NASHVILLE — Republican Joe Carr has placed a $200,000 bet — half his campaign war chest — on hopes that anti-immigration sentiment will help him to victory in his GOP primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
"There's a crisis in America; thousands of illegal aliens are overrunning our border," Carr says in a 30-second TV spot that began airing across Tennessee last week. "President Obama created this crisis only after Lamar Alexander voted for amnesty. He is responsible."
But FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan group that monitors political ads for truthfulness and accuracy, said Carr's claim isn't true.
"The surge in illegal border crossings is the result of poverty and violence in parts of Central America and has been fueled by false rumors being spread in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that the U.S. is issuing 'permits' to those who wish to live in the U.S.," said FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
"The problem is real," FactCheck said. "But the ad uses false logic to blame Alexander for it."
Donald Rickard, Carr's campaign manager, called the ad "100 percent true" in an email to the Times Free Press on Sunday.
"If Senator Alexander wants to make the case that his support of amnesty isn't responsible and hasn't contributed to the current border crisis, then he can make that case to Tennesseans," Rickard said.
"But I think anyone with common sense knows if you promote amnesty and reward illegal behavior, it will only create an incentive for the same behavior to continue, and that's exactly what has happened."
A third GOP candidate, Dr. George Flinn, of Memphis, also hits on the immigration issue, among others, in his own television ad.
"Career politicians create problems: the broken VA system, holes in border security. Their main interest is re-election," the ad states. Campaign officials declined to say how much Flinn, a multimillionaire physician and businessman, is spending.
Speaking to Marion County Republicans at a candidates' forum Friday night, Flinn said, "We got to close the borders, seal the borders."
There aren't enough border patrol agents, Flinn said. He blamed the recent influx of children crossing illegally into the U.S. on rumors spread by drug cartels and smugglers about the availability of legal "permits." It's aimed at keeping border agents so busy they have little time to deal with smuggling, he said.
At issue is Alexander's vote last year in favor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, which passed the Senate 68-32. It did not pass the House.
The two-term senator said recently that amnesty is already in place.
" Turning your head while 11 million people are already here illegally is perpetual amnesty," Alexander said in a statement. "I voted along with 67 other United States senators to end perpetual amnesty."
He said the bill would identify people here illegally. They would have to pay penalties and back taxes, find jobs and not be convicted of felonies to win the right to live and work here.
"But," Alexander said, "they are not citizens, and they are not eligible for federal means-tested benefits, such as health care, food stamps and other welfare programs."
He said bill would have help stem the tide of people sneaking over the border by doubling the number of border patrol agents and adding 35 miles of border fencing.
Alexander said in a 2013 op/ed piece written with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that the "possibility of citizenship is a long way down the road" and that the border security measures come first.
Adults already here illegally who want to become citizens must wait at least a decade and "go to the back of the line" behind those who entered the U.S. legally, the senators said.
Carr, speaking at a candidates' forum Thursday night in Manchester, said the National Republican Committee's 2012 platform opposed "any form of amnesty from anybody who has violated the law by disadvantaging those who obey it."
He added, "Lamar Alexander voted yes on amnesty to give 11 million illegal aliens ... access to American jobs we need right now."
That violates the "rule of law" as well as the U.S. Constitution, Carr argued.
FactCheck said Carr's ad "is wrong to call the bill 'amnesty,' as we have pointed out numerous times in the past when writing about bills that make citizenship conditional upon meeting numerous requirements."
Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Carr's ad "will appeal to a certain percentage of the Republican electorate" in the Aug. 7 GOP primary.
But he noted Republican Lou Ann Zelenik was unable to capitalize on anti-illegal immigration sentiment in her 2012 GOP primary rematch with U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.
And last week, immigration hardliner and former congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado lost the GOP gubernatorial nomination to another former congressman, Bob Beauprez.
"Tancredo couldn't make it work in a Republican gubernatorial primary," Oppenheimer noted. He said Carr's $200,000 television buy isn't enough to really establish himself with voters.
It main usefulness is "only if you can use it as a vehicle to enthuse people to give money" -- primarily conservative independent expenditure groups, Oppenheimer said.
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, ...