Thursday, October 23, 2014


Gov. Bill Haslam, left, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander react to remarks by U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. during a get out the vote rally Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. Alexander is being challenged by state Rep. Joe Carr and Memphis radio station owner George Flinn for his senate seat. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Paul Efird) (Paul Efird)

In this July 22, 2014 photo, Joe Carr speaks at a rally in Nashville, Tenn. Carr has cast Sen. Lamar Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate during the campaign for the Tennessee primary. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this July 22, 2014 photo, Joe Carr appears with radio show host Laura Ingraham at a rally for Carr in Nashville, Tenn. Carr has cast Sen. Lamar Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate during the campaign for the Tennessee primary. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this July 22, 2014 photo, Joe Carr speaks at a rally in Nashville, Tenn. Carr has cast Sen. Lamar Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate during the campaign for the Tennessee primary. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

FILE - In this Friday, July 25, 2014, file photo, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, center, and wife Honey, left, talk with Grayce Cabage, who has known Alexander all his life, after he announced the start his "Standing Up for Tennessee" bus tour at Sullivan's Restaurant in his hometown of Maryville, Tenn., as his wife Honey and State Rep. Art Swann look on. After losing his first bid for Tennessee governor 40 years ago, Lamar Alexander shed his blue suit and buttoned-up appearance for a plaid shirt and hiking boots, and embarked on a 1,000-mile walking tour around the state to connect with voters on a personal level. (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Tom Sherlin, File) (Tom Sherlin)

In this Aug. 5, 2014 photo, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., walks to a campaign stop with his daughter, Leslee Alexander, left, and granddaughter, Taylor Irwin, in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, is seeking to fend off challenger Joe Carr in Tennessee's primary election Thursday. Carr has cast Alexander as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this Aug. 5, 2014 photo, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., campaigns in a restaurant in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, is seeking to fend off challenger Joe Carr in Tennessee's primary election Thursday. Carr has cast Alexander as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this July 22, 2014 photo, Joe Carr greets supporters at a campaign stop in Nashville, Tenn. Carr has cast Sen. Lamar Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate during the campaign for the Tennessee primary. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this July 22, 2014 photo, Joe Carr speaks at a rally in Nashville, Tenn. Carr has cast Sen. Lamar Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate during the campaign for the Tennessee primary. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

In this Aug. 5, 2014 photo, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, talks with voters who came to his campaign stop at a restaurant in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. Alexander, a 74-year-old incumbent, is seeking to fend off challenger Joe Carr in Tennessee's primary election Thursday. Carr has cast Alexander as out of touch with an increasingly conservative electorate. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey)

FILE - In this April 16, 2014, file photo, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, presides over the state Senate in Nashville, Tenn. Ramsey has spearheaded an effort to oust three Democratic Supreme Court justices who are up for retention elections on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) (Mark Humphrey)

FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2014, file photo, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, speaks during a legislative planning session sponsored by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association in Nashville, Tenn. Ramsey has spearheaded an effort to oust three Democratic Supreme Court justices who are up for retention elections on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File) (Mark Zaleski)
Sen. Lamar Alexander fends off tea party in Tenn.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee becomes latest Republican to fend off tea party challenge

Posted on Aug. 7, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 7, 2014 at 4:49 a.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Lamar Alexander became the latest U.S. senator to fend off a tea party challenge in a primary race Thursday, defeating a state lawmaker who had used a familiar tactic in trying to cast him as an out of touch insider.

Meanwhile, scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ bid to hang onto his seat was too close to call. Unofficial returns with all precincts reporting showed him with a lead of only 33 votes over state Sen. Jim Tracy, who had raised far more money. A recount was possible.

Alexander’s win dealt another blow to national tea party momentum after the stunning primary win over Republican Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia in June.

In Tennessee, State Rep. Joe Carr had high-profile endorsements from tea party-allied figures, but he could not overcome Alexander’s fundraising advantage and 40 years in Tennessee politics. He had about 38 percent of the vote with 24 percent of precincts reporting, compared with about 52 percent for Alexander.

In heavily Republican Tennessee, Alexander is strongly favored to win re-election in November. He maintained a moderate tone in his victory speech, touting his ability to craft compromises.

“If we want to change Obamacare, we’re going to have to pass something. If we want to fix the debt, we’re going to have to pass something,” Alexander said. “And to do that we’re going to have to work with other people to get it done.”

So far this year, the argument that sitting senators have lost their connection with voters hasn’t been a winner. Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas have all held off tea party-backed challenges.

Republican Kathy Leake, a 65-year old nurse in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, said she would not shy away from voting for a qualified tea party candidate but had nothing against Alexander.

“I didn’t see any of the others that had anything else to offer any better than he was ... I’m just sticking with him,” she said.

Alexander sought to avoid any chance Carr or Flinn could cast him as an insider by locking down key endorsements and spending the final few weeks of the campaign on a 35-stop bus tour around the state stressing his ability to get results in a divided Senate.

The senator’s stance resonated with voter Larry Harrison, a clinical services director in Nashville who considers himself an independent.

“Carr goes way too conservative for me,” said Harrison, who cited Alexander’s experience and temperament in supporting the incumbent.

“I think he’s got a more moderate view, and I’m a more moderate person myself,” he said.

Alexander, 74, has served two terms as the state’s governor and two terms in the Senate.

Also on the Tennessee ballot Thursday is embattled Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician from the small south Tennessee town of Jasper who won re-election in 2012 despite revelations that he once urged a patient he was dating to seek an abortion.

After the election, court officials released transcripts of divorce proceedings that included DesJarlais admitting under oath that he had eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his first wife during an argument.

Last year, DesJarlais was reprimanded and fined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in May for having sex with patients. But the congressman has since doubled down on his tea party credentials and has dismissed the details about his personal life as “old news.”

In the state’s majority black 9th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, a white and Jewish Memphis native, defeated attorney Ricky Wilkins. Wilkins, who is African-American, had sought to highlight ethnic and racial differences between Cohen and his constituents in the district, which Cohen has represented since 2006.