In the wake of a tea party push to oust Washington incumbents, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is getting primary support from a few big names from the conservative establishment.
Former House speaker, presidential primary candidate and political pundit Newt Gingrich aligned behind Alexander on Thursday, helping the senator defend his seat against tea party favorite state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas.
After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's June 10 loss to political newcomer David Brat in Virginia, tea party candidates have been energized.
The momentum sent tea party pick Chris McDaniel to a surprise runoff against longtime Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, although McDaniel was unsuccessful. And Carr has launched a campaign assault on Alexander in recent weeks. Tea party candidates in Kansas and New York also are hoping to ride the wave.
Gingrich said in a phone interview Thursday he was supporting Alexander because of the senator's potential position to lead the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- despite Carr supporting Gingrich during his 2012 presidential primary bid.
"I'm very honored to have had support in the past, but I also think you have to look at this particular race and see who can help Tennessee the most, and who can serve the country the most," Gingrich said. "I don't know anybody who has the experience Lamar has."
With Alexander's potential chairmanship, he will be in a better position to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- also known as Obamacare -- and guide national education policies, Gingrich said.
Carr was one of 34 national delegates supporting Gingrich in Tennessee during his 2012 presidential primary bid.
Carr's campaign manager, Donald Rickard, had few words about Gingrich's move.
"At least Newt got it half right today -- he is correct that Lamar's vote for amnesty was a mistake," Rickard said in an emailed statement.
Gingrich said he doesn't agree with every decision Alexander makes, but he agrees with most of them.
"You are never going to agree 100 percent of the time; that's true with any endorsement," he said.
The endorsement came a day after Alexander got a vote of support from former Ronald Reagan economist Art Laffer.
In a string of statements and news releases -- and his first TV ad -- this week, Carr has criticized Alexander over his stance on immigration reform and a federal gas tax.
Alexander, first elected to the Senate in 2002, was Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987 and served as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6481.