NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is seeking to bolster his credentials with conservative GOP primary voters with a new television ad highlighting him as an early critic of the Affordable Care Act who directly challenged President Barack Obama.
The two-term incumbent also announced he raised $900,000 to fend off a tea party-backed challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and Memphis physician and businessman George Flinn, who say Alexander is not conservative enough.
Alexander's 30-second spot will begin airing statewide on Sunday. Titled "Lamar Was Right," it starts with an announcer saying, "Republicans chose Tennessee's Lamar Alexander to lead."
It shows C-SPAN footage from a February 2010 White House summit with senators as the Tennessee lawmaker tells Obama, "The Congressional Budget Office report says that premiums will rise" under Obamacare.
The president replies, "This is an example of where we've got to get our facts straight."
Retorts Alexander, "That's exactly my point," with a narrator quickly saying, "Lamar was proven right."
But Alexander's two main GOP rivals in the Aug. 7 primary aren't buying it.
"It's laughable and disingenuous for Lamar Alexander to say he was 'proven right' when in reality, it was his vote that paved the way for approval of funding of Obamacare," Carr campaign manager Donald Rickard said in an email.
"If Lamar was so right on the issues," Rickard added, "why is he not willing to debate his support of amnesty for illegal aliens, higher taxes, and Common Core in front of all Tennesseans?"
Flinn said in an interview that "you can criticize [Obamacare] all you want now. ... What Tennessee wanted was a leader a leader to stand up."
"You cannot vote to cut off debate on the most important issue of our times," said Flinn.
Flinn, like the Carr campaign, was alluding to Alexander's vote in January to cut off Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster of a two-year budget deal as the Texas Republican sought to "defund" the health program.
Last year's fight over the budget resulted in a partial government shutdown, closing down many government operations, such as national parks, and resulting in some 800,000 federal workers getting furloughed.
In voting for the budget deal that resolved the shutdown, Alexander said at the time, "I've spent the last three years fighting Obamacare. I'm not in the shut-down-the-government crowd, I'm in the take-over-the-government crowd."
The answer, he argued, was electing more Republican senators and a GOP president to "delay, dismantle, repeal and replace Obamacare."
On his vote to confirm Sylvania Mathews Burwell as secretary of Health and Human Services, Alexander said earlier this year that Burwell "has a reputation for competence, and she is going to need it."
She will be overseeing "a big mess this administration has created in health care and so far has lacked the leadership to clean up," Alexander said. Republicans "know how to clean it up. We want to take our health care system in a different direction, and we need to be able to work with Ms. Burwell to do it."
Alexander's second-quarter fundraising brings his campaign war chest to $3.4 million, but Carr and Flinn say they're unperturbed.
"If money won elections, then Eric Cantor would still be House Majority Leader," Rickard said. He declined to say what Carr had raised in the second quarter.
Flinn said he didn't have his fundraising numbers at hand. Flinn, a multimillionaire, has said he will spend what he needs out of his own pocket if necessary.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.