Former Governor Lamar Alexander(r) chatted with fellow Senate aspirant Bob Clement (l) and talk-show host Mike Fleming at Jimmy Naifeh's 'Coon Supper' Thursday.

COVINGTON -- Former governor Lamar Alexander said Thursday that his Republican primary opponent in the U.S. Senate race, 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, “should spent more time characterizing himself and less time distorting my record” and denied suggestions by Bryant and others that he had advance knowledge of Sen. Fred Thompson‘s plans not to seek reelection.

Talking with reporters on the grounds of Covington Country Club, where state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh was hosting his annual “Coon Supper” for members of the legislature and other state politicians, Alexander discounted Bryant’s claims of being a more genuine conservative than himself. “He’s a good conservative,and I’m a good conservative,” Alexander said. “The issue should be, who is the most experienced and has the best record.” The former governor and two-time presidential candidate said he had been a defender of such conservative causes as Right-to-Work and Right-to-Life and that former Reagan cabinet official Bill Bennett, a well-known figure on the Repubican Right, had told Nashville talk-show host Steve Gill recently, “’He [Alexander[ is to the right of me.’”

Acknowledging that Senator Bill Frist. head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, had “encouraged” him to run for the Senate a year ago, when Thompson had first indicated he might not seek reelection, Alexander insisted that he had no advance knowledge from Thompson, Frist, or the White House about the senator’s final decision this year, made after the untimely death of Thompson’s daughter.

“ I’d heard rumors like other people,” saide Alexander, who said his first certain information came in a phone call from Senator Frist on the morning of the day--Friday, March 8-- on which Thompson would announce he was withdrawing from his reelec6tion campaign.

Noting that .Thompson had reacted to the events of September 11th by shelving earlier plans to withdraw, Alexander said that day of national crisis was the final catalyst that made u his own mind about running when and if the opportunity should present itself.

About frequent reports that the White House had expressed a preference for his own Senate candidacy, Alexander said, “ I keep reading that, but the only person who saysAlexander said he had thus far amassed a “primary budget” of $3 million and was organized in every Tennessee county.

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