Joe Carr will be in Johnson City on Saturday afternoon wrapping up the last of the town-hall-style question-and-answer sessions that Tea Party groups across the state have been holding for him.
Over the past month, Carr, a three-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, has been giving speeches and fielding inquiries from self-described “constitutional conservatives” as part of a candidate “vetting process” sponsored by a Super PAC called “BEAT LAMAR,” the organizers of which are looking to get behind a Republican primary challenger to Tennessee’s senior member of the U.S. Senate.
At this point, that seems all but a formality. Originally conceived as a series of forums for four potential Alexander challengers to come together before Tea Party conservatives in various Tennessee cities so that anti-Alexander voters could get behind a single candidate, only Carr has participated in all the events.
Those initially invited to the BEAT LAMAR meetings included Carr, Brenda Lenard of Knoxville, who lost to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in the 2012 Republican primary; Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and former Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey.
But besides Carr, only Kookogey participated in the initial forum, held in Nashville Aug. 31. Afterward Kookogey announced he was suspending his campaign, leaving Carr the sole candidate willing to attend.
“After Kevin withdrew, Joe insisted, as we did, that the vetting process of Joe Carr needed to continue,” said Leahy.
And Carr seems to have made the most of the opportunity. While Carr initially said when he launched his bid for the U.S. Senate that even though he’s a big fan of Tea Party principles, “this candidacy is much bigger than just being a Tea Party candidate,” he’s apparently been hitting most of the right notes at the forums.
“The audience reaction (to Carr) has been very, very favorable,” Leahy said after the event in Maryville on Sept. 21.
At the Maryville forum, as well as one two days earlier in Chattanooga, Carr took queries and laid out his views on a number of issues near and dear to conservatives itching to replace Alexander with someone promising a more combative stance against President Obama during his last two years in the White House.
If there’s one thing Carr says voters can count on were he to pull off what would be one of the biggest political upsets in Tennessee history, it’s that the “capitulation and compromise” he asserts have been the hallmarks of Sen. Alexander’s tenure while Obama has been in office would be a thing of the past.
“If you’re satisfied with a man who represents Tennessee in Washington, D.C. that votes with Barack Hussein Obama 62 percent of the time, you’re in the wrong meeting,” Carr told the Chattanooga Tea Party gathering.
That was a sentiment certainly shared by Chattanooga Tea Party president Mark West.
“Alexander is at the bottom of conservative ratings among Republican members of the U.S. Senate,” said West. “He is not the type of senator you would expect from a Red State like Tennessee.”
West ticked off a litany of Alexander’s positions and votes that’ve been galling to Tea Party types — in particular, his support for immigration “amnesty” and unwillingness to flirt with a government shut-down in the fight against implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Alexander’s right-leaning critics have been especially put out that the Republican Tennessee senator voted to confirm key administration appointments “who are the antithesis of the conservative view,” said West.
“For example, he supported the Eric Holder nomination (for U.S. attorney general),” said West. “We can look back now and see that those of us who stood against that nomination at the time and were very vocal about it — we see that we were right.”
And, of course, one of Alexander’s most unpopular votes among Tea Party circles in the past year was for the Marketplace Fairness Act, which he didn’t just support, but sponsored. That’s the kind of vote that makes challenging Alexander a national conservative priority, said West.
“The Marketplace Fairness Act is a tax increase not just on Tennesseans but on people across the board, across America,” he said.
Leahy said that in the event that Carr does indeed win backing from BEAT LAMAR, then he can count on a sizable throng of Tea Party foot soldiers marching among the grassroots on his his behalf.
BEAT LAMAR has signed up about 600 volunteers willing to write emails, send texts, go door-to-door and do generally whatever is needed to try and counteract the formidable campaign war chest Alexander will use to fuel his re-election bid, said Leahy.
Leahy said the plan is for BEAT LAMAR to emulate the so-called “Colorado model,” as outlined for GOP audiences in a 2010 book called The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), by Republican Colorado State Rep. Rob Witwer.
“The Colorado model is how the left wing took over Colorado for the Democrats. They had one thing we don’t have, they had billionaires funding their groups,” said Leahy. “But we have the ground game. We have enough money in out independent expenditure PAC to execute this plan, but we’re going to do it not with lots of dollars, but with door-to-door person power, neighbors talking to neighbors, that’s how we’re going to do it.”