Conservative activists are pouring every last resource into Tennessee in hopes of pulling another stunning Republican primary upset, this time in Thursday’s U.S. Senate racing pitting longtime Washington insider Lamar Alexander against tea-party upstart Joe Carr.
The defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in Virginia’s Republican primary energized the conservative base in Tennessee, providing hope that perhaps Alexander could also be ripe for the picking.
While Alexander has enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls and has a huge spending advantage, his support is considered more “soft” than Carr’s and therefore more likely to stay home on election day. And the two issues Carr’s supporters are hammering Alexander on are illegal immigration and gun rights.
Alexander voted for granting a “path to citizenship” to illegal aliens in Senate Bill 744, a bill supported by President Obama and called “amnesty” by conservatives. While endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Alexander’s opponent has gained the support of Gun Owners of America, the National Association for Gun Rights and several other gun rights groups. His detractors cite his vote in favor of confirming the “gun grabbing” Eric Holder for attorney general and his voting with Democrats to allow debate on Obama’s background check bill last year, even though he ended up voting against the bill.
“What we’re doing is working. Everything ‘s almost in place that was in place against Cantor,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who has been working the phones in Tennessee for the past week along with hundreds of other volunteers.
“Lamar has the Democrat party machine bringing out votes for him in Nashville and Memphis, and he has a vote splitter in the race in Dr. George Flinn, but everybody else is stepping up to hit for us,” Gheen said.
Endorsements for Carr, a state House representative, have rolled in from Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, the Tea Party Patriot Citizen Fund, Eagle Forum and Nashville radio host Ralph Bristol, among others. Alexander, meanwhile, has the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest newspapers, including The Tennessean of Nashville.
“We have every indication that this is a close race, but The Hill, Roll Call and some other national publications are all proclaiming this race is a done deal, that the tea party has been beaten back, citing an internal poll that Lamar is up by 20 points,” Gheen said. “I’ve never seen any media treat someone’s internal poll like the gospel.”
Phil Dedrick is a native Tennessean who said he voted for Alexander for governor and in both of his previous Senate races. But now he’s volunteering his time to make phone calls for Carr.
“The Internet has saved many of us trying to find out what is really going on, because you won’t find it in the major Tennessee newspapers,” Dedrick said. “It’s bringing us together, we’re figuring it out.”
Dedrick said he supported Alexander until two years ago, when he started doing research.
“I changed my thinking because I found out anyone who votes like him, he should be running as a Democrat. It’s not only the amnesty issue here in Tennessee. That is the biggie, but there’s all sorts of things that he’s done that we don’t agree with,” he said.
“Many GOP chairs in the counties have turned against Lamar. We truly believe Carr’s going to beat him. We believe the only place he’ll win is in the big cities. It’s in the cards for Joe Carr, thanks to Sara Palin, Laura Ingraham; even Mark Levin made some good comments for him the other day.”
The race could be decided by how many uninformed voters turn out at the polls Thursday and vote for Alexander, said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, which has endorsed Carr.
“Rep. Joe Carr has got a pro-Second Amendment record, and Mr. Alexander does not, so it would be a substantial upgrade if Carr were to replace Alexander,” Pratt said. “Low-information voters will tend not to vote in primaries anyway, and I think our guys, and the conservative voter in general, may tend to be rather highly motivated, because they are not pleased with the way things have been going. Ask Eric Cantor how that works.”
Pratt acknowledged Cantor’s stunning defeat to tea party challenger David Brat “is not going to work in every race.”
But he still thinks Carr has a decent chance at pulling an upset due to the rage that many Republicans have right now about the surge at the border and the prospects for new gun restrictions in Obama’s final two years in office.
Pratt said the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, could end up being a disaster for gun owners.
His group gave Alexander a “C” rating, which, he said, “is pretty anemic for someone from Tennessee.”
When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was holding a filibuster against the debt limit and holding up Obamacare, Alexander didn’t stand with Cruz.
Obamacare has been the worst law in years in terms of its potential impact on gun owners, Pratt said.
“People’s privacy is going out the window, and people are going to be screened out,” he said. “If you had mild depression 10 years ago, that can be used against you. A guy from New York had taken some kind of mild sedation, and that was it, they just started matching his gun registration with his medical records that are now online with Obamacare.”
That brings back memories of what Pratt calls the ‘veterans disarmament act’ brought up under President George W. Bush. It was a harbinger of what’s coming under Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, which has issued reports citing veterans and constitutionalists as being among the main terrorism threats to America.
“One veteran told me he went to renew his concealed carry permit and within a week the ATF was on his doorstep asking for his guns,” Pratt said. “And that was in 2008. California also has a registration list where this is being done.”
But while Alexander can claim some conservative support on gun rights, such as the NRA, his record on immigration is even less stellar, says Gheen.
“I’m talking to people on the phone and Joe Carr is strong, whether he will be strong enough to overcome the huge spending advantage, the machine votes and a vote splitter by the time the polls close tomorrow night at 7 p.m., I don’t know. But if he does, then we will break the perception of invulnerability that the billionaire elites backing the invasion have over the Senate,” Gheen said.
“We destroyed that invincibility in the House when the miracle of defeating Eric Cantor occurred. If we can win here in Tennessee, we can win anywhere. From what I can see, there are more dirty tricks going on in Tennessee, but we need another win like this, in the battle to save America from illegal immigration. Otherwise, the message will be sent that you can stab your constituency in the back and side with Obama and still go back to D.C.”
Gheen said his volunteers will need to be reinforced in the hours leading up to the election and he’s asking for more to join the fight and make calls from their homes. As of late Wednesday afternoon, about 80 percent of potential Republican primary voters had been reached by phone.
Gheen said there are many more Republican voting households to call in Tennessee than there were in Virginia.
“We’ve covered about 80 percent of the state, and we need to reach another 15,000 people, but it’s such a huge state,” he said. “We have 221,000 Republican homes in Tennessee we’re attempting to reach as opposed to 26,000 we attempted to reach in Virginia. We’ve only been able to afford to attempt to reach 80 percent.”
Gheen said the feedback from those voters who have been reached indicates many are changing their minds.
“We get the feedback sheets, and they’re telling us these people are telling them they’re no longer going to vote for Lamar after talking to me. About half of them do not know Alexander voted for Obama’s amnesty bill, and after I explain it to them that he tried to turn illegals into voters and competition for jobs, they change their minds. So we know our calls are working, the question is can we reach enough people on this list?”
Gheen said ALIPAC can reach about 40 households for every dollar donated.
Pratt said Gun Owners of America members would like to see not just resistance to new gun control laws but a rolling back of those already in effect.
“We’d like to see rollback start to be the topic of the legislative effort,” he said. “There’s a little thing in the 1968 gun control act that distinguishes between guns suitable for sporting events and others. It’s those ‘others’ that the Second Amendment has in mind, because the Second Amendment is about trying to resist the government if it gets too far out of line. It’s to give them pause before they just gobble up what’s remaining of our freedom.”
And it’s that sort of aggressive stance that is unlikely to come from an establishment Republican like Alexander, Pratt said.
“He would probably find it embarrassing to start talking about rolling back,” Pratt said. “He would roll his eyes to the back of his head. That’s what ‘roll back’ means to him.”