Less-Conservative Candidate Wins Tennessee Primary

July 7, 2008 - 7:29 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Lamar Alexander - former Tennessee governor, U.S. education secretary and two-time Republican presidential candidate - easily defeated Rep. Ed Bryant Thursday to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson. But many conservatives aren't happy about Alexander's win.

Alexander will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Clement in November. Clement won the Democratic primary over token opposition.

Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union, told CNSNews.com that while his organization did not issue an endorsement in the GOP Senate primary, a recent poll taken at the TCU "Reagan Day dinner" had Bryant garnering 89 percent while Alexander got 8 percent.

Daugherty also predicts that many Tennessee conservatives will vote for Clement, because they believe Alexander is too liberal.

"We let our members vote in both the Democrat and Republican primary. If Lamar Alexander is the nominee, a lot of Reagan conservatives are, or at least initially are, going to be looking to vote for Bob Clement," said Daugherty.

But American Conservative Union President David Keene hopes Daugherty's assessment doesn't come true.

"We endorsed...Congressman Bryant," Keene told CNSNews.com. "When we made that announcement, we said that Republicans in Tennessee were fortunate that they have two good candidates. The difference between the two is that Congressman Bryant has been a consistent long-term conservative activist, he had a 97 percent lifetime ACU rating," he said.

"Lamar Alexander has been sort of a work-in-progress but in his last presidential race and in this race, he has taken very conservative positions and I think he will run as a conservative candidate and I hope he will be elected as one and will vote as one," Keene said.

Keene said in the 2000 presidential race, Alexander was "as strong a supporter of Second Amendment rights as anybody. He has in this Senate primary made clear that he stands with the right-to-life people on the abortion question and I think he'll be fine."

"I think it would be a mistake from the overall position of conservatives in Tennessee to vote for the Democratic candidate this year," Keene concluded.

But Clement Thursday told the Nashville Tennessean newspaper he expects conservative Republicans to vote for him in November.

"I don't think there's any doubt about it. They've told me they will. A number of Bryant people all across the state have said that," said Clement.

"I don't think they trust Lamar," said Clement. "They feel like he really hasn't been involved in the state in 20 years and really didn't stay in touch with a lot of people. And, ideologically, philosophically, they disagree with him."

Mike Tuffin, communications director of GOPAC, who did much political consulting work in Tennessee before joining the conservative political action committee, doesn't think conservatives will support Clement.

"Bob Clement has cast hundreds if not thousands of liberal votes throughout his long tenure in Congress. Lamar is in a strong position. He's got great favorable ratings. He is much more in line ideologically with the state than Clement is," Tuffin told CNSNews.com .

"Clement opposes making the (Bush) tax cut permanent. He opposed repealing the death tax. He just voted not to exempt the United States from the International Criminal Court. He was a strong supporter of Bill Clinton and I don't think that is going to fly in Tennessee," said Tuffin.

Clement has a 40 percent rating from the American Conservative Union on his House voting record. He has a 60 percent rating from the Americans for Democratic Action and a 59 percent rating from the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Clement has deep political roots in Tennessee. His father, Frank Clement, was Tennessee's governor from 1953 to 1959 and from 1963 to 1967.

In conceding, Bryant pledged that he would support Alexander.

Some political analysts said that West Tennessee native Bryant could not deeply penetrate Alexander's base in the Republican stronghold in east Tennessee.

The eastern part of Tennessee has been a Republican stronghold for many years. It was that side of the state that sided with Abraham Lincoln and the union during the civil war.

President Bush carried Tennessee over the state's native son, former Vice President Al Gore, in the 2000 presidential election.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

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