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Joe Carr

NASHVILLE - He didn't come right out with an endorsement, but the father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was clearly on the same page with Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Carr in back-to-back speeches Saturday before hundreds of tea party activists here.

Carr, a state representative from Lascassas who's hoping to knock off Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in the Aug. 7 primary, denounced Democratic President Barack Obama as a "tyrant."

In his own speech, Pastor Rafael Cruz, who fled Cuba decades ago, likened Obama to former Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro. Cruz's son, Texas' junior senator, is beloved by many conservatives.

And both men praised the writers of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as divinely inspired.

So it went at the "We the People Rally" sponsored by the Nashville Tea Party that drew activists from across the state.

Carr has seized on other recent contests where tea party insurgents have taken down GOP incumbents in portraying his chances against Alexander. His No. 1 example is Republican Dave Brat, who beat U.S. Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia.

But tea party-backed candidates have had mixed success this year, losing challenges to U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

And, though many Tennessee-based tea party groups are backing Carr, he has struggled to win financial support from several national groups like the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.

But the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund is getting involved in the Tennessee race. Conservative talk radio show host Laura Ingraham, who last week declared she's "all in" for Carr, is coming here Tuesday to headline a rally for him.

Besides Carr, multimillionaire Memphis physician and businessman George Flinn is also in the running for the GOP nod.

Alexander early on took seriously the threat of a challenger. He lined up endorsements from top Republican elected leaders, built a campaign war chest and buddied up at times to another tea party favorite, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on a school choice initiative and on attacking the Affordable Care Act.

On Saturday, Carr lashed out at Alexander for voting last year to cut off Sen. Cruz' filibuster aimed at defunding what Republicans call Obamacare.

"Lamar Alexander voted for cloture [ending debate], Pastor Cruz, to stand in the way of your son to defund Obamacare," Carr charged.

Rafael Cruz also attacked Obamacare, calling it "a law nobody wanted," even though a number of powerful interest groups including labor and some businesses backed it.

"What about 'we the people?'" Cruz asked. "That's what that 22-hour filibuster by my son was about. It was about 'we the people.'"

He didn't mention Alexander, and Nashville Tea Party President Ben Cunningham later said Cruz wasn't there to make an endorsement.

"That's not his role," Cunningham said. "His role, as he defines it, is to motivate people to get involved. And that's what he does."

But activist Bill Dockery, who attended, said he got the message that Cruz was making an implicit endorsement of Carr.

"He was," Dockery said. "We knew that."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.