Lamar Alexander was born in Maryville, Tenn., and now lives in Walland. He earned a bachelor's from Vanderbilt University and a law degree from New York University.
He got started in politics working with Howard Baker's 1966 U.S. Senate campaign and followed Baker to Washington as a legislative aide. Alexander worked as a congressional liaison in the Nixon White House but left before Watergate and returned to Tennessee.
He was elected governor in 1978 after mounting a 1,000-mile campaign walk across the state in which a red-and-black flannel shirt became his trademark.
Alexander was president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 to 1990, and he served as U.S. education secretary from 1990 to 1993.
He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002.
Alexander and his wife, Honey, have four children.
Lamar followed his landslide re-election in 2008 by taking on the No. 3 leadership position among Senate Republicans, only to give it up four years later in a move he said would allow him to express his ideas more freely.
Alexander announced that he would step down as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference at the end of 2011, saying it would remove pressure to publicly endorse the GOP stance on every issue and allow him to work with both parties on environmental issues, tax loopholes and debt reduction.
Alexander is serving his second full term in the Senate. He previously served two terms as Tennessee governor and ran for president twice. He was also the president of the University of Tennessee and the U.S. secretary of education.
Alexander said after his last presidential bid in 2000 that he didn't think he would stand for election again. But when Sen. Fred Thompson, a fellow Republican, unexpectedly decided not to run for re-election in 2002, Alexander jumped in and won.
After failing in his first bid for governor, Alexander in his successful bid in 1978 made a name for himself with a 1,000-mile walk across the state wearing what would become his trademark plaid shirt.
In 2008, Alexander said he was willing to laugh off darts thrown his way by Democrats, with two notable exceptions: "If they attack my plaid shirt or my piano playing, I'll be properly indignant."
Alexander supported the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions in 2008, arguing it was necessary to ease the credit crunch threatening the availability of mortgages and car loans.
But in 2009 he voted against the approximately $800 billion economic stimulus package backed by President Barack Obama, calling it "a spending bill, not a stimulus bill."
He also voted against the 2010 health care reform bill and a 2010 measure to impose new financial regulations on Wall Street.
Alexander has been most active in areas of long-held interest, particularly education. He recommended colleges move to three-year degrees and supported vouchers for D.C. schools.
Alexander supports clean energy, especially for its environmental benefits to his beloved Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He drives an electric plug-in car in Washington and co-sponsored a bipartisan call for a Manhattan Project-like commitment to clean energy research that includes finding ways to capture carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Alexander was named senior Republican on an Appropriations subcommittee dealing with the interior. The panel has funding oversight of the national parks and the Environmental Protection Agency, which has shown new interest in regulating coal ash landfills following a huge spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant in late 2008.
During Alexander's tenure as governor, he won major tax-supported improvements for K-12 and higher education. In the U.S. Senate, he has pushed for bolstering math and science as well as civics education. He has also weighed in on the immigration debate, championing efforts to help legal immigrants learn English and U.S. history.
Alexander's term as education secretary under former President George H.W. Bush focused on a Republican agenda of school choice.
Committee Assignments: Appropriations; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Environment and Public Works; Rules and Administration
American Conservative Union Rating: 75
Americans for Democratic Action Rating: 20
Recent winning percentages for office currently held: 65% (2008), 54% (2002).
(Last updated by Erik Schelzig on August 21, 2012.)