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Tennesseans have a lukewarm opinion of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, but they don't know enough to have an opinion about his opponents in the Aug. 7 Republican primary.

Less than half of the state's registered voters say they like the job Alexander is doing as senator, a potentially troubling sign for his bid for a third term. But even larger portions say they have never heard of his most serious Republican foe, state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas, who has raised $866,383 and spent $393,235 on his Senate campaign.

"Sen. Alexander has a very comfortable lead," said John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.

Alexander's approval rate remained at 49 percent for the second consecutive Vanderbilt poll, a threshold that can indicate an incumbent politician is unlikely to win re-election.

But Alexander's standing among Republicans who plan to vote in the August primary was higher. Sixty-four percent said they approve of the senator, compared to 20 percent who like Carr, who has represented a portion of Rutherford County in the state House of Representatives since 2008.

Overall, 53 percent of the state's registered voters said they'd never heard of Carr, while an additional 17 percent said they don't know enough about him.

Another opponent, Memphis physician George Flinn, was no better known. Fifty-one percent of voters said they had heard of Flinn, who ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and lost, while 18 percent said they don't know enough to have an opinion.

John Jay Hooker might have a better shot in the GOP primary than Carr or Flinn, other results suggest. The Nashville attorney, who has run twice for governor as a Democrat and is running for governor this year as an independent, was recognized by all but 36 percent of Republican voters, said Geer.

The poll

Princeton Survey Research Associates polled 1,505 Tennessee residents over 18 years of age, including 1,245 registered voters, on behalf of Vanderbilt University's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The poll was taken April 28-May 14 by landline telephone and cell phone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Please tell me whether you have a generally favorable or unfavorable impression of:

Lamar Alexander

  • Favorable, 54%
  • Unfavorable, 32%
  • Never heard of him/no opinion, 14%

Joe Carr

  • Favorable, 17%
  • Unfavorable, 13%
  • Never heard of him/no opinion, 70%

George Flinn

  • Favorable, 17%
  • Unfavorable, 14%
  • Never heard of him/no opinion, 69%

Source: Vanderbilt University poll

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