Now that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has a primary challenger in state Rep. Joe Carr — formerly the primary challenger of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — we've got a few questions about what happens next. Let's not waste any time.
1. Will the Democrats field a viable candidate?
The answer to this question — whether the race is for governor or Senate — seems at the moment to be no, and yet, because that just doesn't seem right, we keep asking it. Setting aside a perennial candidate, Larry Crim, and the earnest-but-likely-hopeless Jacob Mauer, no Democrats have been willing to so much as look in the direction of the Senate race. And for good reason: The odds aren't good for Democrats in statewide elections these days, and going up against Lamar would be as close to a sure loss as it gets. But now that the Senior Senator has a challenger from the right, could there be an opening?
As Steve Cavendish pointed out yesterday, previous Tea Party upsets have turned what should have been slam dunk general elections for Republicans into toss-ups. If Carr unseats Alexander — and despite the challenger's confidence, that's still a long shot — might there be a sliver of hope for Democrats in the general? (No, you're not squinting enough. Look, I said sliver.) Come to think of it, should these Sara Kyle fans be drafting her for Senate instead of Governor? Carr's campaign was already in motion when he switched lanes. Kyle, on the other hand, can come out for Senate now and she won't even have to print new campaign materials. Maybe they'll even be spelled right.
2. Will the Tea Party coalesce around Joe Carr?
The biggest advantage in this race for Lamar Alexander — beside the fact that he's still Lamar!, former governor and presidential candidate — would be if multiple Tea Party candidates lined up to challenge him. You can just imagine him on the evening of the primary, relaxing as the Real Conservatives divide up their votes amongst two or three challengers and hand him the race. No doubt, the Carr camp hopes that his announcement will get any Tea Partiers who are thinking of making a run to stop thinking of it. But it hasn't yet.
At the Metro Pulse, Cari Wade Gervin reports that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is not ruling out a run just yet. Glenn Jacobs — aka, professional wrestler Kane — is still making noise, and friend of Pith Chas Sisk has his doubts that he had completely ruled out a run when he gave a denial in May. Beyond that, who knows what former Williamson County GOP chairman Kevin Kookogey will do?
It doesn't matter how viable any of these other potential candidates truly are. If Carr manages to beat Alexander, it will be close. If any other candidate jumps in and takes even five percent of the vote, if that much, he'll have a much harder time.
(Pith wonders, too, if Carr's repeated mentions of his "close friend" Andy Miller — a substantial Tea Party donor — wasn't a subtle elbow to Kookogey and others to stay out, because he's already locked up Miller's cash.)
3. Did Jim Tracy Just Become a U.S. Congressman?
Tracy, and Carr for that matter, were already drowning Scott DesJarlais in cash, with about a year to go in the Fourth Congressional District primary. In the last financial quarter alone, Tracy brought in $303,000, and Carr brought in $100,255. DesJarlais received just $39,153, prompting some to wonder whether he'd even bother staying in the race. Even if we assume that Tracy won't get a financial boost from Carr's conversion — not that he needs one — he presumably just became the only option for a bunch of anti-DesJarlais voters.