Sen. Alexander gets a primary challenger
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee
August 20th, 2013
11:15 AM ET
12 months ago

Sen. Alexander gets a primary challenger

(CNN) – Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who's up for a third term next year, now has a GOP primary challenger.

State Rep. Joe Carr announced Tuesday he will run for the U.S. Senate, taking on the state's senior senator in 2014.

"This is a David and Goliath matchup," Carr told CNN. "We're going against a well-established and well-funded candidate...But we liked the way the story of David and Goliath ends, and so we're very encouraged."

Carr was originally planning to challenge Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the state's 4th U.S. Congressional District, but dropped his bid in order to take on Alexander.

His campaign manager, a well-known Republican operative Chip Saltsman, resigned from Carr's congressional campaign upon learning of the state representative's change in plans.

In his letter of resignation to Carr, Saltsman said in part, "Having learned of your decision to run for the United States Senate, I must resign from your campaign. I signed up to help you run for Congress, not the Senate."

Saltsman, a former Tennessee GOP chairman, said he's long been a supporter of Alexander and will continue to stand by the senator, who has backed many Republicans in the state seeking office on the local, state and federal level.

"It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature," Saltsman wrote in the letter.

Carr said Saltsman's letter "was expected," as he informed Saltsman of his Senate decision on Monday. Carr said their conversation was "amicable," and Saltsman agreed with that assessment in an email to CNN.

As for why Carr decided to abandon his House bid, the state representative said that as he began raising money in the district and meeting with outside conservative groups in Washington, D.C., he said he was frequently asked to consider challenging Alexander.

With the "intensity" of those questions increasing in the past few weeks, Carr said he made the decision to launch a Senate bid.

"After a serious amount of prayer and thought, we have determined this is a course of action that we need to take," he said.

He declined to identify the groups that he met with, but hopes that he can announce their endorsements "at the appropriate time."

As Carr has acknowledged, his challenge will likely be an uphill battle. Alexander handily won his last election with 65% of the vote and has 10 times the amount of campaign cash. And the incumbent has already gone up with ads this summer for his 2014 bid.

"Sen. Alexander has a conservative voting record," a spokesman for Alexander's campaign said, responding to Carr's announcement. "He has an A rating from the NRA and a 100 percent rating from both National Right to Life and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He will continue to do his best to use his experience and conservative principles to solve problems and get results for the people of Tennessee."

Carr, however, argued Alexander is out of step with Tennessee voters, saying the state needs someone who will push hard for defunding Obamacare and stand up against the Senate immigration bill, or as he called it the "amnesty bill," that passed this summer. Alexander was among 14 GOP senators who voted for the legislation, which has so far gone nowhere in the House.

Carr said he raised well over $300,000 during his congressional campaign this summer, an amount that pales in comparison to Alexander's healthy war chest of $3.1 million.

Following his public announcement on the Nashville radio station, WTN, the state representative quickly had the support of the group Tea Party Nation.

"Tennessee conservatives should unite around Joe Carr, a patriot and a great candidate," stated an email from Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation.

Meanwhile, the Senate Conservatives Fund, an independent group that backs conservatives in GOP primary bids, has not given its backing to Carr.

"We're a little concerned about Carr. If he couldn't get traction in the House race, he probably won't get traction in the Senate race either," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the group. "If Carr doesn't catch fire and a more compelling conservative enters the race, he could be the spoiler that helps re-elect Lamar Alexander. That's something we want to avoid."

The Club for Growth, another DC-based group that backs conservative candidates, says that it's watching the race. A source close to the group tells CNN that it met with Carr when the state lawmaker was considering a House bid.

Carr could run into some hot water over a report last year that he defended Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who made the controversial argument last year that women are biologically capable of preventing pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape." While the congressman, who was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri at the time, apologized for the remark, the comment spurred strong denouncement from GOP leaders who urged Akin to withdraw his candidacy. Akin stayed in the race but ultimately lost.

During the Republican National Convention in August–just weeks after Akin made the comment–Carr reportedly stood by Akin, taking a position that Akin should not drop out of the race. He also argued there was likely a scientific basis to Akin's remark, according to the Memphis Flyer. Carr, however, did not agree with the use of the term "legitimate rape."

Carr told the Tennessean back in August he was misquoted in the Memphis Flyer about the scientific argument, but maintained Akin should stay in the race.

– CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser and CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2014 • Senate • Tennessee
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    The right wing onslaught is in full effect. I sure hope that teatard knocks off McObstruction.

    August 20, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  2. California Gary

    Another main stream GOP'er coming under attack from the Tea Party.......what a surprise. This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

    August 20, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. Data Driven

    "[Lamar] will continue to do his best to use his experience and conservative principles to solve problems and get results for the people of Tennessee."

    Health ranking:
    Diabetes: 44 out of 50 states
    Smoking: 36
    Obesity: 35
    Overall ranking: 39

    Education rankings:
    4th grade math: 46 out of 50
    4th grade reading: 41
    8th grade math: 45
    8th grade reading: 41
    Overall secondary/elementary education: couldn't find it, but based on scores above, average is 43

    Yeah. "Results"

    August 20, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  4. sonny chapman

    Let the chest thumping begin.

    August 20, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Carr, however, argued Alexander is out of step with Tennessee voters, saying the state needs someone who will push hard for defunding Obamacare and stand up against the Senate immigration bill, or as he called it the "amnesty bill," that passed this summer. Alexander was among 14 GOP senators who voted for the legislation, which has so far gone nowhere in the House."

    Ah, yes. Defund "Obamacare". In a way, I feel sorry for Judson Phillips. Well, OK, not really. His 15 minutes of fame is nearly over. Throw the bums out worked in 2010. I'm not sure it's going to work to the TeaParty advantage in 2014. I might be wrong but much has happened state-wide since 2010. The TeaPers overreach has caused historic lower than low Congressional ratings. What is happening in Red State America is a wake up call for all of America. Voter rights. Women's rights. Immigration. Jobs obstruction. Sequestration and John Boehner admitting his got 90% of what he wanted through sequestration.

    2010 saw a lower than average Democratic turnout nationwide. I don't see this happening in 2014.

    August 20, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  6. Thomas

    @Data Driven
    "[Lamar] will continue to do his best to use his experience and conservative principles to solve problems and get results for the people of Tennessee."

    Health ranking:
    Diabetes: 44 out of 50 states
    Smoking: 36
    Obesity: 35
    Overall ranking: 39

    Education rankings:
    4th grade math: 46 out of 50
    4th grade reading: 41
    8th grade math: 45
    8th grade reading: 41
    Overall secondary/elementary education: couldn't find it, but based on scores above, average is 43

    Yeah. "Results"
    =========

    It's Obamas falt .
    Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander tried his best to make him a won ton president .

    August 20, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    ...and the right wing's ideological civil war continues.

    There are a few factions within the right wing: christian conservatives; libertarians; and the more moderate business-oriented neo-con wing, who have led the party for decades. So far, the "middle of the right" christian wing has been pretty quiet and appears to be sitting this one out.

    It's pretty much been the neo-con establishment versus the hard liners, and the comments you might see reflect that difference.

    August 20, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. Data Driven

    Great post, Lynda, and I hope you're right about the wake-up call. One small friendly correction, though: Boehner got ninety-EIGHT percent of what he wanted! :)

    August 20, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  9. Fair is Fair

    Lynda/Minnesota

    "2010 saw a lower than average Democratic turnout nationwide. I don't see this happening in 2014."
    ------–
    If there's wagering on that statement, I'll take some of the action on the low turnout line, and parlay double or nothing on high GOP turnout. Any takers?

    August 20, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  10. Gunderson

    Aw, Gee,
    Whole country out of step. Alexander say you start pick up after yourself. You say, i want my nanny! Nanny State, nanny State, the Nanny State is here.Old Gunderson see problem. You lazy. Pay up those insurance exchanges, now. You vote you get.

    August 20, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  11. jinx9to88

    This is how the GOP operates. Any GOP Representatives that want to come to the DEM side you have my vote. GOP eat their own when people try to do the right thing.

    August 20, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  12. Lynda/Minnesota

    "If there's wagering on that statement, I'll take some of the action on the low turnout line, and parlay double or nothing on high GOP turnout. Any takers?"

    LOL, Fair. But, no. I'm not taking the bet. I was right when I stated Minnesota would go blue for Obama, and took a lot of heat from folks on the right for my opinion right up until election day. But, a mid term? I'm hoping for a high Democratic turnout. I anticipate a high Democratic turnout.

    But, betting on it .... ?

    August 20, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  13. Al-NY,NY

    "He has an A rating from the NRA and a 100 percent rating from both National Right to Life and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "
    ----
    "guns for everyone, regardless", unwanted babies everywhere flooding the system for an already stuffed adoption system, OR unwed/unemployed mothers who are now "moochers" and "layabouts" because they need assistance, and finally "we don't need no stinkin' regulations. these companies can pollute or steal as much $ as possible"

    August 20, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  14. Gurgyl

    To progress just get rid off this old junk. If you are a patriot.

    August 20, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  15. Michael

    I just love watching them eat their own. The conservatives are a great asset to the Democratic Party. Thanks.

    August 20, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  16. Rudy NYC

    "He has an A rating from the NRA and a 100 percent rating from both National Right to Life and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "
    -------------
    The left needs to turn that "A rating" into a scarlett letter, and the rest of them, too.

    August 20, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |