Even though he's hosting a fundraiser next week for the campaign of scandal-plagued Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota is distancing himself from the event, with a spokesman claiming he never planned to attend in the first place.
Kline, the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, was listed as a host of the fundraiser, as his office confirmed. The invitation also said Reps. Tom Price of Georgia, Darrell Issa of California, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Jim Jordan of Ohio would be attending as special guests.
"Congressman Kline has a working relationship with all of his committee members," Kline's aide said when asked why the congressman agreed to host but would not attend the event. Kline's office pointed out that it's not unusual for congressmen to host events and not attend them. Later, his spokesman Troy Young said Kline could not attend because he had other fundraising events on his schedule.
Kline is considered a possible Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota.
DesJarlais made headlines last October when news reports surfaced that the congressman, a medical doctor, had an affair with a patient and encouraged her to have an abortion. He won reelection in 2012, but could face several credible Republican primary challengers in 2014. State Sen. Jim Tracy has already declared he’s running. State Reps. Joe Carr and Kevin Brooks are also reportedly considering a run.
Strategists in Washington and Tennessee believe that DesJarlais is vulnerable if he faces only one primary challenger, but has better odds if the primary field is crowded, because candidates can win without receiving an outright majority of the vote.
The 4th District was redrawn to favor Republicans in 2010, but now includes the cities of Murfreesboro and Cleveland, which favors Tracy if he decides to run, according to Oscar Brock, a Tennessee Republican Party executive committee member. DesJarlais is from the more rural, less populous part of the district.
That, coupled with the scandal, makes winning more difficult for the incumbent, who came into office during the 2010 Republican wave. Brock said many donors are less inclined to back DesJarlais this time around, whereas last time the election was imminent when the news broke.