NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Faced with a potentially serious primary challenger, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was not about to sit back and wait.
The former two-term governor locked down endorsements, banked more than $3 million and linked arms with popular Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee. When conservative state Rep. Joe Carr announced he would challenge Alexander, the senator's team was ready.
"I learned to count in Maryville City Schools," Alexander wrote in a recent op-ed in The Tennessean, recalling his East Tennessee hometown. "So I know that if you only have 45 votes and you need 60 senators to get something important done like balancing the budget and fixing the debt, then you have to work with other people - that is, IF you really care about solving the problem."
Call it the Revenge of the Incumbents: Alexander is the latest Senate Republican staring down a primary challenge with aggressive tactics aimed at blunting any early momentum from tea party-backed opposition. The early moves seek to avoid the fate of former Senate colleagues who were bounced by tea party challengers in 2010 and 2012.
In Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has scorched challenger Matt Bevin with stinging ads accusing him of accepting government bailouts to help his family business and embellishing his academic background. Bevin, with help from tea party supporters, has responded with his own accusations, labeling the Senate leader "Mudslinging Mitch" and tarring him for supporting the Wall Street bailout in 2008.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has drawn criticism from conservatives for pushing immigration reform, has raised more than $6 million for his re-election and could be helped by a crowded primary field that includes three conservative opponents. Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi has locked up support from Senate leaders and his Republican colleagues in the face of a challenge from Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
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