Newspaper article Roll Call

How Lamar Alexander Staved off His Primary Challenger

Newspaper article Roll Call

How Lamar Alexander Staved off His Primary Challenger

Article excerpt

Conservatives have poured millions into primary challenges to senators this cycle, even in races where chances of success were slim.

But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has proved one of the greatest exceptions, and now he's poised to defeated state Rep. Joe Carr and several lesser-known challengers in the Aug. 7 GOP primary.

So how did Alexander avoid the fate of many of his colleagues?

"I mean, on my letter head are most of the people who could run against me and most of the people who could manage a campaign against me, so I have that kind of support from the beginning," Alexander told CQ Roll Call in an interview in his Washington, D.C. office.

The Senator made clear he would seek re-election early on, and, in December 2012, announced support from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the state's entire congressional delegation, barring scandal- tarred Rep. Scott DesJarlais. He also had the backing every living former Tennessee GOP chairman.

Alexander also explained he raised formidable from the start of the cycle -- a deterrent to any potential challengers. In April of 2013, for example, he raised $1 million, which he added to the $1 million he already had in his campaign coffers.

In the last two cycles, conservatives successfully ended the careers of Sen. Richard G. Lugar and Sen. Robert F. Bennett. They've so far failed to oust an incumbent senator this cycle, though Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., only narrowly won his party's nod in June.

Alexander said he was careful not to repeat the mistakes of his former colleagues.

"I think those races where my colleagues were unsuccessful reminded me of what I already knew, which is when you run for re- election, you start over from scratch, and you work your way back up again," he said. "You don't just step over from one term to another term."

Alexander has also tended to his home state, unlike some of those now-former colleagues. The efforts appear to have served Alexander well: an internal poll released by his campaign last week showed him at 53 percent, 29 points ahead of Carr.

But the poll also showed another Alexander strength: His greatest support is in Eastern Tennessee, his home, also the part of the state that historically has the most Republican primary votes.

"Over the last 12 years I've spent more nights in Tennessee than I have in Washington," Alexander said, sitting in his office amidst artifacts curated from the Museum of Appalachia. "Most people who get in trouble in politics usually get in trouble because they're disconnected from the people they serve, and I don't think anybody in Tennessee, even people who won't vote for me, would accuse me of that."

Conservative groups aren't helping Carr, either. According to figures from Open Secrets, only $256,000 in outside money has been spent against Alexander this cycle. …

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