“But at the end of the day it's a personal decision about what you want to do with your life, and it's a question of can I be helpful in this role.”
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he plans to decide fairly soon whether to run to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate after the surprise announcement by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., this week that he won't seek reelection next year.
"I do think it's really important who serves, and I think it means spending some time thinking about it and praying about it, which I'll do over the next several days," Haslam, a Republican and friend of Corker, told reporters Thursday.
Haslam, who is term-limited and leaves office in January 2019, said he is discussing it with his wife, Crissy, and others as well.
Should Haslam, a billionaire, enter the race, it could lead to an epic GOP primary clash. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., said they were seriously looking at running in the GOP primary.
Haslam said he and Corker had discussed the senator's decision-making process but he was "hoping and expecting" him to run. Before Corker made his decision public, Haslam said, the senator called to give him a heads-up because the governor's phone was likely to begin ringing.
Asked if Corker wanted him to seek the seat, the governor said, "I guess. But I'll let him say that. But I've heard from a lot of folks on the national political scene, and a lot of people around Tennessee.
"But at the end of the day it's a personal decision about what you want to do with your life, and it's a question of can I be helpful in this role," the governor added.
Haslam has also spoken "a couple of times" with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former governor and the state's senior senator.
"So I think Sen. Alexander has been encouraging that I should think about it seriously. He sees how important the United States Senate is, and the decisions that happen there," the governor added.
And with many believing Blackburn will run, a Twitter campaign began with two Republican state representatives, Ron Gant of Rossville and Jeremy Faison of Cosby, as well as several music industry figures, including songwriter Lee Greenwood, urging Blackburn, a staunch conservative, to run using a #runmarsharun hashtag.
Meanwhile, former White House strategist Steve Bannon's Breitbart News may be trying to assist Haslam with his decision-making process.
The site on Thursday blared this headline: "TN Gov. Bill Haslam Praises Brother, NFL's Cleveland Browns Owner, Who Attacked Trump over Anthem-Kneelers."
That's a reference to Haslam's brother, Cleveland Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam, having joined the list of NFL team owners objecting to President Donald Trump calling on owners to fire players who kneel when the national anthem is played.
Jimmy and wife, Dee Haslam, called the president's comments "divisive" as well as "misguided" and "uninformed."
The governor did not support Trump's candidacy, asking the GOP nominee to step aside after recorded comments made by Trump about women became public. Haslam asked Trump to let his running mate, Mike Pence, lead the ticket.
As for the NFL controversy, Haslam told The Tennessean newspaper earlier this week that in talking with various people "I think the consensus I hear around me is, players have a right to express their opinions. And fans have a right to decide whether or not they're going to continue to go to games."
Right now, the only announced candidate in the Republican Senate primary is Andy Ogles, former executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the billionaire Koch brothers'-supported Americans for Prosperity.
But state Sen. Mark Green, R-Ashland City, has been weighing a bid, although observers think he might change course if Blackburn gets in, leaving her seat vacant in the 2018 election.
Former state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, is looking at getting in the race, too.
While Ogles, Green and Carr had been weighing bids for some time, the 65-year-old Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor and current Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman who had been wrestling with running for a third term, opened the floodgates with his Tuesday announcement he wouldn't run again.
Corker said he and his wife, Elizabeth, decided against a reelection run. He added that when he ran for the Senate in 2006, he told voters he "couldn't imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult."
Had he run, Corker was clearly in for a rough ride in the GOP primary. The senator has been supportive of President Donald Trump on some issues but recently criticized him after the president blamed both white nationalists and anti-racist protesters for violence at an August rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Corker questioned whether Trump had so far shown the "stability" and "competence" to succeed in office. Trump responded by assailing the senator via Twitter, also noting Corker was undecided about seeking re-election.
The pair patched up their differences and, according to Corker, the president had urged him to seek re-election. But Bannon was active in seeking a challenger for Corker and his alt-right website, Breitbart News, which assailed Corker recently.
Haslam said he recognizes that being one of 100 senators in a legislative role is far different from being governor, a job he noted he loves.
"[T]hat's a fairly different job than this, so it's worthy of some consideration," Haslam said.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.