Alexander believes GOP can retake the Senate

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander believes Republicans can regain control of the U.S. Senate this election season, but he says it will take strong candidates to do it.
   "A strong argument for my candidacy is I know the state, and Tennesseans know me," said Alexander, who rolled through Carter County Tuesday afternoon in his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
   "In a race against a well-known Democratic opponent, I've shown a capacity to attract independent and Democratic voters, and my primary opponent has not.
   "He's always been elected in a safe seat in West Tennessee."
   That "he" is U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, R-7th, who bucked the wishes of some Republican party members by challenging Alexander in the GOP primary.
   The West Tennessee congressman has not shied away from leveling criticisms against Alexander.
   In a press release e-mail fired off by his press office Tuesday, Bryant was critical of Alexander's "flip-flop" regarding the role of Congress in approving the president's legislation to establish a department of homeland security.
   The two-time Republican presidential candidate said he had been disappointed by the negative tenor the Bryant campaign had taken on, and added that the state GOP wanted a candidate who would ensure the state kept two Republican senators.
   "Republicans are looking for a candidate who can win in November," he said. "Republicans are increasingly aware that this is an independent state, and that the November election will be a difficult election."
   Alexander said the war on terrorism was the top issue on the minds of most citizens he had met. He also felt the nation could sustain its commitment to fight terrorism.
   "I think the president deserves to have strong support for his proposal to streamline homeland security by creating a new department," said Alexander.
   If he wins the nomination over Bryant in the August primary, Alexander could face Democratic Party front-runner U.S. Rep. Bob Clement, D-5th, son of former Tennessee governor Frank Clement, in the November election.
   He echoed his support for President Bush in education and national defense policies, which Alexander felt gave him a nod over a Democratic candidate.
   "A senator has a significant advantage over a senator, I think, that is going to support the agenda of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, which is what the Democratic nominee would do," he said.
   Alexander announced his candidacy in March after Sen. Fred Thompson said he would leave office when his term expired.
   The Maryville native was the governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987, president of the University of Tennessee from 1988-1991, and the U.S. Education Secretary from 1991-1993.
   Most recently, Alexander was a Republican candidate for president in 1996 and 2000.
   Since leaving public office, Alexander has been active as a visiting professor at Harvard's School of Government and chairman of Coca-Cola's national Education Advisory Committee.
   Alexander also said he supported Sen. Bill Frist's efforts to give local school systems more autonomy in how they spent federal dollars.
   He touted his "G.I. Bill for Kids" which is modeled after the military G.I. Bill and the Pell grant program to provide college students with financial assistance.
   The program would provide federal education scholarships that could be used for middle- and low-income children at any accredited school, he said.
   "I'd like to transform the U.S. Education Department so that it lets the money follow students to the schools they attend," Alexander added. "We can increase federal spending for schools that serve middle- and low-income children without federal strings."