Sen. Lamar Alexander could be facing his toughest challenge in his 36-year political career heading into the Tennessee Republican primary next month.
The two-term senator — who also has served as governor, U.S. Secretary of Education, and has run for the White House twice — has six opponents in the Aug. 7 contest, The Hill reports
Alexander, 74, is the clear favorite, but tea party-backed state Rep. Joe Carr is seen as his strongest challenger.
Carr is pitching himself to voters as the candidate who would bring new ideas to a Washington that has changed greatly during Alexander's years of public service. He is a business consultant in Murfreesboro who was first elected to the Tennessee House in 2008.
He has been endorsed by conservative radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, who hosted a rally for him in Nashville this week, and by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"Thank you, Lamar Alexander, for the respect and integrity you’ve shown in your many years of public service in Washington," Palin began in a Facebook post
this week. "With the new challenges in D.C., the time has come for new leaders who are willing to stand up to the political establishments and the Obama administration and say, 'no mas!'
"Unfortunately, advocating and voting for amnesty, cash for clunkers, bailouts, raising the debt ceiling, and many controversial Obama administration nominees has marred the incumbent’s record.
"Joe Carr is the new voice Tennessee needs in the U.S. Senate!" the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate declared.
But Carr doesn't have strong financial backing from powerful outside super PACs, though the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund announced that it was spending $20,000 on a get-out-the-vote effort for Carr, the Tennessean reports
Without big-bucks backing, however, Carr may not be able to topple Alexander because of his strong popularity throughout the state, the Hill reports.
"He’s always had the people of Tennessee in mind, and the people know that," Fern Keasler, a resident of Maryville and a longtime Alexander supporter, told the Hill. "It’s going to take more than Joe Carr or anybody else to beat him. Lamar don’t need the job, the job needs Lamar."
But Jamie Daly, who’s running for the Blount County Commission, doesn't see it that way.
"He started out OK, but in the last 10 years he seems to be like one of the good ol' boys," she told the Hill. "He just votes whatever is good for him. He’s not voting for values that are important to Tennessee."
For his part, Alexander cast himself as a "conservative with an independent streak," the Hill reports.
"The difference is that there are conservatives who want to make a speech and conservatives who want to govern, and I’m in the latter category."
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