Incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander came away from the Republican primary in August with a comfortable margin separating him from state Rep. Joe Carr, the challenger who received the second-most votes in the race.
Carr only captured 40.6 percent of the vote, and in a field of mostly unknown challengers — five others besides Carr — Alexander took the nomination with 49.65 percent.
But Alexander’s 331,705 vote total constituted just under half the total 668,039 cast — meaning more GOP primary voters favored someone other than Alexander than were for him.
Only 240,949 votes were cast in the Democratic primary, which was won by Gordon Ball, a Knoxville trial lawyer attorney whom Alexander paints as an ally of the Obama administration and various liberal special-interest groups that traditionally align with the Democratic Party.
Alexander is running a campaign that centers on convincing Tennessee general election voters he’ll be a dependable vote against Barack Obama’s agenda during the president’s last two years in the White House.
But Alexander has yet to win over his highest-profile critic in the Republican Party. Carr told TNReport he’s not ready to endorse Alexander — and likely won’t until the incumbent Republican comes out strongly against Common Core and promises to fight “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
“It’s not up to me. It’s up to Sen. Alexander,” Carr said, adding that he’s had no communication with Alexander personally since the two met at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Rutherford County earlier this month. At that meeting, Carr said they talked about issues and he accepted Alexander’s apology for not taking Carr’s primary election-night phone calls to congratulate him on winning.
“The ball’s in his court,” Carr said.
As for Alexander promising to earn a reputation as an impediment to Obama’s policies and programs going forward, Carr told TNReport he has “no idea” what the campaign or the state Republican Party are talking about in that regard.
“I will be as excited and intrigued as every other voter in Tennessee to see this strange turn of events,” said Carr, whose principle primary campaign theme was that Alexander’s been more friend than foe to Obama these last six years.
Carr pointed to Alexander’s backing of various Obama administration initiatives and appointments as evidence he’s never really applied himself consistently or wholeheartedly to thwarting the president’s will.
The announcement last week that Attorney General Eric Holder is stepping down offered a prime example of how Alexander has often tended to earnestly award his trust to President Obama — even to the point of siding with liberal Democrats and against conservative Republicans — only to claim he regrets it later.
Alexander, who was one of 18 Republicans who joined with 55 Senate Democratic to confirm Holder in 2009, said in a statement that when it comes time for the president to pick Holder’s replacement, he hopes Obama “will nominate an attorney general this time who will faithfully apply the laws Congress has passed and not seek to impose policies the president wishes Congress had passed. The role of the top law enforcement officer in the country is to enforce the law—not to advance the president’s agenda.”
It should have been clear to Alexander during the confirmation process — and indeed it was to 21 other Republicans in the U.S. Senate — that Holder was going to be a problematic figure among conservatives, Carr suggested. Holder’s political aims, his ambitions and his performance as attorney general could have been “easily predicted and forecast by his past behaviors when he was in the Clinton administration,” Carr said.
In a strategy similar to Carr’s, Ball has pointed to Alexander’s Senate voting record as a defense against TNGOP claims that a vote for him will be a vote for Obama.
Ball is pushing Alexander to debate — a challenge Alexander has thus far dodged. Similarly, Alexander refused to share a debate stage with Carr during the GOP primary campaign.
Ball has said Alexander is doing Tennesseans a “disservice” by depriving them of a chance to see the candidates for such a powerful elected office challenge each other on matters of great national importance.