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Lamar facing Tea Party test
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As Republicans aim for control of the Senate in the 2014 general elections, they must first run some gut-wrenching gauntlets to get through their primaries relatively unscathed, and  emerge with a nominee who can win in November.
Given the crowded GOP field of Senate nominee contenders and the contentious nature of recent primaries, that could be a tall order. That’s why U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is running so hard to keep from getting “primaried” from the right by state Rep. Joe Carr, who has portrayed Alexander as an out-of-touch “career politician.” To read Carr’s campaign literature and hear his sound-bite rhetoric, you’d think Lamar has gone “liberal” on us. He’s repeatedly accused Alexander of being too cozy with President Obama, supporting him “62 percent of the time” on controversial issues like amnesty for illegal immigrants and Obamacare. 
For his part, Lamar has been burnishing his conservative credentials with endorsements from the likes of fellow Tennessean and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, as well as top NRA officials, who assure us Lamar will keep those demonic, gun-hating Democrats from taking our guns away from us.
So far, Alexander, 74, appears to be running well ahead of Carr, 56, in the polls, but with Carr’s Tea Party backing, plus his recent endorsements by conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham and former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin, the race could be tightening.
Whether Alexander is “facing his toughest challenge in his 36-year political career,” as some suggest, remains to be seen. He is a two-term senator, former two-term governor and presidential candidate. That makes him a savvy veteran. However, Carr is clearly his strongest challenger. 
 One of the unknown factors in the Tennessee GOP Senate Primary could be the number of cross-over Democratic voters. Tennessee is among  number of so-called “open primary states,” meaning Democrats can vote in the Republican primary and Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary. This so-called “party-crashing” is an invitation to political mischief, since either party could cast their primary votes for the other party’s weakest candidate, hoping to enhance their own party’s chances in the general elections.
 Party crashing occurs when voters of one party support the most polarizing candidate in the other party’s primary to bolster the chances it will nominate someone who is "unelectable" to general election voters in November.”
That said, the real primary test is most likely to be between Alexander and Carr. And that’s why the race will be closely watched by national Republican leaders, who hope Lamar “holds” and by Democratic leaders who hope he “folds.”
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at