Meet Joe Carr, the Last Tea Party Senate Challenger of 2014

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 14 2014 3:50 PM

Meet Joe Carr, the Last Tea Party Senate Challenger of 2014

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David Brat's "Bratmentum" surges ahead.

Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images

A few thousand votes in Mississippi have, for now, prevented this from being the third consecutive year of Tea Party upsets. The hardy activists of Virginia's 7th District took down Rep. Eric Cantor; the swollen movement that declares this or that race a "target," then does not win it, did not even play in VA-07.

No surprise, then, that this year's last remaining challengers have called themselves the true heirs of Bratmentum. Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr is the most optimistic of the remainders, and he's been all Brat all the time in discussing his race against Sen. Lamar Alexander. The day after the Brat win, Carr appeared on CNBC as "the next Dave Brat" (question mark essential). "No race should be taken for granted," he crowed in a statement, "and all the money and position in the world doesn't resonate with an electorate that is fed up with a Washington establishment that has abandoned conservative principles." A day later, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, whose ability to get quoted has only slightly faded in the four years since he organized the only National Tea Party Convention, pronounced Carr the "next Dave Brat." And the Bratification has hardly stopped:

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One thing Carr learned from the Brat race: The GOP base is more irritable about immigration reform than anyone admits. And unlike Cantor, Alexander actually voted for the Senate's immigration bill. Off to the ad-maker's shop he went:

Another Brat lesson: Laura Ingraham, who made that race about immigration, is a powerful influencer. Just today, the Carr campaign sent out a compilation of Ingraham quotes, leading with her insistence that she was "all in" for Carr.*

"He's no nonsense," said Ingraham, "a citizen legislator he'll be and he'll be someone who will actually listen to the people, politicians at some point do have to listen to the concerns of the people, not just the concerns of one or two, big, fat, interest groups like either LaRaza or the Chamber of Commerce. The people still count. Don't they, Lamar?"

Who knows? The primary is on Aug. 7, and there's been almost no polling in the race. If there were polling, Carr could point to the farcical mistakes made by the hacks who told Cantor he was going to win. The presence of a Tea Party challenge, even if it's swatted away easily, keeps the party nervous enough to run out the immigration reform clock.

*Correction, July 14, 2014: This post originally misstated that Laura Ingraham recently endorsed David Brat. She recently endorsed Joe Carr.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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