- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker has lengthened his lead over two rivals in a Republican primary race for Tennessee’s open Senate seat that has focused in the final weeks on who will be tougher on illegal immigration.

For months, former Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary have been pounding Mr. Corker for not being conservative enough, questioning his record on immigration, abortion, taxes and other issues. But their underfunded campaigns have been unable to match Mr. Corker’s statewide TV ad campaign message pledging his commitment to “conservative principles and conservative results” while dismissing his rivals as “career politicians” who are now registered lobbyists.

“Washington already has too many career politicians and lobbyists. It’s time for a businessman with a proven conservative record,” Mr. Corker says in a TV ad recounting his successful career in the construction business.

A Public Opinion Strategies poll of 600 likely Republican voters conducted for the Corker campaign showed him pulling away last week with 46 percent of the vote. Mr. Bryant was a distant second, with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Hilleary at 17 percent.

One of the ads Corker campaign pollster Glen Bolger says has had a strong effect on voters in the primary race deals with illegal immigration. The ad — set on the Arizona-Mexico border — shows Mr. Corker calling for a secure border, sending illegals home, requiring instant verification of immigrant worker status and “no amnesty” in any reforms.

“Illegal immigration has resonated well,” Mr. Bolger said.

So well, apparently, that Mr. Corker’s campaign last week aired a new ad attacking his primary opponents’ records in Congress on immigration.

“They’re like twins — Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant. Congressmen who voted to allow illegal immigration to become a crisis,” the ad says.

The Corker campaign’s documentation for the ad says that on March 20, 1996, both men “voted against a pilot program in which employers in at least five of the seven states with the largest number of illegal aliens would have to call an 800 number to verify the status of employees and applicants.”

They also voted against authorizing 350 more inspectors to prevent employers from hiring illegal aliens and improving the design of Social Security cards to combat counterfeiting, the campaign said.

Mr. Bryant told reporters last week in a conference call that the ad was “totally wrong on every point” and accused Mr. Corker of “hypocrisy,” charging that his construction company had hired illegal aliens on work sites in the 1980s and that Mr. Corker “certainly as head of the company would have had knowledge of this.” Mr. Corker has denied the charges.

“Bob Corker has no regard for the truth and no respect for Tennessee voters. He’s decided to lie, cheat or deceive if that’s what it takes to win this race,” Hilleary campaign spokesman Jennifer Coxe said in a statement that called on the Corker campaign to pull the ad off the air.

The Republican primary won’t be held until Aug. 3, but voters have begun casting ballots under the state’s early voting program.

The winner will face Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat who is vying to become the state’s first black senator since Reconstruction.

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