Despite strong intra-party challenges to many Republicans in Congress, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker easily won the GOP nomination for a second term on Tuesday by capturing more than 85 percent of the vote in the five-candidate GOP field.
Corker, the 59-year-old former Chattanooga mayor who narrowly won his seat over former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. in 2006, will have a much easier time this year in November.
Seven Democratic candidates sought the longshot chance of unseating Corker, but collectively the Democrats received only about a third of the vote Corker got in Thursday's balloting. Mark E. Clayton, a 35-year-old vice president of the conservative advocacy group known as Public Advocate of the United States, will be the Democratic Senate nominee.
Clayton, who lives near Nashville, also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2008. So far, he hasn't even raised enough campaign contributions to report his collections to the Federal Elections Commission.
"We feel very fortunate to be in the position we're in and it's certainly a different position than we were six years ago," said Todd Womack, Corker's chief of staff. "I think that is reflective of the work Sen. Corker has done and the appreciation Tennesseans have for his service."
In 2004, Corker won the GOP nomination with 48 percent of the vote against two former congressmen before going on to defeat Ford by less than 50,000 votes in one of the closest statewide races in Tennessee in a generation. Corker was the only new Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, a year in which the Democrats gained majority control of the U.S. Senate.
Bruce Oppenheimer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor, said he was surprised that tea party backers didn't try this year to mount a more serious challenge to Corker. Some conservatives have criticized Corker in the past for supporting the federal bailout of Wall Street in 2008 and agreeing to support some tax increases to help balance the budget.
"In a lot of states you've had conservatives challenge Senate incumbents and in Tennessee we had two freshman House members [U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and Diane Black of Gallatin] face serious opposition," Oppenheimer said. "But nobody in the Republican or Democratic Party stepped forward with any experience or resources to challenge him."
Corker raised nearly $13.4 million for his Senate campaign and spent only half that amount, or $6.8 million, through the first half of 2012.
Only two Democrats even raised enough money in their campaigns to have to file reports. Larry Crim, chief executive for Christian Counseling Centers of America in Nashville, raised the most with $43,355, while Actress Park Overall collected $5,761.
Corker, who flew back to Tennessee on Thursday night after voting in Washington, said in a statement he is "focused on our country's most urgent problems--getting our economy growing again and getting our government's fiscal house in order.
"Fortunately, I believe there is growing support on both sides of the aisle for passing tax reforms that encourage job creation, for protecting the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and finally putting an end to deficit spending," Corker said.