- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Tennessee voters will decide today which Republican candidate to send into the fall election battle for U.S. Senate: former Gov. Lamar Alexander or U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, a conservative from west Tennessee.

The winner of the primary will face U.S. Rep. Bob Clement, who is expected to easily secure the Democratic nomination for the Senate race.

A poll conducted July 27-29 by Survey USA for WBIR, the Knoxville ABC affiliate, found Mr. Alexander with 57 percent and Mr. Bryant with 36 percent. Mr. Alexander led 56 percent to 24 percent in a poll conducted for his campaign last week.

"Lamar's folks are nervously optimistic," said one Republican strategist who supports Mr. Alexander. "No one is quite ready to call it a done deal yet, but they all think Alexander's got it."

But others say Mr. Bryant has a strong grass-roots network that will come out in force for this primary. Tennessee allows early voting, and some results will be announced early tonight.

"Polls are polls, but Bryant activates the Republican base more than Alexander, and early voter turnout is very strong," said a Tennessee Republican analyst who supports Mr. Bryant. "The base Republican vote is the Ed Bryant vote."

"We feel really good," Bryant spokesman Justin Hunter said late yesterday. "This election definitely is in play for Ed Bryant."

Both men toured the state this week, beginning in the swing areas of eastern Tennessee, and working their way west to Memphis. Mr. Bryant reminded Republicans of his strong conservative record on important issues like abortion and warned that Mr. Alexander could be vulnerable to Democratic attacks regarding his corporate dealings this fall, should he win the primary.

Mr. Alexander met mainly with auto-parts manufacturers, reminding them that he helped bring jobs to the state when he was governor and would continue that as senator.

"My priority as governor was education and jobs and my priority as senator will be education and jobs," Mr. Alexander said Tuesday at the Tennessee Technology Center in Athens.

That focus was praised by Tom Jones, owner of a Ford dealership in Athens, who said stronger education and training would help businesses like his with hiring.

"The education system in Tennessee is in need of some serious help," he said, adding that he often does not get qualified people when he advertises for workers.

Mr. Alexander said he helped bring Nissan and Saturn plants to Tennessee, and create a top-notch highway system, which in turn resulted in a boom of auto-parts manufacturers.

He told these groups he wants to take that a step further by making, "the Knoxville area the center of research and development for auto parts suppliers."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bryant told a Chattanooga-area Republican group Monday that if he becomes senator, he will likely be assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he would work hard to help the president get his judicial nominees confirmed. The issue is important to those who strongly oppose abortion.

"Mr. Bryant has a demonstrated a proven record, and we really don't have to worry where he'll be when a vote comes on pro-life nominees to the Supreme Court," said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, which endorsed Mr. Bryant.

"Who is better prepared to go to the Senate and stand for the president's common-sense agenda in an environment that is razor thin?" Mr. Bryant asked, referring to the closely divided Democratic-controlled Senate. "I believe I am."

People on the street seemed to know more about Mr. Alexander, who served as governor, U.S. education secretary and twice sought the Republican nomination for president.

"I've seen [Mr. Bryant] on TV, but I don't know him," said Bob Rollins, a farmer from Cleveland, Tenn., who was working at the Bradley County Farmers Cooperative when Mr. Bryant stopped by Monday afternoon. He added that Republican voters should think about which candidate can beat Mr. Clement.

But others said Mr. Bryant's current service as a congressman plays a role.

"I think Ed Bryant has done more and knows more of what is going on [in Washington] than Lamar does," said Geri Morrow, from Lookout Mountain.

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