Lamar Alexander Easily Defeats Tea Party Backed Primary Challenger

To nobody’s surprise, Lamar Alexander easily defeated his Tea Party backed challenger in yesterday’s Tennessee Republican Primary:

NASHVILLE — Tennessee voters backed Senator Lamar Alexander against a Tea Party challenge and turned down an aggressive bid by conservatives and business interests to oust three members of the State Supreme Court in primaries on Thursday.

Mr. Alexander’s victory in the Republican primary was another win for establishment Republicans against Tea Party challengers. And the decision to retain the justices was also a defeat for conservatives who hoped to gain a majority on Tennessee’s highest court.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Alexander led six other candidates with 50 percent of the vote, The Associated Press said.

In addition to backing Mr. Alexander, Republicans, as expected, nominated another incumbent, Gov. Bill Haslam, who is running for re-election in November’s general election.

In securing a win, Mr. Alexander thwarted the final attempt by Tea Party supporters to oust a Republican senator this year after challenges in Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina faltered. The year has proved a marked contrast from 2010 and 2012, when Tea Party candidates toppled Senators Robert F. Bennett of Utah and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, both Republicans.

The victories of incumbent lawmakers this year helped deprive Democrats of incendiary candidates they would prefer to face in November and raised the chances of a Republican takeover of the Senate.

Mr. Alexander, a former governor who was elected to the Senate in 2002, knew he would be a target because of his long record of compromise and deal making. And he faced an especially aggressive challenge from Joe Carr, a state representative from Rutherford County, which is southeast of Nashville.

Mr. Carr assailed Mr. Alexander as too moderate for this state, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, when Al Gore, a Tennessean, was Bill Clinton’s running mate.

But unlike some other Republican lawmakers who did little to prepare for primary challenges, Mr. Alexander moved quickly to secure the backing of Tennessee’s political apparatus, which helped deprive Mr. Carr and other rivals of political oxygen.

The hopes of Mr. Carr, who reported only $1.1 million in fund-raising, were raised in June after a little-known college professor, David Brat, stunned Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, in a primary. Mr. Brat had highlighted Mr. Cantor’s support for granting some illegal immigrants legal status and enlisted the conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham in his cause.

Mr. Carr also got help from Ms. Ingraham, and picked up the same playbook.

“When Lamar Alexander says he ‘voted to end amnesty,’ he isn’t telling the truth, again,” Mr. Carr said this week in a statement. “The truth is Lamar Alexander betrayed Tennessee’s workers.”

But it was not enough to defeat Mr. Alexander, a figure in Tennessee politics for decades who once wore a plaid, flannel shirt and walked more than 1,000 miles across the state while running for governor. In his victory speech, he touted his ability to compromise, The A.P. said. He told followers that if they wanted to make changes to health care and spending, “we’re going to have to work with other people to get it done.”

With Alexander’s win, the Tea Party has failed in its effort to defeat Senate incumbents in five straight race.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Siegfried Heydrich says:

    Aaaaand, once again the Tea Party gets crushed like an empty Bud can. Well, so much for THEM! All that’s required of them now is for them to turn out and vote for the RINOs who beat them in november. Once that’s over and done with, I rather expect the GOP to pivot, and start cleaning house. The Tea Party will have outlived its usefulness, and since the RINOs now know that the threat of being primaried is all bark and no bite, they’re no longer feared. They’re losers, and who’s scared of losers?

    Their sole function was to defeat and block Obama. They failed, spectacularly, and the only real damage they’ve been able to inflict has been on the republican party. Given that Obama’s not running in ’16, the TP is now not only useless, it’s counterproductive. They’re making the GOP look like fools by pandering to their insanity, and worse even than that, they’re bad for business.

    Come next Congress, watch Boehner isolate and marginalize the TP caucus, and announce the death of the Hastert Rule. Then he’ll start negotiating with the dems in order to get things moving again, and if the TP doesn’t like it, well, they’re free to go off and set up their own party. The RINOs will be glad to see them gone. I think the public will breath a sigh of relief at the prospect of the GOP returning to sanity and the regular order of business. And Boehner’s going to have a really huge, evil grin on his face when he hands out committee assignments . . . you can bet the TP caucus will be cut out of anything even remotely influential.