After Cantor and Cochran, is it tea party time in TN?

The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia has tea party people excited in Tennessee and elsewhere, reports Michael Collins.

Cantor’s downfall, coupled with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran being forced into a primary runoff against a tea party challenger in Mississippi, could energize Tennessee’s tea party movement, which has set its sights on another high-profile target, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Alexander’s campaign said Wednesday that Brat’s David-vs.-Goliath victory over Cantor won’t change his own campaign strategy.

“Sen. Alexander is doing what he’s always done: staying connected with Tennessee and being the best senator he could be,” said his campaign spokesman, Brian Reisinger.

While Alexander’s team has been watching other races around the country, “every race runs on its own two legs,” said Tom Ingram, the senator’s former chief of staff and a general consultant to his campaign.

“Our race is a guy who has been serving Tennessee in the same hardworking, loyal fashion for years as governor and as a senator and staying connected, listening to and representing the interests of his constituents and trusting them to make the right decision on election day,” Ingram said.

Alexander’s most serious challenger in the Aug. 7 primary, state Rep. Joe Carr, interprets the tea party’s recent victories as signs of an energized, fed-up electorate.

“From Virginia to Mississippi, a transformational change is underway that is being led by a true grassroots movement,” Carr said in a statement shortly after Brat’s victory over Cantor.

The Carr campaign said it already is seeing signs of a rejuvenated tea party in Tennessee. “We have seen an influx over the last 12 hours of people signing up to volunteer, people coming into our office and wanting signs and bumper stickers, wanting to know how to help,” said Carr’s campaign manager, Donald Rickard. “It has really been overwhelming.”

Still, political analysts caution against drawing any parallels between Cantor’s and Cochran’s races and Alexander’s re-election bid.

For starters, national political figures haven’t rallied around Carr the way they did Cantor’s and Cochran’s opponents, said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

While huge campaign spending could not save Cantor, money is more often than not a potent weapon in a political campaign, and one where Alexander has a significant advantage. Alexander’s campaign had more than $3 million in the bank at the end of March, the last period for which reports are on file with the Federal Election Commission. Carr, by contrast, had just $466,000.