In the final weeks of campaigning, two Republicans challenging Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander are harping on the same issue — illegal immigration. Both Memphis businessman George Flinn and Rutherford County state Rep. Joe Carr have released ads trying to tie Alexander to the current influx on the southern border.
“Children used as smokescreens for gangs and drug dealers,” Flinn says in his most recent ad. “The economic effects are shocking.”
“President Obama created this crisis only after Lamar Alexander voted for amnesty,” Carr says in his ad that began airing July 2.
Alexander did vote with Democrats for the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act” of 2013, which opened up some new avenues to legal status for undocumented immigrants as well as adding some 40,000 Border Patrol agents. The House still hasn’t voted on the measure.
While Tennessee-based polling finds immigration is less divisive than it was a few years ago, it’s an issue that still drives a segment of Republican voters, says Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer. And he says Alexander’s challengers are hoping what happened to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could happen in Tennessee
“One conclusion out of the Virginia race was that [Cantor] got hurt because of immigration,” he said. “So I think they’re going to latch onto anything, and everything and if that seems to be a convenient vehicle, they’ll use it.”
Still, Oppenheimer says he doesn’t think the approach will work, especially since both Flinn and Carr are trying the same thing, effectively dividing any anti-Alexander sentiment.
Alexander has not responded directly to his opponents on almost any issue, much less their claims that he is soft on immigration. But he has put out statements in recent days calling for “strong, swift action” on the border, “using the National Guard if necessary.”
Early voting in Tennessee primaries begins July 18.