By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lamar Alexander won the Republican nomination to a third term in the U.S. Senate, three Tennessee Supreme Court justices brushed back a conservative challenge and scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ race was too close to call on Thursday.
Alexander, a former two-term governor who also ran for president twice, defeated tea party-styled state Rep. Joe Carr. In his victory speech, Alexander touted his ability to craft compromises in the Senate.
“If we want to change Obamacare, we’re going to have to pass something. If we want to fix the debt, we’re going to have to pass something,” Alexander said. “And to do that we’re going to have to work with other people to get it done.”
Carr, on the other hand, struck a defiant tone in his concession speech.
“While this battle was lost tonight … it wasn’t the first battle, and it won’t be the last battle,” Carr said.
(With all precincts unofficially reporting, Alexander had 49.7 percent of the vote (328,215), compared with 40.6 percent for Carr (269,021) and 5 percent for Memphis radio station owner George Flinn (34,421).)
In the 4th Congressional District, unofficial results showed DesJarlais leading challenger Jim Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, by just 33 votes. County election officials will tally any provisional ballots and remaining absentee ballots, and must certify elections by Aug. 25. Any potential challenge would have to be filed with the state Republican Party.
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, once urged a mistress to get an abortion, used a gun to intimidate his first wife during an argument and was fined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in May for having sex with patients.
DesJarlais touted his tea party credentials while dismissing the revelations of his past as “old news.”
Tracy had declared victory before the final votes were announced in rural Grundy County, where DesJarlais beat his challenger 734-196.
In the 3rd District, incumbent Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann for the second straight primary election beat Weston Wamp by about 1,350 votes with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Wamp is the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp, Fleischmann’s predecessor in the House.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam defeated token opposition to win the Republican nomination to a second term.
Alexander’s challengers and several tea party personalities tried to depict his record on issues like health care and immigration as out of touch with Tennessee’s current political landscape.
But some voting in the state’s open primaries cast their vote for Alexander because they felt his opponents were too far to the right.
In the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, Kathy Leake said that while she would not shy away from voting for a qualified tea party candidate, she chose Alexander.
“I really don’t have anything against him,” she said. “I didn’t see any of the others that had anything else to offer any better than he was … I’m just sticking with him.”
The three Democratic members of the state Supreme Court won despite a concerted effort from conservative activists to deny them another eight-year term.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey spearheaded the effort to oust the three justices appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
The defeat of even one of the incumbents would have given the GOP control of the highest court in Tennessee, which is the only state in the nation where justices name the attorney general.
In the Legislature, one of the state’s most visible senators, Stacey Campfield, was defeated in his Knoxville district.
Campfield often drew attention — and ridicule — for his polarizing comments and for introducing contentious bills on social issues.
Most recently, he made national news when he compared the federal health care law to the forced transportation of Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust in a blog post.