Joe Carr has secured the endorsement of the chief opposition group hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, but the backing of Tennessee tea party activists is far from unanimous.
Beat Lamar, a political action committee that recently concluded a series of statewide forums to find a 2014 tea party challenger to Alexander, announced Monday that it has endorsed Carr, a conservative Republican state representative from Lascassas who announced his candidacy on the eve of candidate "vetting sessions" some tea party leaders had organized to settle on a single challenger.
The pick of Carr, however, followed a Sunday convention in Nashville among tea party organizations that showed that Carr is not a consensus pick for the right.
The Coalition for a Constitutional Senate, a separate group whose members from more than 60 Tennessee tea party organizations overlap with those of Beat Lamar, held a round of votes where it ultimately endorsed Carr over three lesser-known candidates. Carr collected only 59 percent of the vote during the first round of voting.
Other candidates considered by those who voted were Danny Page, Jerry Davis and John McDaniel. Twenty-seven groups were present, less than half the overall membership.
Still, Erik Stamper, a Sumner County tea party activist who leads the coalition, said Carr easily won more than 70 percent of the vote in the final of three rounds Sunday, which he said was the goal for gauging a consensus selection.
The results of the vote fuel skepticism about the viability of Carr's uphill challenge to Alexander and whether the state lawmaker would be able to draw unified support from tea party conservatives. Before Carr's decision to jump in the race, many tea party activists were rallying around former Williamson County Republican chairman Kevin Kookogey, who ultimately decided not to run.
Some critics wonder whether Carr can raise out-of-state PAC dollars, crucial to the viability of an insurgent campaign against the well-funded Alexander. The leader of the Washington-based Senate Conservatives Fund, for example, has already indicated it isn't likely to contribute financially to Carr.
Monday, Carr expressed confidence that PAC support would be coming later in the campaign in advance of next August's Republican primary, which he assured is "on their radar." He also said he's happy with his showing at the coalition meeting, noting that many people abstained in hopes that the vetting process would go longer.
"I'm not displeased at all," Carr said. "In fact, it exceeded myexpectations."
Michael Patrick Leahy, who heads Beat Lamar, also rejected suggestions that tea party activists are split on Carr, noting that 83 percent who filled out questionnaires at his group's forums responded that they would canvass doors on behalf of his candidacy. Another 16 percent said they might do so.
"The Beat Lamar town halls were 100 percent behind Joe Carr," Leahy said.