Senator Lamar Alexander is again having to defend his ambiguous position on Common Core, an issue that has morphed into a political landmine and a symbol of federal overreach, despite how the reading and math standards were developed by a bipartisan coalition of governors.
During the Republican primary, Tea Party candidate Joe Carr continually blasted Alexander for not coming out against Common Core. Flipping the script, Alexander’s campaign tried to used the Common Core issue against Carr in mailers sent out days before the election.
Moving into general election campaigning, Alexander has yet to move out of the shadow of Common Core.
Alexander has stood next to Governor Bill Haslam, a supporter of Common Core, as a show of solidarity for Tennessee’s use of the standards. Yet when former U.S. Secretary of Education is asked to describe his position on Common Core, he carefully dances around giving a straight response.
This is where Alexander’s general election opponent, Gordon Ball, the trial lawyer from east Tennessee, steps in. Ball’s bid at Alexander’s Senate seat faces serious headwinds, from his little-known name recognition to his Democratic party affiliation in a decidedly red state. But one way Ball is attempting to broaden his statewide appeal is adopting at least a few positions shared by Joe Carr, whose grassroots campaign put him within 9 points of the well-financed Alexander in the primary.
And Common Core is one of those issues. Ball says Carr’s strong revolt against the standards connected with voters, and he hopes the same voters turn out for him in November.
“Joe Carr and I do share some issues,” Ball said, citing his opposition to Common Core and his stance against granting amnesty to the millions of migrants who’ve entered the country illegally. “Those issues are going to resonate against him in the general election.”
Alexander said in a recent interview with WPLN that a vote for Ball is a vote for President Barack Obama’s agenda, pointing to the 11 state lawmakers who once backed Carr and are now throwing their support behind Alexander.
On Common Core, Alexander said if Tennesseans want to keep the standards, he’ll get also get behind them.
“My opponent wants to tell Tennessee what to do about Common Core and academic standards. I want to make sure Tennessee has 100 percent of the opportunity to make its own decision about its academic standards,” Alexander said. “If Tennessee wants Common Core, fine, if Tennessee doesn’t, they ought to be absolutely free to get rid of it.”
A recent Vanderbilt poll found that fewer than half of teachers across the state support the standards, marking a 20-point drop from last year.