Alexander polls well among among conservatives

Potential challengers' favorability for U.S. Senate trails incumbent

While far right Republicans consider challenging U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s primary election, the senator’s camp is touting a 3-to-1 job approval rating among likely GOP voters.

A poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research and commissioned by Alexander’s campaign found 69 percent of people who identifying themselves as having conservative values approve of the incumbent’s performance. Another 24 percent disapprove and most favor him to a mix of four announced and potential contenders, according to the survey.

“You have some folks who are going to be upset with whoever is in office. Those disgruntled people are a very small minority,” said Whit Ayers, president of the research group which has conducted similar surveys for Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Bill Frist and Alexander over the last two decades.

While the public doesn’t know how firm those numbers are, they show anyone looking to challenge Alexander will need a concerted campaign to do something about those ratings, said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

“You’re going to have to start attacking that record in a very serious way,” he said. “It means you really have to be out there raising big dollars, because it’s going to take that to even have a shot… If you’re going to buy name recognition, you need money.”

Last week, state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, announced he would switch his bid for the 4th U.S. Congressional District to face off against Alexander. Since then, others have said they may follow suit.

Pollsters began surveying likely voters the day before Carr made official his intent to run against Alexander. The poll compared favorability ratings between the senator and Carr, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, former Williamson County Tea Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey and challenger Brenda Lenard. Neither Burchett no Kookogey have declared their candidacy, although all struggle with name recognition statewide, according to the poll.

Here’s a snapshot where Republican voters stand, according to the survey:

  • Voters favor Alexander 62 percent to Burchett’s 24 percent
  • Voters favor Alexander 64 percent to Carr’s 22 percent.
  • Voters favor Alexander 69 percent to Kookogey’s 15 percent.
  • Voters favor Alexander 69 percent to Lenard’s 16 percent.

The poll also pinpointed various factions within the 600 surveyed Republican Party voters, with three of the four groups below representing less than half of the GOP electorate. 

  • “Strong Republicans” - 74 percent approve, 21 percent disapprove.
  • “Evangelical Christians” - 70 percent approve, 24 percent disapprove
  • “Very conservative voters” - 58 percent approve, 35 percent disapprove
  • “Strong Tea Party supporters” - 57 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove

According to Ayers, 48 percent of people surveyed considered themselves “strong Republicans” and another 48 percent percent said they were “very conservative voters.” Sixty-eight percent of people polled identified themselves as “Evangelical Christians,” and 31 percent said they were “strong tea party supporters.