Tuesday night’s Republican tidal wave swept an incumbent out of Congress in Tennessee’s 4th District. Rep. Lincoln Davis was soundly defeated by political newcomer Scott DesJarlais.
A third of Tennessee’s congressional delegation went from Democrat to Republican. But Lincoln Davis was the only Democrat to actually lose his seat, one he’s held since 2002.
“I think the state has decided that they’re going to be a Republican state, and I accept that. The voters have spoken.”
Davis says he is surprised. Dr. Scott DesJarlais was virtually unknown in the district, even after the August primary. Some who voted for the Republican nominee admitted they didn’t know much about him. But Davis says he couldn’t overcome anger against the party in power.
“When my home county, I lost it by 300 or 400 votes in early voting, I realized that it was over with. I mean, folks I grew up with, went to high school with, folks who know me. I was born and raised there in the county. When I realized that, I knew it was over with.”
Davis said he did all he could to help the 4th District. Asked if he’s concerned about the future, Davis said, “I’m not concerned. I’m not their congressman anymore.”
Close to 60% of voters sided with people like Amanda Simmons of McMinnville. They found a multitude of reasons to vote against Davis.
“My family, I’m a third generation farmer, and he’s been promising us stuff for a long time now and none of it’s come true. This guy might do something different.”
While the 4th District gains a fresh face in DesJarlais, Davis says voters may come to miss him.
“They just lost a person who sits on the Appropriations Committee that can help with their roads, their water their sewer lines, their needed facilities. Matter of fact Martin Methodist University will tell you that they have nursing school now because I helped get special appropriations and earmarks for them. We have five VA clinics in this congressional district that we didn’t have when I became a congressman. So you ask me have we lost anything? The voters don’t think they have.”
Davis says he accepts that the voters have spoken. However, he did not immediately speak to his opponent to concede the race and congratulate the congressman-elect.
Negative Ads and Outside Spending on Both Sides
Davis says he does not regret a personal attack ad his campaign produced, rehashing details from a messy divorce. His supporters defend the tactic and say their concern was outside money coming into the race.
During David Letterman’s show, Scott McMillan of Sparta says he and his wife made a game of counting the ads against Davis.
“There were literally, what did we count, six negative ads against Lincoln compared to one of his ads.”
Davis did get some outside help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which aired a version of the divorce attack ad. But DesJarlais not only had Republicans in Washington buying ad time, but also third party groups whose donors remain anonymous.
Davis supporter McMillan says DesJarlais used ads instead of old school campaigning to get elected.
“It just greatly concerns me about our politics now, that these empty suits can come in and have all this money poured in and win races.
Davis is the only incumbent congressman defeated in Tennessee this year.