Lamar Alexander, Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, may have solid backing from the state’s Republican establishment. But he’s getting no love from local Tea Party groups and hard-core conservative voters who hope to see him unseated in next year’s GOP primary election.
Alexander was on hand at the Smyrna airport Saturday for an event honoring local Republican party chairmen, joined on stage by state GOP party head Chris Devaney and former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate-turned-TV-talking-head Mike Huckabee. Outside, meanwhile, 200-plus protesters, many waving signs and wearing red “Beat Lamar” t-shirts, gathered to denounce Alexander, attacking his voting record as too liberal and labeling the two-term senator a “RINO,” or “Republican In Name Only.”
Among the conservative protesters’ concerns were Sen. Alexander’s support of recent immigration overhaul legislation, an internet sales tax bill that Alexander helped write and votes relating to the “fiscal cliff.” But more than any one specific issue, many said, it is Alexander’s willingness to seek out moderate positions and compromise rather than taking hard conservative stances that are driving them to call for his ouster.
Ben Cunningham with the Nashville Tea Party who helped organize Saturday’s rally pointed to scorecards put out by conservative watchdog groups that rank lawmakers based on their voting histories and which, Cunningham said, consistently put Lamar Alexander on the most liberal end of the list of amongst Republican senators.
“Our concern is that Lamar Alexander’s very unconservative voting record is not being advertised as it should be,” Cunningham told TNReport.
“Lamar Alexander is not a conservative, he’s never been a conservative,” he continued.
“The entire Republican establishment is saying to the whole state of Tennessee ‘We’re not going to let you debate Lamar Alexander’s record. We’re not going to let you have an open debate of all of his votes,’” Cunningham said. For the GOP establishment, he charged, the race “is about the fact that [Alexander] has got an ‘R’ by his name and he’s been there for 12 years. You shouldn’t elect somebody on that basis.”
But so far, a viable contender has yet to emerge to challenge Alexander, who before going to the Senate served as U.S Education Secretary and Tennessee’s governor.
Speakers at the rally encouraged attendees to get involved by knocking on doors and making calls in the runup to the primary but stopped short of naming a specific candidate.
Ben Cunningham with the Nashville Tea Party said there were multiple people he knew who were considering a run and speculated that announcements would be made in coming weeks, but refused to disclose any names.
Professional wrestler and libertarian activist Glenn Jacobs, known by the stage name Kane, appeared to be mulling a run earlier this summer but has subsequently fallen off the radar. Clarksville Republican state Sen. Mark Green aroused speculation amongst conservatives earlier this month after he dropped out of a scheduled appearance at Alexander’s Saturday event. A staffer with Green’s office subsequently told the Tennessean that the cancellation was due to a family scheduling issue.
One name that did receive some chatter amongst protesters Saturday was that of Kevin Kookogey, a former Williamson County GOP party chair and president of a conservative mentoring group who spoke at the rally about his recent testimony before Congress on IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.
Asked if he was considering making a primary challenge to Sen. Alexander, Kookogey said he had been approached several times about the possibility and was “considering it.”