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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is the latest member of Congress to face a tea party primary challenge
Voters in Tennessee go to the polls Aug. 7 in the nation's only Thursday primary (the state has held election days on Thursday since 1796, and no one's really sure why). Below is our guide to the key races. Polls close at 8 PM ET and we'll be liveblogging the results at Daily Kos Elections.

TN-Sen (R): Two-term senator and former governor Lamar Alexander is a reliable conservative, but he has made some bipartisan gestures over the years that have enraged the tea party. Six candidates are challenging Alexander in the primary. The most prominent is state Rep. Joe Carr, who has earned the endorsements of conservative favorites like Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham. In a year full of plenty of Republican primary surprises and some unexpected close calls, Alexander can take nothing for granted. However, he has some clear advantages. Polls show Alexander winning, though by very inconsistent margins. Alexander has been taking the race seriously, outspending Carr $1,347,000 to $179,000 in the final weeks of the race.

The multitude of primary challengers should also give Alexander a lift. Unlike many other southern states, Tennessee does not have a primary runoff if no one wins a majority of the vote. Physician and former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn is running and he has used his own money to outspend Carr. Even if Alexander is held below 50 percent, Carr, Flinn, and the other four minor challengers can split the anti-Alexander vote enough to let the incumbent coast to victory on a plurality. The stakes are high here and an upset is possible, but an Alexander defeat would be a big surprise.

Head below the fold for a look at the state's House primaries.

To help follow along, here is an interactive map of the state's House districts.

Interactive map of Tennessee's new congressional districts
TN-03 (R): Sophomore Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann had a weak primary performance in 2012, taking only 39 percent against three opponents. One of his old foes, venture capitalist Weston Wamp, is back for a rematch. Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zack Wamp, is portraying himself as a breath of fresh air in a dysfunctional Congress. Wamp has been running to Fleischmann's left and courting moderate voters, an interesting tactic in a Republican primary. Both sides have been spending heavily in the last few weeks, with Fleischmann outspending Wamp, $417,000 to $363,000.

Wamp has made a good impression on the campaign trail, and Fleischmann allies are reportedly worried about the race. However, Wamp has made some mistakes. He got some very bad headlines in March, when Wamp visited dairy magnate Scottie Mayfield, who ran well in the 2012 primary. Wamp attempted to get Mayfield to remain neutral in the race but secretly recorded his conversation with Mayfield. Mayfield is backing Fleischmann and recently recorded an ad detailing the incident. It's also unclear if primary voters are willing to oust Fleischmann, who has been a dependably conservative vote. There's a lot of uncertainty in this race, but we'll have our answers soon.

TN-04 (R): Until recently, sophomore Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais looked like a dead man walking. In October of 2012 it emerged that when he was a practicing physician, DesJarlais had affairs with multiple patients and tried to convince at least one to have an abortion. The district was Republican enough for DesJarlais to win re-election, but the scandal ensured that he'd face a tough primary challenger. Six Republicans are trying to unseat the incumbent, but only state Sen. Jim Tracy looks credible. With the incumbent's fundraising drying up and Tracy raising well, this looked like an all-but-certain Tracy win.

However, in recent weeks it's begun to look like DesJarlais can turn things around. A poll for a DesJarlais-friendly group showed the incumbent winning, and by a big 45-20 margin. While Tracy's camp has disputed the numbers, they never answered with a poll of their own. With DesJarlais' scandal becoming old news, it looks like many primary voters are ready to move on and let the incumbent off the hook. DesJarlais recently was diagnosed with neck cancer, which seems to have generated sympathy for him. Tracy has also started explicitly reminding voters of the scandal in ads, which looks like a sign that he doesn't think this race is in the bag. Tracy has outspent DesJarlais $423,000 to $113,000 and could very well pull off a victory here. However, what has once looked like a sure thing has now turned into a much more unpredictable contest.  

TN-09 (D): As a white congressman in an overwhelmingly African-American seat, four-term Rep. Steve Cohen has never taken re-election for granted. Cohen has decisively defeated primary challenges in the past three cycles, and should be favored against attorney Ricky Wilkins this time. Cohen has the support of Barack Obama and has outspent Wilkins $94,000 to $66,000 in the final weeks of the campaign.

There are a few reasons this race is worth keeping an eye on though. In 2013 Cohen made headlines after he discovered a woman he thought was his daughter, but turned out not to be. It's far from clear if the matter hurt him politically (it's possible it generated sympathy for him if anything), but the matter adds a bit of unpredictability to this race. Cohen also lost much of his old base to redistricting. While it was not an issue in 2012 against a weak primary foe, in a tougher contest it could matter. The incumbent is very unlikely to lose, but this is still worth watching just in case.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 10:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks and Daily Kos.

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