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Sen. Lamar Alexander takes on tea party candidate in primary

In this election cycle, the Tea Party has repeatedly tried — and failed — to oust incumbent mainstream conservatives. Tonight will be their last shot.
Lamar Alexander
Sen. Lamar Alexander, (R-TN) is interviewed after a campaign stop in a restaurant in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. on Aug. 5, 2014.

Update, 9:43 p.m.: Sen. Lamar Alexander has beaten  Rep. Joe Carr in Thursday’s primary battle in Tennessee. Go here for more information.

Thursday marks primary day in Tennessee – and the last chance during the 2014 midterms for the tea party to pick off an incumbent Republican establishment senator.

The marquee race of the day involves tea party-backed state Rep. Joe Carr, who’s up against Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

In this election cycle, the tea party has repeatedly tried — and failed — to oust incumbent mainstream conservatives, including Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Thad Cochran in Mississippi, John Cornyn in Texas, and Pat Roberts in Kansas. If Alexander secures a primary victory, it would be the first time since 2008 that all incumbent GOP senators won their re-nomination bids.

It would also be a big victory for the GOP establishment since many believe tea party candidates wouldn’t fare as well in the general election.  Republicans need to gain six seats to control the upper chamber of Congress in 2015.

Polling is on Alexander’s side. A survey conducted by his campaign showed the 74-year-old taking 53% of the vote compared to Carr’s 24%, followed by long shot candidate George Flinn with 5%. Team Carr maintains the race is much closer and has cited a poll by Tea Party Nation showing Carr behind Alexander by just 7%. Carr has been given a boost with endorsements from conservative radio host Laura Ingraham and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

If Roberts’ primary defeat of tea party challenger Milton Wolf earlier this week in Kansas is any indication, the race in the Volunteer State could be closer than expected. Roberts beat Wolf, 48% to 41%. Surveys released shortly before the race had showed Roberts with a double-digit lead. 

Carr’s main line of attack on Alexander, a former Tennessee governor, has focused on the senator’s vote in favor of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul, which has been stalled in the GOP-controlled House. Carr has argued the bill amounts to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

The winner of Thursday’s primary will face one of four Democrats who are vying for the party’s nomination in November's general election, although the Senate seat is expected to remain in control of the Republicans.