Republican incumbent Alexander beats tea partiers, 6th failure to oust incumbents

Steven R. Hurst / The Associated Press
August 7, 2014 08:25 PM

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander reads quotes from his "Little Plaid Book" during a get out the vote rally Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. Alexander is being challenged by state Rep. Joe Carr and Memphis radio station owner George Flinn for his senate seat. (AP Photo, Paul Efird/Knoxville News Sentinel)

WASHINGTON - The conservative tea party movement tried and failed Thursday to knock incumbent Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander off the ballot in November's congressional elections, continuing unsuccessful attempts in five other states.

Republican Lamar Alexander became the latest U.S. senator to fend off a tea party challenge in a primary race Thursday, defeating a state senator who had used a familiar tactic in trying to cast him as an out-of-touch insider.

Alexander's win dealt another blow to national tea party momentum after the stunning primary win over Republican Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia in June.

In Tennessee, State Sen. Joe Carr had high-profile endorsements from tea party-allied figures, but he could not overcome Alexander's fundraising advantage and 40 years in Tennessee politics. Alexander rolled up an estimated 10 percentage point victory.

In heavily Republican Tennessee, Alexander is strongly favoured to win re-election in November.

Republicans stand a chance in November of recapturing the Senate majority, needing a net gain of six seats. The party is seen as having a good shot at that goal, one that would create even more headaches for President Barack Obama in the last two years of his presidency.

Also working for the Republicans is the historical fact that the party holding the White House traditionally does poorly in midterm votes.

So far this year, the argument that sitting senators have lost their connection with voters hasn't been a winner. Most recently. Pat Roberts of Kansas held off a tea party-backed challenge earlier this week.

Alexander had sought to avoid any chance Carr or Flinn could cast him as an insider by locking down key endorsements and spending the final few weeks of the campaign on a 35-stop bus tour around the state stressing his ability to get results in a divided Senate.

Alexander, 74, has served two terms as the state's governor and two terms in the Senate.

Also on the Tennessee ballot Thursday is embattled Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician from the small south Tennessee town of Jasper who won re-election in 2012 despite revelations that he once urged a patient he was dating to seek an abortion. He and state Sen. Jim Tracy were running neck and neck.

After the 2012 election, court officials released transcripts of divorce proceedings that included DesJarlais admitting under oath that he had eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his first wife during an argument.

Last year, DesJarlais was reprimanded and fined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in May for having sex with patients. But the congressman has since doubled down on his tea party credentials and has dismissed the details about his personal life as "old news." He faces state Sen. Jim Tracy, who has far outraised the incumbent.

In the state's majority black 9th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, a white and Jewish Memphis native, defeated attorney Ricky Wilkins. Wilkins, who is African-American, had sought to highlight ethnic and racial differences between Cohen and his constituents in the district, which Cohen has represented since 2006.


Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

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