- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

NASHVILLE — The winners of the U.S. Senate primaries in Tennessee on Thursday have set the battleground for their fall campaign, a key factor in the battle for control of the Senate.
Former Gov. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Bob Clement have agreed in a personal conversation to hold a series of debates in their November contest. Mr. Clement told The Washington Times that he will raise questions about Mr. Alexander's business dealings throughout his career as a public officeholder.
"I think people have the right to know about any appearances of conflicts of interests or actual conflicts of interest," Mr. Clement said in a telephone conversation. He would not give specifics, saying, "This is a long campaign."
Mr. Alexander said that, among other issues, he wants to talk about whether to invade Iraq, how best to provide prescription drug coverage to seniors and how to improve schools. He said he hopes the debates will "focus us on the issues and take us away" from mudslinging.
President Bush called Mr. Alexander on Friday, pledging to help him win the election and keep the seat now held by the retiring Sen. Fred Thompson in Republican hands, Alexander spokesman Josh Holly said. The Democrats now hold a 50-49 edge in the Senate, and Republicans cannot afford to lose any seats they hold.
"Tennesseans know this race is vital to help Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate," said Beth Harwell, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. "They want a candidate they know will help the president, and that's Lamar Alexander."
Mr. Alexander warned conservatives that the most important difference between the two men is that Mr. Clement will "pick up Fred Thompson's desk and carry it over to the Democrat side" of the Senate.
The Republican candidate enters the general election race with wide name-recognition across the state because he served two terms as governor and as U.S. secretary of education in the first Bush administration and twice failed to win the GOP presidential nomination.
But Mr. Clement said he is the one starting out with the edge because the Republican Party has been divided by a bruising primary."I don't think they can put those pieces back together again," he said in a phone interview Friday.
Mr. Clement easily secured the Democratic nomination, but Mr. Alexander had to win a tough fight against U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant for the Republican nomination. On Thursday night, however, after Mr. Alexander defeated Mr. Bryant by 54 percent to 43 percent, Mr. Bryant urged his despondent supporters to back the Republican nominee.
"We're all going to get behind Lamar Alexander and make sure that he gets elected," he said. "You all know how important it is to the president, to this country that we regain control of the Senate."
Although Mr. Clement would not discuss in detail what conflicts of interest he believes Mr. Alexander has had, Robert Gibbs, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said one question is, "how Lamar Alexander became a governor and millionaire all in the same term."
Earlier in the week, Mr. Alexander dismissed those potential accusations as "preposterous" and noted that the U.S. Senate reviewed his entire career before confirming his nomination as U.S. secretary of education.
Mr. Clement said the issue of corporate accountability in general would be an important one for him.
"I'm going to fight for the men and women who don't get sweetheart deals, who don't enrich themselves at the expense of the workers and the stockholders," he said Friday. He criticized Mr. Alexander for not taking a tougher stance against crooked CEOs.
Mr. Alexander led Mr. Clement 51 percent to 38 percent in a poll of 600 likely voters taken July 30, before the primaries, by Voter Consumer Research, on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The NRSC touted the numbers in a memo released Friday, which read, "Lamar emerges from the primary in great shape heading into the final 95 days. He is well known and highly admired."
But Mr. Gibbs of the Democratic Senate committee said those numbers should be taken "with a grain of salt," noting that Mr. Alexander also was predicted to run away with the Republican nomination, which did not happen.
Mr. Alexander said he will continue his focus on jobs and education as he campaigns. He repeatedly has noted that he helped bring auto plants and a top-notch highway system to Tennessee while he was governor, which in turn led to a boom of auto parts manufacturers.
The former governor said he will continue to fight for more jobs as senator and criticized Mr. Clement for recently voting against extending trade promotion authority to the president.
Both men support a prescription-drug benefit for seniors but will clash over how much money to spend on it and whether the government or private sector should craft and deliver the benefits.
The two former college presidents also will discuss differing views on education, Mr. Alexander said. The Republican candidates said he wants more local control of education and said Mr. Clement has voted against this issue.
Mr. Clement responded that he has always thought "federal dollars are important and that education is predominantly a state and local issue."
The two wasted no time in hitting the campaign trail. Mr. Clement on Friday launched a weeklong bus tour across state, where he will stump on the economy, homeland security and Social Security.
Mr. Alexander hit Johnson City, Memphis and Nashville on Friday and plans to fly around the state tomorrow.
As of July 12, Mr. Alexander had raised $1.8 million and had a little less than $500,000 in the bank. Mr. Clement had $1.5 million in the bank as of the same date, according to his staff.


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