NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Saturday squelched any speculation that he might not run for a third term in 2014.
Alexander appeared before the Republican State Executive Committee in Nashville with his campaign chairman, U.S. Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan, and said Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will be on his leadership team.
The move appears as a show of strength to discourage would-be serious GOP primary challengers to the 72-year-old former Tennessee governor, U.S. Education secretary and two-time presidential candidate.
"Our country has serious problems to solve," Alexander said. "We must fix the debt and move more decisions out of Washington. We must find better ways to help Americans move from the back of the line to the front in our struggling economy. It is time to stop making speeches and to start getting results."
Alexander had said he intended to run. But Saturday's announcement and speech -- as well as the release of a memo from his pollster touting his popularity -- were the first visible moves he has made.
The senator, who will turn 74 during the 2014 campaign, later was asked by reporters whether the early show of strength was designed to deter speculation and fend off would-be opponents.
"Let me answer it this way," Alexander said. "I've run enough to know that you don't take any election for granted. I'm not going to walk across the state again. But I'm going to do the next best thing. And I want everybody to know I don't take their vote for granted. I'd like to continue serving. And I'm going to do everything I can to earn the nomination of the Republican Party and [win] the general election."
He added that "maybe if I do that well, people will maybe think about running in other years. They're free to run in 2014 if they want to. But anybody who does is going to have a fight on their hands."
In the 2010 and 2012 elections, tea party-fueled candidates knocked off at least two of Alexander's colleagues in GOP primaries -- Bob Bennett of Utah in 2010 and Richard Lugar of Indiana this year.
Republicans privately suspect that Alexander may face a primary challenger from the tea party wing but don't think it will be a well-funded one.
Who Tennessee Democrats might field against him is an open question. The party drew national attention this year when a little-known anti-gay rights activist unexpectedly won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. The party disavowed him, and Corker beat him easily.
Alexander's leadership team runs the gamut from arch-conservative to more moderate. Duncan, of Knoxville, is considered one of the most conservative Republicans in the entire House.
Honorary co-chairmen are Haslam, Corker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, state House Speaker Beth Harwell and U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann.
The one noticeable exclusion was U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician whose re-election campaign was mired in controversy over scandalous revelations dating from his 2000 divorce. He admitted having sexual relationships with patients and co-workers, supporting his ex-wife's two abortions and pressing a woman he had an affair with to terminate her pregnancy.
Democrats had challenged the executive committee to bounce DesJarlais from the party. No one tried to do that Saturday.
Duncan told executive committee members the nation needs a strong and conservative GOP more "than at any time in its history."
He said Alexander "makes me proud every day."
Asked by reporters why he wants a third term, Alexander said he still wants to "bring some common sense to Washington."
"I've had pretty good experience in Tennessee getting things done. I was able to maintain my conservative principles, working across party lines and get results just as Bill Haslam has been able to do. I think we need more of that in Washington," he said.
"Exporting" the principles of Tennessee's GOP-dominated government to Washington, D.C., "wouldn't be a bad idea right now," Alexander said. "And I could be one strong voice to do that. I have experience in balancing budgets. I want to balance the federal budget."
Earlier, he told executive committee members that "my goal as a senator is to stop spending so much money in Washington that we don't have."
One member shouted "Amen!" generating a round of approving laughter.