(WBIR - Knoxville) Republican state representative Joe Carr of Lascassus has officially declared he will oppose incumbent Lamar Alexander in Tennessee's Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate next year.
Members of the Tea Party in Tennessee have openly sought a more conservative candidate to challenge Alexander, especially following the senator's vote in favor of the immigration reform bill.
Even if the Tea Party endorses Carr, he will have to pull a major upset to defeat a political heavyweight like Alexander whose name has become synonymous with the Republican party in Tennessee. Alexander has loomed large in the Tennessee GOP since he was elected governor in the 1970s and reelected in the 1980s. Alexander now seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate while Democrats are yet to name any main candidate to oppose him.
"I have a lot of respect for Senator Alexander," said Carr. "But Senator Alexander'srecord, especially his voting record, has departed from that of themajority of Tennesseans."
Prior to Tuesday's announcement, Carr was running for the U.S. House seat currently held by embattled Republican representative Scott DesJarlais. Carr said the switch to a run for the U.S. Senate came at the request of voters.
"We literally have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, calls, and text messages asking us to do this," said Carr. "We need somebody from Tennessee who is a principled conservative who understood the need to fight for those principles."
Carr's switch may also be motivated by the fact his pursuit of DesJarlais's seat had become a three-person race where his fundraising efforts lagged behind Republican Jim Tracy of Shelbyville.
"You have to wonder if his congressional campaign and fundraising was not going so well and that is behind him doing this switch," said Susan Richardson Williams, the former chair of the Republican Party in Tennessee and a panelist for WBIR's Inside Tennessee.
Williams expressed some belief that this could be a politically savvy move for Carr in the long-term. Ultimately, there would be less shame in challenging and losing to a powerhouse like Alexander than coming up short in a bid for the party's nomination for the U.S. House.
"If he [Carr] is able to raise money and if he is able to get out there and become a credible candidate, even if he loses he could still have a future. It could build his name recognition statewide and I suspect that is why he is doing this," said Williams. "But he faces a real uphill fight. Even among the voters who identify themselves as members of the Tea Party, a recent Vanderbilt poll showed 62 percent of them approve of Lamar Alexander."
Carr's campaign website for U.S. Senate was already up and running Tuesday morning with a bright yellow button asking visitors to "donate now." Carr will need plenty of donations to finance a realistic challenge against Alexander. Right now Carr has about $300,000 of campaign funds compared to $3.1 million of cash-on-hand in Alexander's war chest.
Lamar Alexander also has the support of fellow Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. Corker visited Knoxville and Blount County on Tuesday and expressed full support for Alexander against Carr and any other potential challengers.
"Look, Lamar is a very conservative senator. He represents Tennessee well. He brings those Tennessee values to Washington in a way that produces results. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to serve with him," said Corker.
Another name thrown around in the discussion of potential Republican challengers for Alexander's U.S. Senate seat is Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. On Tuesday, Burchett remained non-committal regarding any possible pursuit of the senate seat.
"I have not made any decisions yet," said Burchett. "I just wish Washington, D.C. would be more like Knox County where we have reduced debt and not increased taxes."