Tea Party's last chance: Can it topple Lamar Alexander today?

Sen. Lamar Alexander is expected to beat his primary challenger today. But here's why you shouldn't ignore it

Published August 7, 2014 11:44AM (EDT)

Lamar Alexander       (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Lamar Alexander (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Sen. Lamar Alexander's head would fit in perfectly on the Tea Party wall -- really tie the whole room together. He represents all things vague and specific that the right deplores.

He is 74 years old. Tea Partyers, who themselves are very old, despise old legislators. They see them as too comfortably ensconced in the Beltway establishment, and so forth, and would prefer that they be replaced with 40-something whackadoodle radio host types who pledge to go to Washington and literally pick fistfights all day.

Lamar Alexander has been in politics for a long time. This correlates with the aforementioned fact that he is old. He is a former two-term governor of Tennessee, Cabinet member under the George H.W. Bush administration, and two-time presidential candidate. Oh, and of course now he wants a third term as United States senator. This sort of accumulation of experience and seniority that might better allow him to serve the interests of Tennessee, to some, means that he's calcified and must go.

And then, of course, there was The Vote. Lamar Alexander was one of 14 amnesty-loving traitor Republicans to vote for the Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration reform legislation last year. Other senators like Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts didn't vote for it, but still faced Tea Party challengers who accused them of probably secretly loving amnesty anyway. And Lamar Alexander actually voted for it -- a pretty "gutsy" decision considering he knew he had an election coming up.

Alexander's primary is today, on a Thursday, for some reason. His main challenger is a state representative named Joe Carr, a constitutional conservative type who loves guns and hates amnesty and so forth. He's running a next-gen race (as in one that's maybe illegal) in which a super PAC supporting him is more or less masquerading as his official campaign.

As has been the strange case all year, pollsters are ignoring this potentially interesting race. The only recent poll is from late July and shows Alexander with a 12-point advantage over Carr. Alexander's internal polling gives him a lead of about 30 points, but you know what they say about internal polling. (What they say about internal polling is that internal polling is frequently bullshit.) Alexander has also raised about five times as much as Carr.

So: bad/no polling. Good internal polling from Alexander. Outspent by an enormous amount. Little attention paid to the race. All of which is to say ... the stars are aligning for Alexander to get Cantor'd! Maybe! Because guess who else is in Carr's corner? Laura Ingraham, the anti-immigration talker and reigning kingmaker of GOP politics. Ingraham has voiced her support for Carr and appeared at a rally for him. And the Alexander primary is coming just late enough in the season for anti-amnesty fever to be at an all-time high within the Republican Party.

There have been a few surprise election nights already this year. Cantor's defeat, of course, was a world-historical shocker. Thad Cochran's comeback against Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi Senate runoff also crept up unsuspectingly. And all indications suggested that Jack Kingston would fend off David Perdue in Georgia's Senate runoff. And yet even with these upsets, the far right has yet to knock off an incumbent senator in a primary challenge. Well, today's their last shot. Make it count, Tea Party friends!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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