"While I'm not starting a campaign today, I wanted to make it clear to the people of Tennessee that I would be a candidate next year when the time comes," Alexander told about 50 friends and political allies gathered over breakfast in a park pavilion.
The former governor, U.S. education secretary, university president and two-time presidential candidate said it was important to reveal his plans in Maryville, where his family has lived since the 1820s and he has announced every major campaign of his career.
"It is my home. It's where I'm coming from," Alexander, 66, said of the community in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains south of Knoxville.
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham, a former U.S. attorney and boyhood friend, introduced him by saying, "The cream always rises to the top. We have so much pride that he is a native son."
Susan Williams of Knoxville, a member of Alexander's gubernatorial administration and a former state Republican chairwoman, said she was surprised at the timing but not the content of the announcement.
"Clearly, we all want him to run, and I am glad he is running again. He has been good for Tennessee," she said. "Lamar has always enjoyed really broad support from Republicans and independents, and quite frankly, he has had some good Democratic support in the past. I think he will be re-elected."
The early move should head off any primary opposition, but party officials differ on whether that will translate into an easy election to a second term.
Tennessee Republican Chairman Bob Davis said Alexander has "rock solid" support from the GOP faithful and "there was no danger whatsoever" of Alexander having to face a major GOP rival in the primary. He defeated former congressman Ed Bryant in the 2002 primary and then went on to beat Democrat Bob Clement in the general election.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he will be re-elected," Davis said. "I don't see anybody on the other side of the aisle (Democrats) that will be able to mount a serious compaign against Senator Alexander, and it would be a futile attempt to try."
State Democratic Chairman Gray Sasser said, however, that while Alexander's announcement may have been intended to "drive everybody out of the primary," it also revealed the incumbent's "cause for concern" in a Red State showing signs of leaning Democrat.
Describing Alexander's support as something less than "a mile wide and an inch deep," Sasser said, "We look forward to mounting a very spirited campaign against him and I am optimistic about our chances."
Alexander said he decided to run again "because I believe Washington needs some leadership that is willing to walk across the aisle and go across party lines and work on big projects."
Some of those issues include affordable market-based health insurance for all, a "responsible" end to the war in Iraq without a pullout deadline and securing American borders while helping prospective citizens learn English.
"I am willing to do that, and I have had plenty of experience doing that," Alexander said, reflecting on his work with a Democratic legislature when he was governor and more recent attempts at bipartisanship in the Senate.
Alexander hasn't officially launched his campaign, but a 5-minute campaign video was to be posted on the Web Tuesday.
Later in the day, Alexander, an accomplished pianist, was going to rehearse with singer Patti Page in hopes she would agree to sing "Tennessee Waltz" for a Wednesday fund-raiser at Nashville's new symphony hall. Just a few months ago, Alexander considered retiring after one term when he lost a bid to become Senate Republican whip, deputy to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "After the whip race, we asked ourselves, â€˜Is it worth staying up here or should we go do something else?'" said Tom Ingram, Alexander's longtime chief of staff. "And he came to the conclusion that there is still plenty to do and he can do it from the role of an independent-minded senator."