Politics

Primary challenger takes aim at Sen. Corker’s ‘votes against the Constitution’

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter

Zach Poskevich, a relative unknown with little money, is mounting a primary challenge against Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, in the name of protecting the Constitution.

Poskevich believes that Corker’s voting record is simply not conservative enough. “Anywhere from seven out of 10 times, he votes with the Constitution, which means three out of 10 times he votes against the Constitution,” said Poskevich in an interview with The Daily Caller, referencing Corker’s ratings by various conservative groups.

“Anytime we have an elected official that even has one time when he’s voting against the Constitution, he or she needs to be held accountable,” he said.

By not supporting the Constitution, Poskevich said, “these elected officials have taken it upon themselves to turn America into something it’s not.”

In Corker’s case, Poskevich points to several examples. One is the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011, co-sponsored by Corker, and Tennessee’s other Republican Senator, Lamar Alexander, which gave 20,000 acres of Tennessee land to the federal government. Poskevich condemned this as a “direct attack on our personal property rights” and called it a blatant grab for federal funding, which he criticized as only furthering the nation’s budget deficit.

He also attacked Corker for voting for the American Patent Act, and the new START treaty with Russia, which he said “extremely reduces the United States’ capability to defend ourselves” and, moreover, unconstitutional because it “can be modified without having to go back through the Senate for ratification.”

Poskevich also leveled criticism at Corker for his vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Corker’s new-found primary challenger hasn’t been the senator’s only critic. Roll Call reported that Corker is “known in some Tennessee tea party circles as ‘Bailout Bob’ for his vote in favor of authorizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program,” and for working across the aisle on financial reform in 2010.

But that doesn’t mean tea party supporters have counted him out. Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis Tea Party, told TheDC that he, for one, would be supporting Corker. (SEE ALSO: Corker denies allegations he told group of donors Senate Republicans would not repeal Obamacare)

Though Skoda said that Corker had certainly been criticized by some tea partiers, “at the end of the day he’s also been very supportive of Cut, Cap and Balance” and “very helpful with some constituent services.”

Skoda called the TARP vote “a crazy moment,” and said that Corker has been “more consistent, certainly, subsequent to that, and, in particular, supporting conservative causes.” Skoda noted that Corker ultimately “backed off of his much-criticized work on financial reform.”

“You can criticize him all you want, but I think, in general, Bob Corker is well-regarded in the state of Tennessee,” said Skoda.

The polls bear that out. A Vanderbilt University poll conducted at the end of October and beginning of November of this year found Corker with a 46 percent approval rating and 27 percent disapproval rating among voters in the state. The poll surveyed 1, 423 adults, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. A Public Policy Polling poll of usual Republican primary voters found Corker with a 60 percent approval rating.

“A lot of incumbents up this year would kill for that number,” noted Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor for the Cook Political Report. Duffy was skeptical that Poskevich could successfully take that on.

“I very much doubt that Poskevich will be a serious candidate. He has no name ID and very little money,” she told TheDC.

Indeed, Poskevich reported raising just $21,181 at the end of last quarter, $10,000 of which was a personal loan from him to the campaign, and had just $7,034 cash on hand. Corker, by comparison, has raised over $5 million, and has $6,577,070 cash on hand.

Poskevich acknowledged that “money definitely makes things easier for Bob Corker, and harder for our campaign.”

“But,” he argued, undaunted, “if the founding fathers took that same attitude, the United States would have never been founded. … So message always trumps money if you can get your message out.”

Poskevich said he is working to do just that, traveling around the state and meeting with political activists to try to get them involved with his campaign.

One such activist is Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, a former assistant district attorney for Shelby County, Tennessee.

“I have reached out to their campaign and want to meet with Zach to see if I can support him,” Phillips told TheDC in an email.

According to Phillips, there is some discontent with Corker, and there could be some support for a challenge from the right.

“There are a lot of people in [Tennessee] who are not happy with Corker,” he said, adding: “Corker brags about reaching across the aisle, and Tennesseans do not want that kind of Senator. We want a conservative senator, not a moderate.”

But he acknowledged that Corker’s monetary advantage would make a challenge difficult.

Nonetheless, Poskevich is hopeful. He pointed to a straw poll taken in Anderson County, in eastern Tennessee, where Corker got 45 percent of the vote and Poskevich got 36 percent.

“So if I can get name recognition, I can come within nine percent of Bob Corker. And so now it’s about the issues,” said Poskevich, “and I am confident that we can close that gap once people truly understand where I stand on the issues versus Bob Corker. Because people are tired of the out of control spending of our government, and you can look at Bob Corker’s record and it’s spending, spending, spending.”

Poskevich, on the other hand, has no record whatsoever. A technology consultant and U.S. Army veteran, he has never held political office of any kind before. That might not seem like a promising resume for a would-be senator, but Poskevich called it a “considerable advantage.”

“If we truly want a government that is for and by the people, we have to start electing the people … I’m one of the people,” he said. Moreover, he argued, “what we’re seeing is experience really doesn’t translate to the benefit of the Constitution.”

Tennessee Republican Party Communications Director Adam Nickas declined to comment on Poskevich’s bid, as the party does not endorse in primaries. However, he noted that Democrats “haven’t even so much as floated the name of a credible opponent to run against Corker,” which he attributed to the fact that “they know how popular Senator Corker is and how strong of a campaign organization he has across the state.”

The Associated Press reported that Poskevich hopes to gain victory through “tea party fervor.” But Skoda, a tea partier, said that wasn’t enough.

“I think it’s insufficient just to rely on tea party votes because the state of Tennessee has six million Tennessee voters,” he said, but noted that he was in no way trying to “diminish” Poskevich.

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