A lot of Tennessee conservatives are hoping for a change. They want an option; a principled, limited government, free market advocate to run against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his liberal voting record in the 2014 Republican primary.
For proof, you only have to look to the Nashville Tea Party. In just a few short weeks well over 5,000 Tennesseans have signed an online petition organized by the group calling for a "true conservative candidate to oppose Lamar Alexander," and arguing that "Alexander is NOT a conservative and the people of Tennessee should have a Senator who will fight for conservative values."
A quick glance at Alexander's voting record shows that the Nashville Tea Party has a strong case to back up its assertion that the senator is a Republican in Name Only.
In the Club for Growth's Congressional Scorecard, which rewards pro-growth, limited government, free market-oriented votes, Alexander earned a paltry score of 55 percent - only six Senate Republicans ranked worse. The National Journal graded every senator based on his or her conservative votes and found that Alexander was the 39th most conservative GOP senator out of the 45 Republicans.
He again earned a score of 55 percent in the Heritage Action Scorecard of conservative votes, compared to a Senate Republican average of 72 percent. According to the rating, Alexander sponsored five of the most liberal, big government bills during this session of Congress.
Alexander's votes for the 2008 bank bailout and the 2012 fiscal cliff deal, his support of President Barack Obama's bloated $85 billion jobs bill and his frequent backing of job-killing green schemes championed by environmental extremists have left many Tennesseans searching for a better alternative. Tennessee's senior senator knows this and has been engaged in a frantic effort to scare off potential primary challengers.
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In an attempt to clear the field of other candidates, Alexander chose U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, as his campaign chairman and named Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann honorary campaign co-chairmen. By rewarding the most prominent Republicans in federal and state government with positions in his campaign, Alexander effectively eliminated his most potent challengers.
He then wasted no time collecting the endorsements of every living Tennessee Republican Party chairman, a fact that's hard to believe given how indefensible and unacceptable Alexander's voting record is to many Volunteer State Republicans. That move prevented challenges from well-known political players such as Chip Saltsman, Chris Devaney and Robin Smith.
In hopes of staving off challengers from the Tennessee General Assembly, he wined and dined Republican state lawmakers and apple-polished them with pledged to work to keep Washington out of the state's business - even though his voting record shows that he has no problem with a large and intrusive federal government.
A recent Politico article even revealed that Alexander hectored Monty Lankford, a Nashville-area Republican who ran for Congress in 2008, into deciding not to run for Senate during a recent face-to-face meeting.
Alexander makes no bones about, or apologies for, his borderline ridiculous measures to cling to his position - and the power that goes with it. "I'm running a Colin Powell military operation, which is assemble an overwhelming force, focus on a single target and have the stomach to see it all the way through to the end," Alexander told Politico. That single target, unfortunately, isn't to serve Tennesseans well. It's to continue life as a high and mighty U.S. Senator.
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Despite his best efforts to scare off potential primary challengers, however, it appears that several candidates are prepared to take Alexander on.
The two names that come up most frequently in the rumor mill are Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Glenn Jacobs, who is better known as WWE wrestling star Kane.
The Metro Pulse, Knoxville's alternative weekly newspaper, first reported that Burchett is considering a run against Alexander. As a county mayor, Burchett has amassed impressive conservative credentials, including standing firm against calls to increase Knox County property taxes.
Unfortunately, Burchett may not be able to outrun his past, which includes a messy divorce, campaign finance irregularities and some terrible votes during his dozen years in the Tennessee State Senate. He is also still viewed as a Judas by some Republicans for casting the deciding vote to keep Democrat John Wilder as the Speaker of the Senate in 2007, even though the GOP had a one-seat majority.
According to Reason magazine's website, Jacobs is "open to the possibility of considering a primary campaign against Sen. Lamar Alexander" as a libertarian-leaning Republican. Due to his fame as Kane, Jacobs has a built-in base of support. He also has proven himself a serious student of policy and a passionate advocate of limited government by co-founding the Tennessee Liberty Alliance and penning several thoughtful anti-tax pieces in recent months. Still, it's hard to know how receptive Tennessee voters will be to a pro wrestler-turned political candidate.
The fact that two legitimate candidates are considering running against Alexander provides some hope for Tennessee conservatives. One thing is for sure, Burchett, Jacobs or almost any other conservative with a pulse would be a welcomed improvement over Lamar Alexander.