U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said any candidate who campaigns with a chicken dressed in plaid isn't trying to run a "serious campaign."

"These are serious times …" he said. "Running around with a chicken is not serious."

The chicken is a gimmick for Democratic nominee Gordon Ball's campaign and part of a bus tour criticizing the senator for Alexander's refusal to debate before the Nov. 4 general election.

"He won't come out, he won't come out and fight. He'll fight on TV, and he'll fight through his TV ads, but that's it," Ball said.

The Alexander camp contends that they did indeed debate issues Oct. 16 at the Tennessee Farm Bureau forum at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

"A man who runs around with a chicken isn't running a serious campaign, though the chicken does look pretty good in plaid," Alexander said.

A plaid shirt was Alexander's trademark when he campaigned for governor in 1978 by walking across the state.

Alexander addressed the dressed-chicken issue after he made a campaign stop Thursday afternoon in Murfreesboro where he toured the manufacturing facilities at Reeves-Sain before delivering a stump speech to the gathered faithful.

Shane Reeves, co-owner of the medical supply company and pharmacy on Memorial Boulevard, said he invited Alexander to tour the business because of the role the senator played in getting legislation passed regulating compounding pharmacies.

"If we hadn't had that, that business would be gone," Reeves said, pointing to his compounding pharmacy that fills thousands of orders a year. A compounded prescription is one that has been individually prepared to address the needs of a particular patient.

Reeves was referring to the Pharmaceutical Compounding Quality and Accountability Act, which arose after a 2012 meningitis outbreak left 16 people dead and 153 sickened in Tennessee. Nationally, 64 patients died while 750 were sickened.

The outbreak was traced to a compounding facility in Massachusetts that sent out thousands of vials of fungus-tainted methylprednisolone acetate.

In the months that followed, legislators in Washington, D.C. took action and developed a bill to regulate compounding facilities.

"We had a tragedy in Tennessee," Alexander said at the campaign stop.

He said legislators had a challenge in balancing the need to protect the public while keeping businesses open.

So he brought ideas back to Tennessee and bounced them off supporters like Reeves.

Reeves said the legislation clarifies the roles of compounding pharmacies, like Reeves-Sain, and manufacturers, like the one in Massachusetts, as well as set rules for regulating the industry.

Rick Sain, Reeves's partner, said Alexander was instrumental in getting legislation passed that both ensures the safety of the public but protects smaller firms like Reeve-Sain.

Alexander then asked for the crowd's support in the election, calling for votes against President Barack Obama's agenda and help getting a Republican majority in congress.

Before his campaign speech, Alexander toured Reeves-Sain's medical building, extended care pharmacy and drug store.