WASHINGTON – Thursday evening marked the last chance for the tea party to knock off an establishment incumbent and score a big win in the primaries, but conservative state Rep. Joe Carr failed to topple moderate Sen. Lamar Alexander in Tennessee.
It marks the first election cycle since 2008 in which no incumbent GOP senator lost in the primaries.
Another interesting race featured a strong comeback by Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., the pro-life, family values congressman who did not deny in 2012 to having affairs with patients, pressuring one of them to get an abortion and pressuring his ex-wife to get two abortions.
Seen as an easy target for a challenger state Sen. Jim Tracy early on, the most recent poll actually showed DesJarlais with a 25-point lead in June. With 100 percent reporting, DesJarlais and Tracy each received exactly 44.9 percent of the vote.
It wasn’t until July 13 that a direct mailer mentioned the incumbent’s scandal, and not until July 30, some 12 days after early voting began, that it was explicitly mentioned in a campaign ad.
A GOP consultant remarked, “This is a race that Tracy should easily win, and he’s not [going to] … I think it’s a toss-up.”
Fortunately for voters, as well as the candidates, the Senate race is all about issues.
Conservative activists had poured every last resource into Tennessee in hopes of pulling another stunning Republican primary upset, as Carr tried to upset longtime Washington insider Lamar Alexander.
The defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in Virginia’s Republican primary energized the conservative base in Tennessee, providing hope that Alexander would be ripe for the picking.
Carr’s supporters hammered Alexander on 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 gained the support of Gun Owners of America, the National Association for Gun Rights and several other gun rights groups. His detractors cited 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.
Endorsements for Carr, a state House representative, 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 had the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest newspapers, including the Tennessean of Nashville.
Phil Dedrick is a native Tennessean who said he voted for Alexander for governor in both of his previous Senate races. But this time around, he volunteered his time to make phone calls for Carr. 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.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, which endorsed Carr, had warned that the race could be decided by how many uninformed voters turn out at the polls Thursday and vote for Alexander.
“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 before the votes were in.
Pratt acknowledged Cantor’s stunning defeat to tea-party challenger David Brat “is not going to work in every race.”
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 stating that veterans and constitutionalists are 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 claimed some conservative support on gun rights, such as the NRA, his record on immigration was even less stellar, said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. And that’s what tripped-up Cantor.
“We destroyed that invincibility in the House when the miracle of defeating Eric Cantor occurred. From what I can see, there are more dirty tricks going on in Tennessee, but we need another win … in the battle to save America from illegal immigration,” he said. “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, as of late Wednesday afternoon, about 80 percent of potential Republican primary voters had been reached by phone.
He said the feedback from those voters who had been reached indicated many changed their minds.
“About half of them do not know Alexander voted for Obama’s amnesty bill, and after I explained it to them that he tried to turn illegals into voters and competition for jobs, they changed their minds.”