U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said today it's still too early to read too much into a new poll showing that the seat he is giving up might go to a Democrat.
A survey of 600 registered Tennessee voters released Thursday by Middle Tennessee State University showed that former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the leading Democrat in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race, enjoys a 10 percentage point advantage over U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the leading Republican candidate in the race to succeed Corker.
"It's early and there's still a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and the election ," Corker said following a meeting today with the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of what happens in Washington this year, quite honestly, will affect the election."
Corker, who briefly considered getting back into the race earlier this year after an earlier poll also showed Bredesen leading the field, said his decision to leave the U.S. Senate and give up chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next year "was a difficult decision."
"But it was the right decision," he said, noting that he had always said he planned to serve two 6-year terms in the U.S. Senate similar to his predecessor, Sen. Bill Frist, who stepped down as Senate Majority Leader after 12 years in the Senate.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor and commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, was elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time in 2006 and was re-elected in 2012. Corker said he has tried to be independent, rather than partisan, and declined to interject his views in the current race to the next Tennessee senator.
Republicans currently have a bare 51-48 majority (with one independent) in the U.S. Senate so the partisan leadership of the Senate could be determined in November in a number of states like Tennessee where incumbents are not running again or face strong challengers.
For the next nine months, Corker said he will concentrate on his Senate job and hopes his successor elected in November will continue Tennessee's reputation for leadership in the upper chamber of the Senate.
"There's been something in the water here where some how or another in our state, we've had senators of import," he said.
In past three decades, Tennessee has elected to U.S. Senate Democrats Al Gore Jr., who nearly was elected president, and Jim Sasser, who was chairman of the Senate budget committee, and Republicans Howard Baker and Frist, who both served as Senate Majority leaders, and Corker and Lamar Alexander, who are chairs, respectively, of the Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.
"I hope that the next senator of our state, whoever that is, aspires to be a great statesman," Corker said. "We've had senators in our state, generally speaking since Howard Baker, who have been of national prominence and have reached across the aisle and been statesman to solve problems. I just hope whoever our next senator is aspires to be that."
Corker said he doesn't know yet what his own future will be after his term ends in January. But he said he enjoys working on complex problems and, after earning millions of dollars in the real estate development business earlier in his career, he would like to try to continue to do some public service tasks.
"I've been working since I was 13 years old and I love public service," Corker said. "I don't have any financial needs at this point, but I really don't know yet."