US Senate Race Just Got a Little More Interesting
With State Representative Joe Carr’s announcement yesterday that he will switch from challenging embattled 4th District Congressman Scott DesJarlais to a run for the US Senate seat currently held by Lamar Alexander (R), things are going to get a lot more interesting and heated. Many pundits believe Carr couldn’t have won that seat so why not pull out. He was behind State Senator Jim Tracy in his fundraising and in commitments from powerful political friends as well. Also, the money that Rep. Carr had raised for that race, almost $300,000, can be transferred to the Senate race. No brainer, right?
More important may be the fact that the Tea Party in Tennessee has been searching for a credible candidate to challenge incumbent Senator Alexander because some of them view him as too “liberal” and a tool of President Obama. While nothing could be further from the truth, that really doesn’t matter much in political speak. Interestingly, a Vanderbilt poll taken recently showed self-identified Tennessee “Tea Partiers” giving Alexander a 62% approval rating, a number perhaps Rep. Carr should have seen before tossing his hat into the Senate ring. That same poll also shows a majority of Democrats in Tennessee giving Alexander a favorable rating.
It will now be interesting to see if Rep. Carr becomes the only credible candidate to challenge the Senator. The Tea Party has made a lot of noise about vetting candidates around the state before they anoint their own challenger to Alexander. According to Rep. Carr, on a recent trip to Washington, D. C., he was greatly encouraged to get into the Senate race. I can’t imagine who in D.C. would have encouraged him. Certainly not Senator Corker, nor Congressman Duncan who have both endorsed Senator Alexander’s reelection bid. I don’t think anyone at the RNC would take such a bold step so we can only assume that he may have met with some of the GOP’s right-winged members of Congress perhaps. Note however that Rand Paul, the darling of the Tea Partiers, has said some very nice things about Lamar in recent weeks. Rumors are that the Koch brothers may be interested in this race so perhaps Carr is getting encouragement from those out of Tennessee financial folks.
Carr will have a hard time catching Lamar on fundraising. The Alexander camp has over $3 million in the bank and scheduled fundraisers are looking very successful. The party regulars who traditionally provide financial support are clearly behind Alexander’s reelection. Carr will have to look to non-traditional support such as outside Tennessee donors, small grass roots contributions and perhaps national Tea Party funding if that exists. Additionally Carr will be serving in the General Assembly from January -April or May in 2014, giving him little time to campaign and/or fundraise.
As a former State Republican Party chair, I have always believed that primaries are good for our party. We bring new volunteers, new donors and breathe new life into our party, but it’s important that we keep the primary focused on issues, not emotions. We need to be pointing out differences in the Democrat Party and the Republican Party, not bashing our own. Since the Democrats so far have failed to put forward any names for the Senate race, it may boil down to the August 2014 primary. Hot days, hot times. Stay tuned.