When Lamar Alexander said last week that he's planning to run for the Senate again in 2014, he did it to head off the inevitable wild scramble of would-be successors that would have been triggered by any equivocation on his part about his future.
As Ken Whitehouse pointed out in The City Paper, "Absent that statement, at least three Republican exploratory committees would appear next week. And Democrats would have 36 months to find a whisper of some sort of viable candidate. Alexander shut all that down, for now."
But while freezing Blackburn, Wamp, Ramsey, et al., Alexander managed to touch off wild speculation just the same. According to the hypothesis making the rounds of political junkies, he would run again — not to serve another Senate term, but only to resign after he wins. That way, he essentially could choose his own successor. The senator is 71, after all. If he runs again and wins, he'd be nearly 80 by the time his third term ended. Surely he doesn't want to spend his 70s wasting away in Washington.
The speculation is that Alexander would resign and let Gov. Bill Haslam — the son of one of Alexander's biggest financial supporters — appoint himself to fill the unexpired term. That would set up Haslam to run as the nearly unbeatable incumbent in the next general election and keep the seat out of the hands of any annoying right-wing kooks.
Haslam thinks all this is pretty funny, it turns out. Asked about it last week at his media avail, he chortled as he offered this response:
"First of all, I hope Lamar does run again, and I hope he serves his full six years. I'm biased but I think he's a terrific senator. Second, you know, I have no intention at all to do that, I really don't, mainly because I love the job I have, and while being senator is really important, I love the fit of being governor, so I have zero anticipation of doing that."
But Alexander made the mistake of saying he wants to put country over political party. For that, he quickly drew the wrath of the Tea Party, which considers him "not up for the fight" (as Memphis Tea Party founder/chairman Mark Skoda put it).
What Alexander means is that he wants to work with Democrats to pass laws to help gazillionaires and giant corporations. He mentions the nuclear power industry as one of the chief beneficiaries of the New Lamar. But to the Tea Party, he's somehow plotting to spend the nation into bankruptcy and spitting on the principles of the Founding Fathers. Should Alexander care what the Tea Party thinks?
"I think he will definitely have a Tea Party challenge," says conservative talk-radio host Steve Gill, "particularly if Lamar emerges as one of those Gang of Six types who tries to cobble together bad policy by compromising with the extreme left in the Senate."
On the other hand, Alexander might keep saying he will run only to keep the political chaos to a minimum while he's thinking about it. And even if he does run, as Gill points out, "that's a lifetime away." By then, the Tea Party already might have booted Obama out of the White House and taken control of the Senate as well as the House. Why bother with trying to oust one last toothless moderate like Lamar?
"Do they still feel like they need to clean out the RINOs from the Senate at that point?" Gill asks.
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