By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE Tenn. (Reuters) - Tennessee Republicans on Thursday will decide whether Senator Lamar Alexander has earned a shot at a third term or they should look to one of a half-dozen challengers led by a state representative with Tea Party support.
Alexander has crisscrossed the state for the past couple of weeks in a bus tour aimed at convincing voters to support him in Thursday's Republican Primary as the party has other incumbent U.S. senators over their challengers so far in 2014.
Alexander is the favorite in the primary and has outspent state Representative Joe Carr, his nearest challenger who has broad Tea Party support, by more than five to one, political analysts have said.
Pat Nolan, a long-time Tennessee political analyst, said Alexander has not taken anything for granted and believes the question Thursday will his margin of victory, which could change the way the incumbent looks at the general election.
"He may feel that if he gets less than 50 percent of his Republican primary that he may campaign leaning a little more to the right in the fall," Nolan said of Alexander.
U.S. Senate incumbents in 2014 have not fallen in Republican primaries to Tea Party challengers, whose success most notably in defeating former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in June shook the Washington and Republican establishments.
Cantor's loss has been viewed widely as stemming from a neglect of his district and overconfidence. That has not been a question for Alexander, who spent nearly $5.2 million from the start of 2013 through July 18 to less than $1 million by Carr, according to federal campaign filings.
Alexander had "a solid, but not insurmountable lead" at 41 percent in a late July survey, with Carr at 29 percent and former Shelby County commissioner George Flinn at 5 percent, according to Red Racing Horses, a Republican-oriented blog with no connections to the candidates.
The survey conducted July 28 to July 30 had a 5 percent margin of error, it said.
Also Thursday, state Republicans will decide whether to nominate U.S. Representative Scott DesJarlais for a third term. The physician first elected in 2010 admitted to a state board last year to having had sexual relationships with two female patients in 2000.
DesJarlais faces state Senator Jim Tracy and several other challengers in the primary.
(Additional reporting by Nick Carey; Writing by David Bailey)