(CNN) – Longtime GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander easily won the Tennessee Republican primary Thursday, defeating tea party backed candidate state Rep. Joe Carr.
With nearly all precincts accounted for, Alexander held off Carr with just under 50% of the vote while Carr received just over 40%, according to the Associated Press.
The Republican primary was the tea party's last chance - albeit a distant one - to beat an establishment incumbent this election year.
Despite picking up endorsements from conservative powerhouse Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Nation, it was an uphill battle for Carr, who trailed the two-term senator in the polls.
Alexander thanked Carr and the other candidates from his campaign headquarters Thursday night and quickly turned the focus to November’s election.
“Those who voted in the Republican primary wanted to send a different sort of message, a message to President Obama that we're not happy. We're very disappointed in the direction of our country and we're hopeful of having after November a new Republican majority in the United States Senate to lead our country in a different direction.”
Carr pegged campaign on immigration
Carr had staked his campaign largely on Alexander's stance on immigration, slamming the two-term senator's vote last year for the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill - legislation that ultimately stalled in the House.
Alexander was among 14 GOP senators who voted for the comprehensive bill that Carr contends amounts to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
The issue of immigration is back into the national spotlight as a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, flooding emergency facilities and igniting a debate in Washington over what to do with the latest influx of immigrants.
As Congress and the White House lock horns over the border crisis, Alexander, known as a lawmaker willing to work with Democrats to broker bipartisan deals, recently aligned himself with tea party star and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the issue.
Alexander's campaign hadn't taken any chances from the beginning, running campaign ads as early as last July before he had any primary challengers.
Carr had also made a push for defunding Obamacare, as well as arguing Alexander is out of step with Tennessee voters.
The state representative was originally planning to challenge Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee's 4th U.S. Congressional District, but dropped his bid in order to take on Alexander.
Tea party wins sparked hope for Carr
Carr's campaign received a jolt of enthusiasm after little-known professor David Brat upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this year in Virginia's GOP primary.
Then, longtime Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi was forced into a runoff against tea party challenger Chris McDaniel after initial primary results were too close to call. Cochran narrowly beat McDaniel in the runoff but the challenger's campaign is contesting those results.
"Make no mistake about it - the fight that Chris McDaniel started in Mississippi will continue here in Tennessee," Carr said after the Mississippi runoff.
But unlike McDaniel, polls indicated Carr was the distinct underdog to Alexander. And, aside from the ongoing vote battle in Mississippi and Brat's unexpected victory over Cantor, the establishment wing of the Republican Party has come away from this election cycle relatively unscathed.
Five other lesser known candidates were competing in Thursday's GOP contest in Tennessee, a factor Alexander benefits from as grassroots support is divided behind his leading challenger.
Alexander will go on to face one of four Democrats and a series of third party candidates in November's general election, though the seat is considered a safe bet for Republicans.
CNN's Ashley Killough, Paul Steinhauser, and Jonathan Helman contributed to this report.