Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) easily survived his Tea Party challenge on Thursday, dealing a final blow to conservative insurgents who hoped to oust a Senate incumbent this cycle.
With 19 percent of districts reporting, The Associated Press called the race for Alexander with 52 percent of the vote. His main challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, took 38 percent. Radiologist George Flinn took 6 percent, with the remainder of the vote split between several other candidates.
Speaking to supporters in Nashville, Alexander praised the huge primary turnout that helped renominate both him and Gov. Bill Haslam (R).
"In one of the largest Republican primaries in a conservative state, Tennesseans have nominated a get-it-done governor and a get-it-done senator. Both Gov. Haslam and I are conservatives. We both know how to give a pretty good conservative speech. But we also both know that our job is not over when the speech is finished. It is really just starting," said Alexander.
While some conservatives had long been eyeing a challenge to Alexander, who frustrated them with his work on the Senate bipartisan immigration bill and willingness to work across the aisle, Carr’s race never materialized.
Even Conservatives in the state were unable to settle on an alternative to Alexander. Flinn, a self-funding physician who had previously run twice for Congress, pulled support in West Tennessee. While Carr’s biggest support came from his home base in Middle Tennessee, it wasn’t enough to pull even close with Alexander statewide or to overcome the incumbent’s advantage in his native East Tennessee.
Even though Carr did emerge as the main challenger to Alexander, he was unable to compete with the incumbent’s money or his long history within the state. A former governor, secretary of Education and University of Tennessee president before being elected to the Senate in 2002, even his opponents admitted that Lamar, as he is colloquially known, is an institution.
But institution or not, Alexander never took a primary victory for granted. While he made early moves to tamp down on possible challengers, he also ran strong, especially in the race’s final days. While it wasn’t his famous walk across the state he made in his successful bid for governor in 1978 in his now-iconic plaid shirt, Alexander did embark on a cross-state bus tour for the race’s final days.
And as he sought his third term in the Senate, entering his fourth decade in Tennessee politics, Alexander was unapologetic for some of the more centrist, pragmatic stances he’s made.
“I’m not in the shut down the government crowd, I’m in the taking over the government crowd,” he told The Hill aboard his campaign bus last month.
“The difference is that there are conservatives who want to make a speech and conservatives who want to govern, and I’m in the latter category,” he continued. “Tennesseans know me as a conservative with an independent streak.”
Alexander also stressed the clout he’s built up in the Senate during his eight years. If Republicans take back control of the Senate, he's in line to chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
— This post was updated August 8 at 1:39 a.m.