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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander Dominates in Tennessee’s Primary

By Lauren Camera — August 07, 2014 2 min read
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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., easily defeated tea party challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, Thursday in the Volunteer State’s primary election.

The race was called at 9:35 p.m. by the Associated Press, when Alexander led Carr 52 percent to 37 percent, with 20 percent of precincts reporting.

[UPDATE (10:30 P.M.): “Tonight, Tennessee voters nominated a get-it-done Republican governor and a get-it-done Republican senator, and let me tell you what I mean by that,” Alexander said in his victory speech. “What I mean by that is that both Governor [Bill] Haslam and I are Republican conservatives and both of us can make a pretty good conservative speech. But both of us know that when we finish our speech, we’re not done. In fact we ought to just be started to work together with others to try to solve the problems facing our country. That’s how Tennessee has led the country in academic achievement, in the lowest amount of debt, and in bringing new auto jobs to state in the absence of that kind of get-it-done leadership in Washington.”]

Alexander, who’s served in the Senate for two terms, was one of several GOP incumbents to beat back tea party challengers running to their far right in advance of the mid-term elections.

The seventh-generation Tennessean has been a fixture of state and national politics, as well as a leader in education policy, having served as Tennessee governor for two terms, as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, and as president of the University of Tennessee system. After first being elected to the Senate in 2002, he rose quickly to the No. 3 leadership position before stepping down last year in order to focus on issues like education, where he considered there to be a foundation for bipartisan compromise.

[UPDATE: (10:30 p.m.): He echoed those sentiments in his victory speech Thursday night: “What I hope to do in an new term in Washington, is more of what I tried to do as governor [of Tennessee] and what Governor [Bill] Haslam does here, which is recognize that if we want to change Obamacare, we’re going to have to pass something,” Alexander said. “If we want to fix the debt, we’re going to have to pass something. And to do that we’re going to have to work with other people to get it done. I want to take Tennessee’s get-it-done kind of leadership and put in the United States Senate and move our country.”]

Alexander’s pragmatic qualities, however, are what fueled the campaign of his closest primary challenger. (Alexander also beat out five other Republican rivals.)

Carr, who was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, focused much of his campaign on immigration and the fact that Alexander was one of 14 GOP senators to back the comprehensive immigration reform bill that cleared the chamber last year.

The tea party strategy of attacking incumbents on their record of working across the aisle was a popular trend this primary season. While most incumbents eked out wins over their more conservative GOP challengers, there were some notable losses, the most famous of which was that of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who lost his re-election bid to David Brat, a little-known college professor, last month.

With just three months left to the mid-term election, Tennessee’s Senate seat is safely Republican, and Alexander shouldn’t have a difficult campaign against Gordon Ball, his Democratic opponent who edged out a victory late Thursday night as the state’s Democratic primary results trickled in.