U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander enjoys a very strong lead over prospective rivals in next year’s Republican primary, according to a poll commissioned by the incumbent’s campaign.
A memo distributed to media by the campaign shows Alexander leading Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who says he’s considering the race, by 62 percent to 23 percent. State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas, who recently announced as a candidate, trailed Alexander a bit more, 64 percent to 22 percent.
Two others mentioned as potential candidates did even less well, according to Whit Ayers, president of North Star Opinion Research, who has been polling for Alexander since his 1996 presidential campaign. The poll had Alexander leading Brian Kookegey, former Williamson County Republican chairman, 69 percent to 15 percent; while leading Brenda Lenard, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in the 2012 primary, 69 percent to 16 percent.
The Alexander poll could be seen as contrasting with a Triton polling survey of Tennessee Republican voters earlier this month that – as reported by Breitbart News – found Alexander trailing a nameless “credible conservative candidate” by five points, 49.5 percent to 44.9 percent. Breitbart, without identifying who paid for the survey, said that poll “shows how vulnerable he is” though it also found that 64 percent of GOP voters approve, at least somewhat, of Alexander’s performance in office.
Ayers said in an interview that is not necessarily the case.
“The point of this poll is there is no credible conservative challenger at this point,” he said. “Any of these challengers has a long way to go and millions of dollars to raise to become a credible conservative challenger.”
Also, he said, “once you put an actual name on a generic, things get a whole lot tougher for a challenger” since voters since a “a generic alternative allows voters to answer thinking that the very best possible candidate is defined by that term.”
Ayers said the prospective challengers are little known statewide, though Carr has some name recognition in Middle Tennessee and Burchett in East Tennessee. Just becoming known would require a major investment in media advertising, he said.
He said there has been “affection and support” at a “truly remarkable” level for Alexander for years.
“There is a group of disgruntled people we see in various states and we see them in Tennessee,” he said. “They are a small minority – no more than a quarter of the primary electorate.”