Lamar Alexander can take some comfort in the fact that he did everything right, and everything he could, though it didn’t prevent him from getting a Republican primary opponent for his re-election campaign.
Alexander did not get surprised like his Senate colleague Richard Lugar, who was upset by a no-name candidate in the Indiana Republican primary. Alexander recognized the threat early and started campaigning hard. He is in the process of raising millions of dollars and having access to millions more, if necessary. He has vowed to use all that money for a “shock-and-awe” campaign against any potential challenger.
He visited around and talked down some potential candidates and their potential contributors. He got Sen. Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, to sorta, kinda endorse him, or least hang out with him for photo ops. He has solicited—and gotten—the endorsement of virtually every member of the Republican establishment.
He released a poll, which predictably showed him with a comfortable lead against any potential candidate. Of course, Lugar had great poll numbers at the start of his primary against a candidate no one had ever heard of. Alexander should be well ahead in polling at this point. The question is whether it matters—though it may give his opponents’ potential contributors pause.
The next best thing to being unopposed is having multiple opponents to split the vote. But the out-of-state PACs will likely decide on one opponent, make it clear that opponent will get the money, and encourage everyone else to drop out.
It would appear that the opponent for Alexander will be state Rep. Joe Carr, from Rutherford County, south of Nashville. He isn’t the most formidable candidate Alexander could face, but he isn’t the worst, either. He has been elected to office in Middle Tennessee and he had been campaigning around the 4th Congressional district before he dropped out of that race. He does have some name recognition. He has also raised $300,000 to keep him going until the Super PAC money arrives.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is still a possibility as a candidate. But political observers, i.e., political junkies, point out that Burchett would have to give up an easy re-election to a job that pays over $150,000 a year—though technically he might be able to run for both, it’s not really practical.
Carr has a voting record, which is surely being scrutinized by the Alexander campaign. I’m sure their “oppo research” will include the controversy about his remarks in support of Congressman Todd Akin, of Missouri, who famously suggested that victims of “legitimate rape” do not get pregnant. Carr responded to a report in The Memphis Flyer denying he said he agreed with the remark, but merely said he did not believe Akin should be forced to give up his U.S. Senate bid because of it.
Carr has sponsored almost all the anti-illegal immigration bills in the Legislature. The Tea Party is after Alexander because he voted for the national immigration-reform bill; it will likely be a major issue in the campaign.
Carr sponsored a bill that would allow federal agents in Tennessee to be charged with a crime if they tried to enforce restrictions on semiautomatic weapons should Congress ban them. But on the other hand, he missed the final vote on the guns-in-parking-lots bill because he went to a fund-raiser for his Congressional campaign.
Alexander has already started running ads demonstrating he is against Obamacare, though it will likely be an issue in the race. He hasn’t signed on the Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s latest effort to “defund Obamacare,” a hot-button issue with the Tea Party.
Carr may not be the best candidate the Super PACs could find, but I suspect he will do. If the money comes, it will turn into a horse race.
Tom Ingram may have his hands full getting Alexander re-elected—not to mention his being busy handling Gov. Bill Haslam’s re-election, defending Pilot Flying J, and taking care of a long list of other clients.