WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who makes no secret of his disdain for some of the legislative tactics of the GOP's tea party wing, finds himself disliked by groups that aggressively fund tea party candidates.
But while they hold unfavorable views of the two-term Tennessee incumbent, organizations that strongly supported tea party candidates such as Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas in recent elections have yet to decide whether to help state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas. Carr is Alexander's only announced opponent in the 2014 Republican primary.
"We would love to find a replacement for Lamar Alexander," said Matt Hoskins, spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that gave $315,991 to Cruz in his 2012 race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks political dollars.
The conservative, pro-tea party group, which primarily funds challengers, leaves no doubt as to its response if Alexander were to ask for funds.
"Lamar Alexander not only doesn't need help, he won't get our help," Hoskins said. "He is not a conservative."
David Kanervo, political analyst at Austin Peay State University, said Alexander probably doesn't lose any sleep over the tea party criticism.
"Because the polls show Alexander to be in a very strong position for re-election, I don't think he is too worried about the Tea Party opposition," Kanervo said. Indeed, polls have shown him with a 3-to-1 advantage over Carr.
Alexander has spent the fall hitting on many conservative themes, especially with his aggressive criticism of the Affordable Care Act rollout and his call for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.
Bruce Oppenheimer, political scientist at Vanderbilt University, said Alexander has been strategic in laying out positions with broad conservative appeal.
"He certainly doesn't want to give conservative but non-tea party Republicans a reason to support a tea party primary challenger," Oppenheimer said. "And he doesn't have to worry about losing the support of more moderate Republicans. So articulating positions a bit to the right is sensible strategically."
Senate Conservatives Fund is one of many right-wing groups that give the 73-year-old Tennessee incumbent poor scores on their annual scorecards — where they rate how often members of Congress vote in line with the organizations on selected issues.
Alexander has denounced reliance on such scorecards and stood up to tea party criticism in a recent op-ed piece in The Tennessean. Citing the practical realities of getting the votes necessary to pass legislation, he said "you have to work with other people — that is, if you really care about solving the problem, if you really want to get a result, instead of just making a speech."
Hoskins declined to comment on whether the Senate Conservatives Fund would help Carr, saying only that his organization wants a viable primary challenger to emerge. The fund will be looking for evidence of strong grass-roots support, he said, in deciding whether to contribute to a candidate.
The Club for Growth, one of many conservative Washington groups that advocate low taxes and limited government, holds similar views on Alexander.
"Senator Alexander has an abysmal record on our issues," said Barney Keller, spokesman for the organization.
At the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, spokesman Jeff Marsch-ner said Alexander has repeatedly disappointed.
"Sen. Lamar Alexander time and again has frustrated the conservative movement and that is why Citizens United Political Victory Fund is taking a long hard look at this U.S. Senate primary," Marschner said, declining to comment further on the race.
Citizens United also helped both Paul and Cruz.
Carr promised in an interview: "I can tell you by early next year we will be more than competitive to garner the attention of whoever wants to pay attention."
Carr, who announced his Senate bid in August, trails badly in the money chase, however.
The latest Federal Election Commission reports, reflecting fundraising activity through Sept. 30, show Carr with a total of $285,507 compared with Alexander's $2.8 million.
When asked about not getting support from Washington tea party groups, Alexander's campaign focused instead on the support it gets from sources closer to home.
"We're very pleased that thousands of Tennesseans from all across the state have seen fit to support Senator Alexander's re-election," campaign manager Alice Rolli said. "This year we've raised more than $4 million and we appreciate each and every contribution."
Meanwhile, Oppenheimer and other Tennessee political observers doubt Alexander will be able to mend fences with the tea party wing, no matter how aggressive his criticism of the president.
Essentially, Oppenheimer said, the incumbent is playing a numbers game.
"A tea party candidate can't beat Alexander with just hard-core tea party support. Alexander is simply protecting against that challenger attracting other conservative Republicans."
Kanervo said the senator has found a way to counter any problems the tea party groups might pose for him.
"He has countered them by talking about his ability to really get things accomplished as opposed to spouting philosophy and shutting down the government."