Joe Carr listens to Lamar, but won’t endorse him

State Rep. Joe Carr says he has rejected “scores” of requests that he launch a fall write-in campaign against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander after losing to him in the August Republican primary, but has also declined – at least for now – the senator’s request for a formal endorsement.

Carr and Alexander met Wednesday for an hour at a restaurant near Carr’s Rutherford County hometown of Lascassas for their first face-to-face meeting and had a “very cordial and respectful conversasion,” Carr said in an interview. Alexander confirmed the meeting through a spokesman, but was not available for an interview on the discussion.

“Sen. Alexander asked for the meeting with Rep. Carr, and drove down to the Cracker Barrel in Smyrna, where they had coffee and good conversation for an hour. The senator complimented Rep. Carr on his campaign, and the two discussed issues important to both of them,” said Alexander spokesman Brian Reisinger.

By Carr’s account, the talk began with the senator apologizing for failure to respond to Carr’s “five or six” earlier attempts at contacting him – starting on election night – to offer congratulations on the senator’s primary victory and ended with Alexander asking for Carr’s advice and an endorsement.

Alexander got 329,862 votes, or 49.64 percent, while Carr came in second among the six other candidates with 269,953 votes, or 40.63 percent, according to final results from the state Division of Elections.

Carr said he was much irritated that his attempted concession calls were never returned, but now understands that the fault lay with Alexander’s staff and not the senator himself.

“He apologized and I accepted,” Carr said. “I think the problem was internal to the (Alexander) campaign.”

Carr said he was somewhat surprised that Alexander, a former governor and presidential candidate seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate, would ask him for advice.

“I thought about it for a minute and said, ‘I suggest you reach out to the conservative wing of our party, in particular the tea party… He listened. He didn’t say he would or he wouldn’t,” said Carr.

In response to Alexander’s request for an endorsement as their conversation ended, it was Carr who did not say he would or would not, the state legislator said.

“I told him I’d be glad to think about it,” said Carr, but added that the senator’s somewhat vague positions on Common Core standards and illegal immigration – both issues that the challenger emphasized during the campaign – left him with misgivings that he would be endorsing views contrary to his own.

Alexander said he would arrange for Carr to have “a dialogue with senior staff” to explain in detail the senator’s stance on those matters and the reasoning behind his position.

“We left it at that,” Carr said.

Otherwise, Carr said the discussion included a review of the campaign and the strategy involved, including Alexander’s refusal to even mention Carr’s name — “he blew us off “ – and Alexander poll figures released to the public showing the incumbent with a far bigger lead than in the final results.

Carr said his own tracking polls indicated he was within “three or four points” of Alexander about 10 days or two weeks prior to the election and gaining momentum. But at that point, “we just flat ran out of money” while Alexander “dropped another million, million-and-a-half (dollars) and turned it around.”

He estimated that Alexander’s total spending on the race, when everything is counted, will be about $7.1 million versus about $1.1 million on behalf of his efforts. Given that and “all the mainstream media and pundits predicting we’d be crushed,” Carr said he was comfortable with the effort and gratified by the support he received.

After losing, Carr said “scores of conservatives” contacted him to urge that he run as a write-in candidate on the November ballot. He declined the request, declaring on his Facebook page that “it is not the right time for myself, Republicans or Tennessee to have a write-in campaign.”

Carr said he is confident that Alexander will defeat Democratic nominee Gordon Ball in November.

“Tennessee is a reliably red state, a reliably conservative state,” he said. “I don’t know that Sen. Alexander needs my endorsement.”

Carr, who did not seek reelection to his House seat to make a run for the Senate, said he is uncertain about any specific future political endeavors, but remains highly interested in public policy matters.