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3 Races to Watch in Tennessee’s Primary

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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol Oct. 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Tennesseans go to the polls and three incumbents battle for their seats

Voters in Tennessee will go to the polls on Thursday to pick which candidates they’d like to see face off in November. At least one incumbent could lose his seat and two others, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, have real races to contend with.

Why Thursday, when voting in the U.S. is traditionally held on Tuesdays? “It says in our constitution the first Thursday in August,” says Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for Tennessee’s secretary of state. “We don’t know why the founding fathers chose that particular day of the the week and we’re just trying to honor their wishes.”

Incumbent Republican Alexander spent the final days of his campaign wrapping up a 35-stop state tour, a last push in his bid for a third Senate term. Knocking out Alexander, a 78-year-old former two-term governor and presidential candidate, is the last best shot for a Tea Party upset in the Senate this cycle. But Alexander, who’s raised $7 million, looks likely to pull through, as he’s facing not one but two Tea Party challengers, who are likely to split the hard right vote between them.

Alexander challenger number one, State Sen. Joe Carr, has become the darling of the talk radio crowd, drawing support from Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin as well as Sarah Palin. If the only two polls done in the state are to be believed, Carr has certainly made progress from January, when he was trailing Alexander by 40 points, to last month when a GOP poll found him trailing by just 12 points. A RRH/PMI survey of likely voters found Alexander leading with 41%, followed by Carr with 29% and challenger number two, Memphis radio station owner and physician George Flinn, pulling 5%. Carr’s raised $1.4 million, while Flinn, a self-funder, has $1.8 million in his war chest.

Also on the Tennessee ballot is embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican sophomore from the Chattanooga suburbs. DesJarlais, a Tea Partier and pro-life doctor, came under fire recently after it was revealed in decade-old divorce papers that he had eight affairs, once threatened his wife with a gun during an argument and encouraged a pregnant mistress, who also happened to be a patient, to get an abortion. On top of that, DesJarlais was fined $500 by the Tennessee medical board for inappropriate relations with a patient last year, but he has since doubled down, calling the scandal “old news.”

DesJarlais is being challenged by State. Sen. Jim Tracy, the assistant floor leader for the State Senate Caucus and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Tracy has the support of Rep. Diane Black, a fellow Republican, who has fundraised for him. Tracy’s raised $1.5 million, where DesJarlais has only cobbled together $447,000 as the scandals impacted his fundraising. DesJarlais has tried to paint Tracy as an establishment insider, but DesJarlais enters voting as one of the most imperiled House members in the country.

Finally, white Jewish Democrat Steve Cohen is hoping for a fifth term representing a majority black district in Memphis. Cohen has drawn African American challengers every cycle, and this cycle is no different. Thursday, he faces wealthy attorney Ricky Wilkins. Cohen has done some damage to himself with odd personal tweets to singer Cyndi Lauper and a 24-year-old woman he mistook for his daughter. But he has diligently done the leg work required to win back home. If 2010 was any indication – when he utterly dismantled Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton – Cohen should be fine. As of July 18, he’s out-raised Wilkins $573,000 to $264,000.

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