to make life better. But they continue to work for special interests. They forget about what makes our communities strong — the employees working long hours, the consumers who have to choose between eating healthy or eating cheaply, the families struggling to get dinner on the table before football practice.”
She says she will focus on education, health care, college affordability and keeping public lands in public hands.
Reynolds says that even though he lost nearly 3-to-1 to DesJarlais in 2016, he got more votes than any Democratic challenger in Tennessee and more votes than Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in all 16 counties of the 4th District.
In his campaign literature, Reynolds seeks to separate himself from the national party leaders, whom he calls “Washington insiders.”
“Our campaign will continue to spread the message of the importance of good jobs and inform of the policies behind job creation in rural America, such as through Education, Infrastructure, and Healthcare. In addition, I will continue to stand for choice, equality, privacy, campaign finance reform, and diplomacy,” Reynolds says on Facebook.
On the GOP side, Maddux is DesJarlais’ only challenger so far. Maddux served in the U.S. Navy and as a police officer in Cleveland and Chattanooga, and now is a business manager with an engineering services company.
He graduated from Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., and calls himself a strong constitutional conservative, active in church and community projects.
“My family and I, like so many here in Tennessee, have truly felt the impact of what has taken place in Washington,” Maddux states on his Facebook page. “The rising cost of healthcare, jobs being lost, our local education system being held hostage by D.C. bureaucrats and a broken immigration system that compromises our safety. Tennesseans have fallen victim to Congress’ inability to function. President Trump campaigned with bold ideas that require a Congress that can get the job done.”
DesJarlais faced multiple primary opponents in three of his first four campaigns: three in 2016; six in 2014, and four in 2010.
In that first campaign, the South Pittsburg physician defeated incumbent Democrat Lincoln Davis by more than 11 percentage points, part of the tea party wave that inundated Congress that year. DesJarlais, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, has been rated one of the most conservative members of Congress.
In his first re-election campaign in 2012, DesJarlais scored another 11 percentage point victory over Democrat Eric Stewart.
Things got complicated when revelations from his 2001 divorce became public. They showed the staunchly pro-life congressman had encouraged his then-wife’s two abortions. His constituents also learned he had had affairs with patients and urged a lover who claimed she was pregnant to get an abortion.
DesJarlais said he had remarried, found God and was a changed man, but he eked out a win in his 2014 primary by only 38 votes against state Sen. Jim Tracy. He won re-election by 58 percent against Democrat Lenda Sherrell and Independent Robert Doggart.
By 2016, though, DesJarlais appeared well-situated. He beat back a well-funded primary challenger, Grant Starrett, and two others and defeated Stevens, the Democrat, by 65-35 percent.
The filing deadline for the 4th District seat is in April 2018, and the primary election is in August 2018.