On Sunday, Breitbart News reported on a rally held the previous day in Smyrna, Tennessee by 300 Tea Party activists who have launched a ground game to support an as yet undetermined conservative challenger to Senator Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in Tennessee’s Republican Senate primary in August 2014.
Our coverage of the event caught the attention of activists and media alike because it reported that the “Beat Lamar” Tea Party activists gathered in 90 plus degree heat outnumbered the crowd of establishment Republicans meeting less than a mile away in an air conditioned airport hanger to listen to a musical performance by FoxNews’ Mike Huckabee, country music star Steve Wariner, and Senator Alexander himself. (Citing local news sources, Breitbart News placed the size of Senator Alexander’s crowd at 250).
Senator Alexander’s staff pushed back on the crowd numbers we reported, contacting us directly to claim that Alexander’s crowd was, in fact, larger than the crowd of “Beat Lamar” protesters.
While Alexander’s staff focused on the details of the comparative crowd sizes, Breitbart’s reporting has prompted mainstream media outlets to cover the emerging story that Lamar Alexander, long considered safe from both a primary and a general election challenge, now faces the very real likelihood that a credible conservative will soon challenge him in the primary.
Thursday, Politico reported on the story, using the angle that the opposition to Alexander was sparked primarily by his vote in favor of the Gang of Eight immigration bill, which is very unpopular among Tennessee Republicans. But, as one Tea Party activist quoted in the Politico story points out, opposition to Alexander runs much deeper than just his recent vote on immigration:
Nashville Tea Party founder Ben Cunningham, who helped organize the anti-Alexander rally, said the 60 local tea party groups across the state plan to get together and hold meetings in August to coalesce around one challenger.
We’re not going to allow the Republican establishment to put the grass roots aside. They have tried to bully any potential challengers because they don’t want an open debate on Lamar’s voting record. It clearly isn’t conservative.
Politico identified two potential Republican primary challengers to Alexander, reporting that “Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he’s been approached by state conservatives and is considering the bid,” and “[a]ctivists are also trying to persuade Kevin Kookogey, a former Williamson County GOP chairman, to challenge Alexander…”
The Tea Party activists who attended the “Beat Lamar” rally in Smyrna, Tennessee on July 20 were not surprised that Senator Alexander dismissed their concerns. To them, Lamar Alexander has not been listening to Tennessee’s conservative voters for a long time.
As Katherine Hudgins, a director of the 9-12 Tennessee Project and one of the organizers of the “Beat Lamar” rally, told the Daily News Journal, the largest daily newspaper in Rutherford County, a heavily populated county in suburban Nashville, “We feel that we are not being represented as conservative Tennesseans or just as Tennesseans.” She ended her comments with an emphatic rejection of Alexander’s years in the Senate. “Lamar Alexander has betrayed his Senate seat and betrayed his conservatism. He votes with the Obama administration 62 percent of the time.”
Image: Kristin Leisman