- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

A television ad making fun of former Gov. Lamar Alexander's trademark red-and-black plaid shirt is the latest sign of an increasingly hard-fought Republican primary in Tennessee's Senate race.
Rep. Ed Bryant's campaign began airing an advertisement June 21 urging Tennesseans to vote for "a solid conservative," not a "plaid" candidate.
Mr. Alexander made his plaid flannel shirts a symbol when he walked across Tennessee in the late 1970s after being elected governor of the state. After serving as secretary of education in the first Bush administration, he revived the plaid shirt theme for his 1996 presidential primary campaign, when he walked across New Hampshire.
Mr. Bryant, who has consistently touted himself as the true conservative in the race, introduces himself in the new television ad as "the one without the plaid shirt" and goes on to cite his "solid" conservative credentials.
"I believe Tennessee is ready for new leadership solid, conservative leadership that won't change," Mr. Bryant says in the ad.
"Now he's gone too far. He's on TV, attacking my shirt," Mr. Alexander shot back in a radio ad that began June 25. "I think he's made a big mistake. Most East Tennesseans associate that shirt with good times that made us all proud."
Mr. Alexander's camp also debuted its own television ad June 25, accusing Mr. Bryant of using public money to pay for his car lease. "Congressman Ed Bryant has been busy spending our tax money on his car lease," says an announcer in the ad, which depicts a red luxury car.
Bryant campaign manager Justin Hunter called the ad "very misleading." He said Mr. Bryant used part of his congressional budget to lease a white minivan for his official business as a congressman a perfectly proper, legal act, which many congressmen do, Mr. Hunter said.
Bryant supporters say the attack ad shows that Mr. Alexander, the nationally known front-runner, is worried that the race to fill retiring Republican Sen. Fred Thompson's seat is getting tighter as the Aug. 1 primary nears.
The Bryant campaign released its own polling numbers July 3 that showed Mr. Bryant having closed to within 12 percentage points among likely Republican primary voters, with 37 percent to Mr. Alexander's 49 percent. The Bryant press release read: "Solid's gaining & plaid's fading."
"Now we know why Lamar Alexander is on the air with negative, misleading television commercials attacking Ed Bryant," Mr. Hunter said.
Mr. Alexander's pollster, Whit Ayres, dismissed the latest Bryant numbers. "We're not showing the race anywhere near that close," Mr. Ayres said. A new independent poll is expected this week.
Meanwhile, the other senator from Tennessee, Bill Frist, a Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters June 26 he would like the two Republican candidates to stick to the issues more.
One Republican strategist said a tough primary fight may give Democrats an advantage in the fall. "If Bryant or Lamar makes the other guy's supporters angry enough, maybe they'll stay home in November," the strategist said.
Mr. Ayres was not worried. "I can assure you, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Republicans will unite around their nominee," he said. "I can't imagine Republicans breaking into factions when control of the Senate is at stake."
Alexander campaign officials say they are getting close to their fund-raising goal of $2 million, while Mr. Hunter estimated the Bryant campaign has raised about $1.4 million.
Democrats are enjoying the bickering between the two Republicans.
"We certainly get the benefit of being able to sit back and watch the Republicans beat each other up," said Robert Gibbs, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We get the opportunity to sit back, talk about the issues, marshal our resources and wait."
Rep. Bob Clement faces no major competitor in the Democratic Senate primary. Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Clement has been traveling the state, "talking about prescription drugs, homeland security and issues that are really of concern and not whether you like a blue or plaid shirt."
The Republican strategist said a low turnout is expected for next month's primary. The most dedicated conservatives disproportionately show up in a primary, he said, which is good for Mr. Bryant. But he noted that more than half of the primary voters will be from East Tennessee, Mr. Alexander's native region.


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