Will Bill Haslam or Andy Berke run in the 2020 Senate race to replace Lamar Alexander?

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during a groundbreaking for the Mars Wrigley Confectionery Plant's expansion on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Cleveland, Tenn.
photo Andy Berke

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he will give "serious consideration" to whether he will run in 2020 to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander after the fellow Republican announced earlier in the day he won't seek re-election.

"[I] will have a better answer to your question in coming days," Haslam told the Times Free Press in an interview. "But for now, this is a great time to honor Lamar."

Alexander's decision effectively opens up another Senate seat here a little over a month after the Nov. 6 battle between Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democrat and former governor Phil Bredesen to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga, a fight won by Blackburn.

And at this point, two well-known Chattanoogans appear to be eyeing the Senate seat Alexander has held since 2003.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat who was leaning toward running for Corker's seat before Bredesen entered the contest, wished Alexander well while leaving the door open to a bid.

"There are many issues important to me that affect not just Chattanoogans, but Tennesseans as a whole," Berke said in a statement. "I am always looking for opportunities to focus on the issues that will help improve the quality of life in Tennessee."

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann "wants to keep an open mind" on running and at this juncture is "not ruling anything out," according to a GOP source.

The term-limited Haslam, who leaves office in January, had weighed running for Corker's seat back in 2017. But he ultimately decided not to, saying it would be a "distraction" during his remaining time as governor.

photo U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann sits on a panel during a tax policy event hosted by America First policies at Lee University's Pangle Hall on Saturday, July 21, 2018, in Cleveland, Tenn. Vice President Mike Pence was the keynote speaker at the event, which featured a panel of guests discussing the effects of President Donald Trump's tax bill.

That opened the way for Blackburn, who is in the GOP's more conservative wing, and that drew in Bredesen, who said he would not have run against Corker, a friend.

Other Republican names surfacing as potential candidates include soon-to-be ex-U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, who lost a GOP primary bid for governor. U.S. Rep.-elect Mark Green, a state senator, has shown interest.

And U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, Haslam's former state commissioner of economic and community development, is mentioned as a potential candidate. Another congressman said to be mulling a bid is Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Memphis.

It was not immediately clear whether former Republican U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, of West Tennessee, who had entered the Senate GOP primary with Blackburn before getting out, might be eyeing the Alexander seat.

Meanwhile, Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler, a Democrat who had announced he was running for Corker's seat before bailing out for Bredesen, could enter the picture.

Had Alexander, 78, run, the moderate-to-conservative former governor was expected to have Republican primary opposition. In 2014, he beat state Rep. Joe Carr in the GOP primary with 50 percent compared to 40 percent for Carr, a hard-right conservative.

Alexander supporters last week publicized a survey from his pollster showing the three-term senator had support from nearly two thirds of Republicans polled.

But in the end, Alexander, who would have been seeking a fourth term, decided enough was enough.

"The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as governor and senator than anyone else from our state," Alexander said. "I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege."

Staff writer Judy Walton contributed to this story.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.