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Joe Carr

NASHVILLE - State Rep. Joe Carr says U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning loss in his Virginia GOP primary election this week provides ample evidence that his own underdog tea party-fueled challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in the Republican primary can succeed.

In fact, Carr said in a CNBC interview on Wednesday, "I think Sen. Alexander has a similar problem that Leader Cantor had in that he's out of touch with his Republican base in Tennessee."

Carr faces Alexander in the Aug. 7 Republican primary. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Cantor made national news after losing his GOP primary bid to Dave Brat, a tea party insurgent who attacked Cantor on immigration issues.

Carr immediately sought to draw parallels between himself and Brat, saying that as a state House member he has been the "architect and author of some of the strongest illegal immigration bills in Tennessee."

"The problem Lamar Alexander has and so many of the establishment Republicans have, they are taking themselves away or are detracting from what the Republican National Committee platform in 2012 ... when it says no amnesty at all for illegal immigrants," Carr said.

He accused Alexander of "running away from the Republican platform and its conservatives in the tea party trying to embrace that Republican National Committee platform saying we need to be a country of laws where lawful citizens are welcome, but those who gained unlawful entry cannot come."

Alexander, who is seeking a third Senate term, voted last year for immigration overhaul. At the time Alexander said it was because it included an amendment by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that required beefing up U.S. border protection and doubling Border Patrol agents before other provisions took effect.

"It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president to fix our broken immigration system," Alexander said at the time. "Sen. Corker's amendment dramatically strengthens border security. The bill ends de facto amnesty and creates a system of legal immigration."

The bill has gone nowhere in the House.

Alexander campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said his boss "is doing what he's always done: staying connected with Tennessee and being the best senator he can possibly be."

One of the problems Cantor had, analysts have said, is that he had gotten out of touch with his district, thinking he had no serious challenge and focusing more on becoming the House's next speaker than his own re-election.

Alexander, meanwhile, took the possibility of a challenge seriously all along after watching colleagues toppled in 2010 and 2012 by tea party-fueled insurgencies. He began fundraising early, stepped up his in-state appearances, announced early and also lined up endorsements from the state's Republican members of Congress, as well as former state GOP party chairmen.

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina took many of the same actions. The senator, whom national observers initially thought could lose his re-election bid to tea party challengers, easily bested his rivals with more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday.

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