With Sen. Lamar Alexander’s victory Thursday in Tennessee, it became official: every Republican incumbent senator running for re-election this year defeated their conservative challengers in GOP primaries.
Alexander, a Republican senator since 2003, had been criticized by challenger Joe Carr, a representative in the state House, for not being conservative enough.
But Carr, like other challengers to incumbent Republican senators this cycle, failed to take out his target — the Associated Press declared Alexander the winner at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
This was the last chance this primary cycle for conservatives to replace Republican incumbent senators on the ballot in November.
In Kansas earlier this week, incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts defeated challenger Milton Wolf. And in previous elections this year, John Cornyn of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have all been victorious over their tea party rivals.
While several more weeks of primary contests are scheduled, none of them include incumbent Republican senators.
Over the last several cycles, conservatives have claimed the scalps of several Republican incumbents: Utah Sen. Bob Bennett lost the GOP nomination in his re-election effort in 2010 and Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar lost his primary in 2012.
Polling in the Tennessee race had been all over the board: Alexander’s campaign released a poll showing him leading Carr by 29 points. A poll sponsored by the Tea Party Nation showed Alexander up by just eight points.
Carr tried to position himself as the next David Brat, the conservative professor who surprisingly defeated now-former House majority leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s GOP primary earlier this year.
“While we certainly didn’t predict that Dave Brat would win, we did believe this was an unconventional political year,” Carr said on CNBC after Brat’s win. “Lamar Alexander should be scared to death.”
During the primary, Carr attacked Alexander for not sufficiently standing up against the Obama administration. Last week, for example, the campaign hit the senator for missing a procedural vote on an amendment to “block the President’s ability to offer unilateral amnesty.”
“For months, Lamar Alexander has avoided participating in any public debates in Tennessee, using the excuse that he debates ‘every day on the Senate floor’. Last night, when the time came to stand with conservatives against Barack Obama and Harry Reid, Lamar Alexander wasn’t there,” Carr said.
On Monday, Alexander announced that he and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam would campaign across the state ahead of Thursday’s election. He had argued that he was the “stronger” candidate in the race.
“By running strong candidates and keeping an open door, the Republican Party has become larger, more conservative and more successful,” Alexander said.