Tennessee Conservative groups have their wish -- Lamar Alexander has an official challenger.
Tennessee State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, announced Tuesday that he would be dropping his bid for the 4th District congressional race, and would instead run against the incumbent U.S. senator in the 2014 Tennessee Republican primary.
Carr’s announcement of his candidacy comes just a week after several Tennessee Tea Party and conservative groups issued an open letter to Alexander calling for his resignation from the U.S. Senate.
“While no viable contender has yet emerged, it is becoming more probable with each passing day that one will rise to the challenge. When a serious contender eventually does enter the race, the moment their fundraising capability makes them a viable candidate, your re-election is in serious jeopardy,” reads the letter.
“Therefore,” the letter continues, “we urge you to conclude your long and notable career by retiring with dignity instead of fighting against a serious conservative primary challenger who would expose to all Tennessee voters the actual history of your voting record.”
Additionally, the Tennessee Tea Party announced last week that they would be holding a series of auditions, starting Aug. 31 in Nashville, for possible candidates to run against the popular legislator. The auditions are scheduled to continue through the month of September in Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville and Johnson City.
Although he said that he plans to take part in the Tennessee Tea Party auditions, Carr said that he considers his campaign as one that will appeal to a broader conservative base, rather than just to the Tea Party.
“[Our campaign’s message] includes the Tea Party, but it includes small businessmen and women, farmers, the factory worker, the person that’s trying to educate their child in a public system that’s having difficulty, but is making improvement,” Carr said.
The decision to enter the senate race, Carr said, came about as a result of prayer, discussion with family and friends and the mounting pressure by politicians, national Conservative groups, and constituents, for him to challenge Alexander.
“I want to make it very clear, and abundantly clear, I have a lot of respect for Sen. Alexander and the service that he has given to the great state of Tennessee,” Carr said in his opening remarks. “But Sen. Alexander’s record, especially his voting record, has departed from that of the majority of Tennesseans. And I do believe he’s out of step as reflected in his votes, and the things that he supports that are dichotomous with Tennessee and their values.”
Alexander’s stance on immigration reform and defunding the Affordable Care Act, as well as several other issues, are examples of how the incumbent legislator has lost touch with Tennessee voters, Carr said.
“I would love to see the Senator take a more aggressive and proactive stance in defunding [Obamacare], and cooperate more with Sen. Lee and Sen. Cruz on the defunding mechanism,” Carr said. “I have always believed that there were several votes that he had -- he refused to decrease the corporate tax rate, he voted against it. He refused to vote against a reduction in the gas tax, and funding for those things.”
After five years of experience in the Tennessee General Assembly, Carr said that he believes his record in fighting for, and passing, tough legislation provides solid evidence that he is ready to take on the U.S. Senate.
“I think that the fact that I have authored, or co-authored, and architected, most, if not all the illegal immigration in the state of Tennessee is a great accomplishment,” Carr said. “Tennessee has some of the strongest, if not the strongest enforceable illegal immigration laws in the country.”
“I took a leadership role, along with Speaker Harwell and Chairman Sargent on the repeal of the estate – the death tax,” Carr added. “I’ve been involved in passing and architecting legislation creating jobs, whether it was the captive insurance bill, recently passed in 2011 and 2013, or, quite honestly, the distillery bill that created niche jobs for craft distilleries in the state of Tennessee. All of which required a lot of study, a lot of work, and, as some of you know, I lobby my own bills. And all of those were successful as a result.”
A statewide poll of 1,003 likely 2014 Tennessee Republican primary voters, conducted by Wenzel Strategies, a firm that has done polling for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Tea Party favorite, found that only half of the likely primary voters think that Alexander is doing a good job. The poll also found that only 30 percent of likely voters would definitely vote for Alexander in a primary, a number that dropped to 20 percent when faced with his entire voting record.
The Federal Election Commission will allow all campaign funds raised during the 4th District race to be rolled over to the Senate campaign, Carr said.
The bid for Alexander’s senate seat will be chaired by Middle Tennessee car dealership owner Lee Beaman, formerly the finance chair of Carr’s congressional campaign.
Carr declined to offer any endorsement for the 4th District race.