published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Lamar Alexander-commissioned poll shows Tennessee senator leads opponent Rep. Joe Carr

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, T-Tenn., speaks to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters Friday about the Affordable Care Act, TVA and nuclear power, and his possible opponents in the next election.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, T-Tenn., speaks to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters Friday about the Affordable Care Act, TVA and nuclear power, and his possible opponents in the next election.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

NASHVILLE — New polling released by Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign shows the Tennessee Republican with a better than 3-to-1 lead over his GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr.

The Feb. 3-6 survey of 600 likely GOP primary voters, who have voted in previous Republican primaries, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The survey was conducted by Alexander’s longtime pollster, Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research.

According to Ayres’ polling memo, the survey shows Alexander stands at 62 percent in a head-to-head ballot test with Carr. Seventeen percent said they favored Carr, who has support from a number of Tea Party groups. Two percent said they support Brenda Lenard and 1 percent back Danny Page. Eighteen percent are undecided.

“This campaign looks essentially the same today as it did last August,” Ayres says in the memo, distributed to reporters on Tuesday. “Given Senator Alexander’s universal name recognition, it will be very difficult for his opponents to move these numbers.”

There was no immediate response from Carr’s campaign.

The Ayres’ memo says Alexander led Carr “overwhelmingly” among key GOP subgroups with 69 percent of evangelical Christians supporting Alexander compared to 14 percent for Carr. Very conservative voters favored Alexander over Carr by a narrower margin — 53 to 23 percent, according to the survey.

The polling memo says Alexander’s favorability rating among the primary voters was 67 percent with 26 percent holding an unfavorable view. Five percent said they held no opinion of Alexander.

Ayres’ memo says Alexander is “universally known, with high favorable ratings, while his opponents are either little known or completely unknown.” Just 1.6 percent of those polled were unfamiliar with Alexander. But the memo says 70 percent of likely primary voters still don’t know who Carr is — down slightly from 73 percent in August.

When releasing their own polling information, candidates generally are selective and put out the information that tends to put themselves in the best possible light.

Carr has maintained Alexander is vulnerable. And Democrats say their own polling shows Alexander is far more vulnerable to a GOP primary challenge from the right.

A newly released poll by Middle Tennessee State University says Alexander’s job approval rating now stands at 43 percent, down 11 points from last year. The MTSU survey of 600 adults was conducted from last month and had a margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

Unlike the Alexander-commissioned poll, which focused on regular GOP primary voters, those figures from the MTSU survey were intended as a look at what average Tennesseans think. It included Democrats and independents as well as Republicans and some participants were registered voters and others were not.

MTSU Poll Director Ken Blake said the general poll shows Alexander “sinking” primarily among independents and Democrats, a potential problem for him in a general election depending on how viable the Democratic nominee is.

Among self-identified Republicans, however, the MTSU survey found 47 percent favored Alexander in the primary. Another 40 percent were undecided and seven percent favored Carr. Four percent wanted “someone else” and the rest declined to answer.

The Democratic field includes two Knoxville attorneys, Gordon Ball and Terry Adams, as well as Larry Crim, of Nashville, who ran unsuccessfully for Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination in 2012.

Ball, whose work as an attorney has resulted in multi-million dollar settlements, has said he anticipates doing some amount of self funding.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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