U.S. Sen. Bob Corker called on Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday to seek a unity candidate with big vision for the 2016 Republican presidential primary - right before mentioning his ability to bring people together and make his decades-old vision of Chattanooga a reality.
Yet in a candid meeting with Times Free Press reporters and editors, Tennessee's junior senator and former Chattanooga mayor said he's not aiming for the White House -- but he sure hopes there's a good candidate out there who will.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said mixed signals from Corker about a presidential bid may be real, imagined --or Corker may just be playing good politics.
"You'd like to keep your name visible and mentioned -- maybe for selection as a vice presidential running mate. Or, if everything falls out with other candidates, you want to be somebody who, when columns get written, your name gets mentioned," Oppenheimer said.
Corker last week told reporters in Middle Tennessee he had not ruled out a White House bid, but he pulled back from that statement later, saying he was jet-lagged and it was a "stream of consciousness response."
He said in a meeting at the newspaper Wednesday morning he was not gearing up for a campaign.
"I just hope we are going to have a consensus candidate, who can unify us and has a vision," he said. "When I get up in the morning and shave, I don't think I'm looking at the person who needs to do that."
Corker said he wasn't sure he wanted to put his family through a campaign. And he said he knew of a few others who might go for the job -- but he declined to share names.
Oppenheimer said Corker may be playing close to his vest -- or he may just not be ready to announce, since other Republican candidates have hit the ground running.
The likes of Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and the Texas duo, Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, all dropped into Iowa this month -- the state with the nation's earliest presidential primary.
"The problem he would face is there are people out there that are being more aggressive about potential presidential candidacies," Oppenheimer said.
Corker has not done any fundraising or given any indication he was building a campaign, but there might be a reason for that, Oppenheimer said.
"Had he been trying to raise money in Tennessee, it would have taken money from Lamar Alexander during the primary. Things can get sticky there, during primaries."
Alexander, the state's senior senator, successfully defended a challenge to his seat by tea party-backed state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas.
Whether Corker plays any role in the 2016 contest remains to be seen.
"I'm just hoping there is going to be someone," Corker said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6481.