NASHVILLE — Conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham stormed into Nashville on Tuesday as she sought to give Joe Carr a major boost in his GOP primary fight with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
"It's time for bold colors. Abandon the pastels," Ingraham said, referring to Alexander in an interview prior to a speech to Tennessee tea party groups. "We need fighters. Lamar's had his time. He's had a good run."
But she described Alexander these days as "kind of like an old sweater. He was really comfortable and sharp looking at one point, but now it just takes up room in your drawer."
On the other hand, she said, Carr is a "street fighter," she said, adding he worked to combat illegal immigration as a representative in the state House.
Hundreds of hard-right conservatives were expected at the rally for Carr, held at a local hotel ballroom. The event was sponsored by Beat Lamar, the Chattanooga Tea Party and other conservative groups.
Carr has sought to position himself as the new Dave Brat, the conservative who took down U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in that state's GOP primary last month.
But Carr, who's betting all on anti-illegal immigration sentiment to help him carry the day, has had difficulty attracting financial support from well-heeled national conservative groups like the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives fund. And Alexander has a far bigger war chest, having begun preparing long ago for an opponent and working successfully to keep better-known candidates out.
Plus, there is a third candidate in this race, multimillionaire radiologist and radio station chain owner George Flinn, who's put $1.8 million into his own effort.
Alexander on Tuesday released his latest television and radio ad, this one featuring former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who is also a well-known actor.
Describing Alexander as a conservative, Thompson cites the two-term governor as someone who balanced budgets in Tennessee and has been endorsed by National Right to Life and given an "A" rating by the National Rifle Association.
"That's why conservatives I know are voting for Lamar," said Thompson, a one-time presidential candidate who has been friends with Alexander for decades.
Ingraham said she likes Thompson and also Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas social conservative who's also endorsed Alexander and appeared in a recent ad for the senator. But that's not what the campaign is about, she said.
"I don't blame Lamar for trying to hide around a lot of endorsements," she said. "He's circling the wagon. He's gotten them all locked. But what he doesn't do is actually have the courage to actually debate the only guy who has a real shot at defeating him, which is Joe Carr."
She sharply criticized him for voting for a 2013 immigration bill.
Alexander spokesman Brian Reisinger said "it's hard to imagine how a debate with seven candidates would be helpful to voters with early voting already underway."
He said Alexander "regularly debates on behalf of Tennessee's interests on the Senate floor and is in constant contact with Tennesseans, learning their views and sharing his own."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
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, ...