Tennessee Tea Party groups and some other hard-right
groups are all dressed up and raring to have a go at toppling U.S. Sen. Lamar
Alexander in the 2014 Republican primary.
But even as 200 of the senator's critics rallied over the weekend in Smyrna outside an Alexander event and denounced his voting record as insufficiently conservative, it's not just who's going to be their prom -- or primary -- date.
Several would-be favorites, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, already have declined the honor. World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Glenn Jacobs, a libertarian, was talked up recently but hasn't ruled a bid in or out.
Still, Ben Cunningham, founder of the Nashville Tea Party, said Saturday that "there are a number of people who are very seriously considering it."
Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West cited four possible or "definite" challengers to Alexander, whom West and other critics call a RINO (Republican in Name Only).
Tea party groups plan to begin auditions in regional forums in late August and into September. The conservatives believe national groups will help fund a sound challenger.
Beleaguered Democrats haven't got a candidate at this point.
West declined to name names, but Cunningham cited Kevin Kookogey, a former Williamson County GOP chairman, as a possibility.
Kookogey recently testified before the U.S. House about the Internal Revenue Service slow-walking his application for tax-exempt status for a nonprofit political/educational group.
Cunningham complained that Alexander "talks conservative, but we don't pay him or hire him to talk, we pay him to vote. And when he votes, he votes like a northeast liberal Republican.
"We're sick and tired of it," Cunningham said. "And we're sick and tired of the Republican Party establishment saying you can't have an open debate on Lamar's record."
Having seen similar hard-right insurgents defeat colleagues like Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, over the last four years, the 72-year-old Alexander isn't taking any chances -- he has initiated a powerhouse re-election effort within his own party.
A two-term Senator, former governor and U.S. Education Secretary, Alexander in December rolled out a list of GOP endorsements. It included Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker, six of the state's seven Republican congressmen, Ramsey, state House Speaker Beth Harwell and 13 former state GOP chairmen.
He's got some $3 million in cash on hand. He's raising more. And he's already running ads.
Alexander last week said he thinks things are going well.
"The last public surveys I've seen ... showed I had a slightly higher approval rating from people aligned with the tea party than I did even with the Republicans," Alexander said. He cited a May poll by Vanderbilt University showing him with a 53 percent general job approval rating, with 60 percent support from Republicans and 62 percent from self-identified tea partiers.
The overall poll had a 4 percent margin of error. The margin of error was higher in sub categories.
"I'm just going to do the best I can as a senator and respect the right of everybody else to believe whatever they want," Alexander said.
He touted the "hundreds of conservative Middle Tennessee Republicans" who
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