Republican opponents of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's re-election bid are complaining that the Tennessee Republican Party broke its own rules with an implicit endorsement of the senior senator in a fundraising letter.
But executive director Brent Leatherwood said the language was a vendor error and that Chairman Chris Devaney has spoken with Alexander's challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, to explain the mistake.
A website called Tennessee Fully Exposed has posted a copy of a letter dated Aug. 30 and signed by Devaney that appeals to Republicans to donate to the state party to help win a majority in the U.S. Senate. The letter does not mention Carr or the primary, but it appears to assume that Alexander will carry the party's nomination in next year's general election.
"GOP control of the U.S. Senate is in reach," the letter reads. "With Tennessee's Lamar Alexander on the ballot, we have the chance to help put Republicans in control of that chamber, too. And, with all of Congress under GOP leadership, we can bottle up the Obama agenda."
Since its posting, the letter has created a buzz among Republicans, with some calling for Devaney's resignation. They say he has seriously breached party bylaws, which prohibit party officials from taking sides in a primary.
Leatherwood said the wording resulted from a mix-up between the party and Steve Brown Direct Marketing, the Tallahassee, Fla.-based vendor who sent out the letter. TNGOP officials sent SBDM the wording on July 31, weeks before Carr made the surprise announcement on Aug. 20 that he would run for Senate.
It should have been corrected before going out, Leatherwood said, but no endorsement was intended. Leatherwood backed his explanation by releasing a statement from SBDM that he said also had been provided to the website.
"As the Tennessee Republican Party's mail vendor," the statement said, "we routinely work with the TNGOP to approve letters for prospective donors. The letter in question was approved July 31st — well before there was any formally announced opposition to Senator Alexander. The letter was meant to attract new donors, and has been very successful at doing so, and should not be viewed as an endorsement."