Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to grant Republican Lamar Alexander a third term in the U.S. Senate after what has been one of the more difficult campaigns in the former governor’s races over the past 40 years.
Alexander faces Democrat Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney who has largely self-funded a campaign that has focused on portraying the incumbent as out of touch with Tennessee voters on issues including immigration, Common Core education standards and minimum-wage laws.
Alexander has hit back at Ball as being beholden to Democratic President Barack Obama’s agenda and for being a “slick-talking personal injury lawyer.”
Alexander is a former governor who also ran for president twice. He had spent a combined $8.6 million on his primary and general-election campaigns through the latest reporting deadline.
Alexander is trying to avoid becoming the first incumbent senator to lose a re-election bid in Tennessee since 1994. Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore’s last win in 1990.
In a discussion with reporters at the state Capitol on Monday, Alexander sought to downplay the need for winning by a big margin on Tuesday — so long as he wins.
“Remember that winning by fifty-one, or two, or three or four percent in a contested race is a pretty big win,” Alexander said.
Alexander has stressed the senior role he would play if Republicans pick up the six seats needed to win control of the Senate.
“I’m one more vote for a Republican majority to move the country in a different direction,” he said. “I’ll have a chance to be the chairman of the committee on education, labor and health all rolled into one.”
As for future plans, the 74-year-old said he wasn’t willing to speculate about whether this will be his last race.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said.