Republican state Rep. Joe Carr brought his challenge of incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander to Memphis Saturday, Sept. 7, in the latest of a series of closed meetings with tea party partisans that amount to a tea party primary.
Tea party activists met Saturday to hear from Republican state Rep. Joe Carr, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
(Daily News/Bill Dries)
Several dozen tea party partisans gathered in East Memphis to hear Carr, question him and then take part in a straw poll to determine who they might support in the 2014 elections as a challenger to Alexander.
“I am a viable principled conservative candidate who believes in those first principles of personal responsibility, individual liberty and free markets,” Carr said before the session as he talked of being a “conservative alternative to Lamar Alexander.”
For Carr it was the second of five similar sessions across the state and as of last week, Carr was the only declared challenger Alexander has in the August 2014 Republican Senate primary.
Kevin Kookogey, the former chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, announced Sept. 4 that he would not make the primary next year. Kookogey said he didn’t want to divide the tea party vote among several Alexander rivals.
“My task is the same,” Carr said when asked about Kookogey’s exit. “My challenge is to go throughout the state, introduce myself to the citizenry of Tennessee and explain to them my passion and love for not only their community but our state and our country based on those core principles that are found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
Carr announced in August that he would challenge Alexander in the GOP primary after he had started to put together the campaign machinery to mount an intra-party challenge of Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, also of Williamson County.
When Carr announced he would instead challenge Alexander, he lost some of those in his organization including former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chip Saltsman.
Carr contends Alexander is too close ideologically to President Barack Obama.
Tea party activists talked in 2012 of mounting a similar challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker along similar ideological lines, but Corker easily won re-election.
Alexander is already campaigning for re-election and touting the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a “champion of our party’s principles of limited government and fiscal conservatism.”
Huckabee carried Shelby County and the state in the 2008 Tennessee Republican presidential primary.
In July, Alexander hosted Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in a tour of a Nashville charter school and forum on school choice. That same month, Alexander said he would vote against Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as U.S. secretary of labor.
In August, Alexander was one of 39 Republican senators who called on the White House to explain the involvement of 21 or more federal agencies in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act whom he and the other senators said were “agencies with no responsibilities” under the health care reform law.
Carr concedes that to upset Alexander, a former governor and president of the University of Tennessee as well as a former U.S. secretary of education, he has to do more than tell voters he is not Alexander.
“It’s not enough to be against everything or against most things,” Carr said Saturday. “You have to plan a vision and plan for not only why Lamar’s voting record doesn’t reflect Tennesseans any longer but what would you do as a United States senator that would be dramatically different and create greater opportunities for the citizens of Tennessee.”
Tennessee’s two Republican senators work in a chamber that is majority Democratic, another reality Carr said he can operate within.
“It does not involve compromising principles. It means, though, sometimes you take what you can get without compromising principles,” Carr said. “Lamar doesn’t have a clear understanding about what the principles are that Tennesseans value. Tennesseans value personal responsibility, individual liberty and free markets. … We value those things that are ingrained in us from our founding documents.”
Carr spoke in Memphis as Democrats from across the state gathered Saturday for the state party’s annual Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville.
The Nashville event was a milestone in the effort to draft Memphian Sara Kyle to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in the 2014 governor’s race. Backers of the draft Kyle movement in Shelby County and other counties were raising money to get college-age Democrats to the event and encourage them to become involved in a Kyle candidacy.
Kyle, who is one of only two women who have ever won a statewide election in Tennessee, has not announced her intentions or set a deadline to make her decision.