(CNSNews.com) - Former Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander announced Monday he will run for the Republican nomination to succeed Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who announced his retirement last Friday.
"This is an unexpected course of action for me. I've been happy as a private citizen. I regret Fred's decision, but I respect it," Alexander said at a Nashville news conference.
He also referred to the six-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington during his announcement and vowed to help America win the war against terrorism.
"As senator, I will do whatever I can to help our country win this war. But I will work just as hard at home - fixing our schools, strengthening our families and communities and helping those who are hurting to get a better job. While we are at our best, I want to help capture this moment and use it to make our country permanently stronger," Alexander said.
Alexander served as Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987. He was U.S. Education Secretary from 1991-93 under the first President Bush. Alexander sought the GOP nomination for the presidency in 1996 and 2000, but he did not receive the nomination either time. His campaign signature during the 2000 campaign was the red and plaid shirt.
Alexander spent last year teaching at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and had planned to return this fall. He was president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 until 1991.
But Alexander will be facing a primary challenge from Rep. Ed Bryant, one of the 13 House Clinton impeachment managers. Bryant announced his candidacy last Saturday.
"It is crucial for our party to have a senator that can work together with President George W. Bush instead of attacking and obstructing his positive, compassionate conservative agenda," he said.
On the Democratic side, perennial candidate John J. Hooker has announced his candidacy while Rep. Harold Ford said he would sound out support around the Volunteer State before making a decision.
Tennessee holds its primary on August 1.
Mike Tuffin, communications director for GOPAC and a former Tennessee political consultant thinks Alexander is the strongest possible candidate for the GOP to hold the Senate seat.
"You've got a guy with 100 percent name ID in a state that's bigger than most people realize. He is a prolific fundraiser and a tireless, tireless campaigner, even his critics would concede that," said Tuffin in an interview with CNSNews.com.
"Republicans are realizing that we have to coalesce around our best candidate, the one that can hold the seat for sure and I think that's Lamar," he said.
"On the Democratic side, there is no question that Harold Ford is a rising star in the national Democratic Party, but I don't think Tennessee is going to elect a liberal Democratic congressman from Memphis statewide," Tuffin said.
Tuffin also worked for Alexander in both of his presidential campaigns as well.
The Tennessee Democratic Party sees things differently, according to its spokesman Tom Hayden.
"We're going to have a great group of Democratic candidates to run either he (Lamar Alexander) or Ed Bryant and we've got a very good shot at taking back this U.S. Senate seat," said Hayden.
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