By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will be challenged by conservative state representative Joe Carr in the Republican primary next year, becoming the fourth incumbent Republican U.S. senator to face a primary challenge from the political right.
"Tennesseans are hungry for strong, principled, conservative leadership, so I am answering the call," Carr said in a statement on Tuesday after making the announcement on a Nashville radio station.
Carr said Alexander, 73, had failed to advance the conservative cause or change politics in Washington.
Alexander is a former Tennessee governor, Secretary of Education and presidential candidate.
Republican U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell faces a challenge from conservative businessman Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Wyoming U.S. Senator Mike Enzi is being challenged by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham faces at least three primary challengers in South Carolina.
The challengers are backed by the Tea Party movement, which wants to drastically shrink the size of the U.S. government, and feels that the incumbent senators have not been assertive enough in opposing President Barack Obama's policies.
Alexander angered some conservatives by backing an immigration reform bill in the Senate earlier this year.
Twenty Tennessee Tea Party and conservative groups last week published an open letter calling on Alexander to retire with dignity instead of seeking re-election in 2014.
Alexander responded with an opinion piece in The (Nashville) Tennessean newspaper rejecting the call, saying the state needs to send to Washington conservatives who know how to govern.
"Governing means listening, standing up for what you believe in and solving problems to get a result," he said.
Republicans need to gain six seats in the 2014 election to gain a majority in the U.S. Senate. They have several opportunities to pick up seats now held by Democrats who are retiring. But they must also hold onto the seats of incumbents such as Alexander.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Greg McCune)