NASHVILLE - A national political action committee that has worked to unseat Republican U.S. senators in other states' primary elections is criticizing Tennessee's Lamar Alexander and would like to see him replaced with "a strong, principled conservative," the PAC's executive director said Tuesday.
"This issue with the museum and his support for earmarks in the past is just another reason folks in Tennessee should have a choice," said Matt Hoskins of Senate Conservatives Fund. "He has a pretty liberal record - it looks a lot like a Democrat profile ... and he's been on our radar screen for a while, even before this."
The SCF news release says Alexander was "caught coordinating with a state museum on its plans to use a $44,000 traveling exhibit to promote him during his re-election campaign" after the senator "secured a $400,000 earmark for the museum in 2009."
"The fact that the museum wanted to create an exhibit like this for Sen. Alexander is not surprising," said Hoskins in the news release. "After he got them the earmark, I'm sure they felt compelled to return the favor. It's how the earmark game is played - 'you scratch my back and I will scratch your back.' But while the politicians win this game, the taxpayers lose."
The Tennessee State Museum recently canceled plans for a traveling exhibit on Alexander's tenure as governor of Tennessee after concerns were voiced about it coinciding with the senator's re-election campaign. The exhibit tour is now planned for 2015, after next year's election, with Alexander and museum officials insisting no political considerations were involved.
An Alexander spokesman has declared efforts to link the exhibit to the 2009 earmark for the museum "a silly political stretch."
SCF spent $16 million on U.S. Senate campaigns in 2012 and about half that in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group's website says it does not support incumbent senators; only challengers. It has supported both winning and losing candidates in the past, two winners last year being Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Asked in an interview who would challenge Alexander in the primary, Hoskins replied, "That's the $10 million question here."
He said that figure was not to suggest a budget for a challenger's campaign and the group is in the process of assessing the prospects for involvement in Tennessee. Hoskins said he believes Alexander would be vulnerable to an appropriate primary opponent and "the grassroots candidate doesn't have to raise as much money as the establishment candidates ... just enough to get a message out."
Hoskins said the group has been "talking to a lot of people in Tennessee," but declined to give any names of prospective candidates.