Alexander job rating:
Lamar Alexander: 64%
Joe Carr: 22%
Lamar Alexander: 62%
Tim Burchett: 23%
Source: Alexander campaign survey of 600 likely Republican primary voters, conducted Aug. 19-22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.
NASHVILLE -- A week after the release of a poll that suggests Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander would be vulnerable to a "credible conservative" in the GOP primary next year, the Alexander campaign says its own new poll shows the Tennessee lawmaker is in a "very strong position" to fend off GOP rivals.
The Alexander campaign's survey of 600 likely Republican primary voters, conducted Aug. 19-22, showed the senator's job approval at 69 percent with 24 percent disapproval.
It also shows Alexander leading announced GOP primary challenger Joe Carr, a state representative, by 64 to 22 percent. Alexander also has a substantial lead over Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who is weighing a challenge, with 62 percent favoring the senator to 23 percent for Burchett.
A two-term senator, Alexander also led former Williamson County GOP Chairman Kevin Kookogey, a likely challenger, by 69 to 15 percent. And Brenda Lenard, an unsuccessful candidate in 2012 against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., had 16 percent compared to Alexander's 69 percent.
Alexander's poll was conducted by North Star Opinion Research with live interviewers. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, said Alexander's longtime pollster, Whit Ayres.
"It shows that Sen. Alexander remains remarkably popular all across the state and especially with Republican primary voters," Ayres said. "There is a small group of disgruntled folks. That is not at all surprising giving the current cynical climate about public officials."
Ayres acknowledged that the announced or potential candidates are relatively unknown across the state.
"But it's also interesting that Sen. Alexander's standing on the ballot [question] is pretty close to his job approval," Ayres said. "So that every one of these candidates or potential candidates is very little known and would have to raise millions upon millions of dollars to be credible [challengers to] Sen. Alexander."
Large war chest
Alexander's most recent disclosure showed him with $3 million in cash on hand. And with the support of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and most of the state's GOP establishment, Alexander, a former governor and U.S. education secretary, is poised to raise millions more.
Last week, tea party activists celebrated the release of another poll of 684 Republican voters that indicated Alexander was vulnerable to a challenge from the GOP's right wing.
The Triton Polling & Research survey poll, conducted on behalf of an unidentified client, found about 64 percent of Republican voters at least somewhat approved of Alexander's job performance.
But when asked what they would do if the primary came down to Alexander and a "credible conservative Republican opponent," 49.5 percent of respondents said they would support the challenger versus 44.9 percent for Alexander.
The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent, also asked a number of "push" questions aimed at exploring potential Alexander vulnerabilities on votes. That included an immigration overhaul, which the question characterized as "amnesty," and voting "against defunding Obamacare."
"That poll needs to be treated with a great deal of care," said John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor.
For example, Geer said, only 8.3 percent of the Triton survey respondents were ages 40 and under. He also took issue with the wording of questions such as the phrase "credible conservative Republican."
"It sets up a high expectation ... an idealized notion" of a candidate with no name, Geer said. "As soon as you begin to put a name to that, it comes down. This is the best case you can make. If they found an ideal candidate, maybe then it would be a close race."
Efforts to reach Triton Polling officials were unsuccessful Monday. While unclear who paid for the poll, national groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth have shown interest in someone challenging Alexander.
Geer said he agrees with one aspect of the Triton poll, the job approval rating. That's in sync with a May poll conducted by Vanderbilt, he said.
Tea party groups this weekend plan to kick off a series of vetting sessions of would-be candidates as they seek to coalesce around a challenger they believe can win against Alexander.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.