Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) doesn’t appear as concerned as other veteran Republicans that a drawn out presidential primary campaign will put the eventual GOP nominee at a disadvantage against President Barack Obama in the fall.
Alexander recalls then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) urging him to quit the 1996 GOP presidential primary after he finished a close third to eventual nominee Bob Dole in New Hampshire. Dole finished second in the Granite State to Pat Buchanan. Alexander said he didn’t heed Gingrich’s advice then, and he does not think it’s necessary for any of the four candidates to prematurely drop out of the 2012 contest.
“I believe in letting the football season play all the way to the Super Bowl,” Alexander said today in an interview with Roll Call. “The frontrunner always wants to cut it short. I remember Newt Gingrich calling me to get out of the race when Bob Dole came  percentage points ahead of me in New Hampshire back in 1996. I didn’t like that very much; I was just getting started. So, I think it ought to run its course.”
Gingrich, running as an insurgent candidate in the current GOP presidential primary, has simultaneously rebuffed calls to exit the race in favor of frontrunner Mitt Romney while suggesting that former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) drop out to allow him a clear shot at the former Massachusetts governor. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) also remains a force in the primary.
Among the remaining four candidates, Alexander does have a favorite. But the Senator said he has not decided whether he’ll publicize his preference before Tennessee votes on Super Tuesday on March 6. Alexander said he views Romney and Gingrich to be the frontrunners, although he credited Paul and Santorum for their persistence. Alexander and Santorum both previously served as Senate Republican Conference chairmen.
“We’re down to basically a well-resected former governor and former Speaker of the House; that’s a pretty good choice,” Alexander said.
“I operate on the theory that Tennesseans didn’t elect me to tell them how to vote, so I’m going to let people make their own decisions,” he added. “I may say how I’m going to vote before our primary in March, but I don’t believe in endorsements.”
Alexander served as Tennessee governor and Education Secretary under President George H.W. Bush before running for Senate. He ran for president in 1996 and briefly again in 2000.