Alexander Defends His Shirt

U.S. Senate candidate Lamar Alexander says Republican opponent Ed Bryant has gone too far. 

"He's on TV, attacking my shirt," Alexander said in a radio commercial that began airing Tuesday. "I think he's made a big mistake." 

Bryant, the congressman from the 7th District in West Tennessee, launched a TV ad last week targeting the former governor's trademark red-and-plaid shirt. "Don't be plaid, be solid for Bryant," the ad said. 

Though Alexander isn't campaigning in the shirt this year, he's standing behind the symbol of his populist 1978 campaign for governor. 

"Most East Tennesseans associate that shirt with good times that made us all proud," Alexander says, from "cleaning up corruption (to) ... homecoming celebrations from Ooltewah to Roan Mountain. 

"If that plaid shirt represents the kind of experience and leadership you'd like to put in the U.S. Senate, I'd welcome your support." 

Alexander also began airing two new TV ads. 

One promotes his East Tennessee "values of work, church and family." 

The other claims Bryant spent $36,000 in taxpayer money on car leases and "for car washes" from 1996-2001, quoting U.S. House clerk records. 

While acknowledging the leases are not illegal or unethical, Alexander spokesman Kevin Phillips says it shows poor judgment on Bryant's part. 

Bryant says the ad is unfair since House members are allowed to lease cars as part of their office expenses. He says many of his colleagues do it, especially those with large districts. 

The ad also says the former federal prosecutor received a grade of "C" on his voting record in 1998 by the National Taxpayers Union. 

Group spokesman Pete Sepp said 1998 was Bryant's lowest mark. He received an "A" in 1995 and "B's" in all other years, from 1996 through 2001. 

Alexander and Bryant are running in the Aug. 1 GOP primary. The winner will face likely Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville, in the November general election.