NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam said today he will not seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, leaving an open GOP primary field for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
"While Crissy and I will always be grateful for all of the encouragement and support to run for the United States Senate, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for Senate in 2018," Haslam said in a statement.
He said "the primary reason is that I want to remain completely focused on my job as governor."
The governor added "I know that being a candidate for the Senate during my last 15 months as governor would be a distraction from the task at hand."
He also said "while I have loved being a mayor and a governor, I don't feel the same call to run for Senate at this point. At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen."
Had he opted to run, Haslam would have become the immediate frontrunner in the GOP primary.
Viewed as a moderate in today's Republican Party, the governor was already coming under attack from Breitbart News, run by President Donald Trump's ultra-conservative former strategist, Steve Bannon.
Others weighing a bid including U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.
Blackburn quickly announced she was in the Senate contest, posting a video in which she described the Senate as "dysfunctional and it's enough to drive you nuts. And that's why I've decided to do something about it."
The Brentwood Republican said she is a "hard-core, card-carrying Tennessee conservative.
"I'm politically incorrect and proud of it. Let me just say it like it is. The fact that our Republican majority in the U.S. Senate can't overturn Obamacare or will not overturn Obamacare, it's a disgrace."
Blackburn later noted that "I know the left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what, I say that's alright, bring it on."
An adviser to Fincher said the "last time I talked to him he was on a tractor in Frog Jump. He is very interested. He wants to pray about it and talk to his family."
He predicted Fincher, who is a farmer, "will have more to say very soon."
Andy Ogles, the former executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the billionaire Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity is the lone announced candidate in Republican primary.
But it's widely anticipated that Blackburn, a long-time conservative favorite, will jump quickly to announce a bid.
Corker announced last week he would not seek re-election to a third term.
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