Primary battles in Tennessee tend to be very heated affairs. This is not entirely due to the fact that Tennessee holds its primaries in the first week of August as the temperature and humidity sail north of 90 degrees in many parts of the state.
While Tennessee’s primary is late compared to many others, what is really surprising is that no one is talking about the Senate primary.
Lamar Alexander is running for his third term as senator from Tennessee. Alexander is almost a political legend in Tennessee. He was twice elected governor. He ran for president twice. He was George H.W. Bush’s secretary of education.
Alexander has amazing, if not almost universal, name recognition throughout Tennessee.
Yet he could be the senator the tea party knocks off this year.
Earlier this week, Tea Party Nation and Triton polling conducted a survey of likely Republican voters in Tennessee. The results were stunning.
That’s not the important number to look at.
Lamar Alexander is the best-known Tennessee politician since Howard Baker. He is certainly the most well-known Tennessee politician of the last quarter century.
He is a Republican institution and he is polling at less than 50 percent.
For politicians, those kind of numbers are red alerts. Any time an incumbent is under 50 percent, they are in a lot of trouble. Alexander is not only below 50 percent, he is significantly below 50 percent.
In the poll, 27 percent of likely Republican voters said they were undecided.
In an average race, that number might be interesting. In this race it is a devastating figure. More than a quarter of likely Republican voters are undecided when the race involves the most well-known Republican politician in the state in the last quarter century.
For Carr, the opportunity is there. Carr is a state legislator who has the backing of state tea party groups. Last year, those groups gathered and vetted potential candidates. This was a three-month-long process, and when it was finished, they voted to support Joe Carr.
Tennessee had a tradition of sending moderate Republicans to Washington. Howard Baker was one. So was Lamar Alexander. In the last decade, Tennessee has shifted. Ten years ago, the Democrats controlled the state house and both the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Today, Tennessee has a Republican governor and Republican super-majorities in both houses of the legislature. In 2012, the Democrats could not even get a credible challenger for the general election against Sen. Bob Corker.
Alexander remains a moderate in an increasingly conservative state. His detractors argue that he votes more with Barack Obama than he does with the people of Tennessee.
This race for the most part has flown under the radar. None of the national groups so far has spent money in Tennessee. That may change as the primary race gets closer.