NASHVILLE — After announcing a decision either today or Friday on whether he will run for U.S. in 2018, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will head Monday to Japan and South Korea to persuade companies to come to Tennessee.
The previously planned trip comes as the governor weighs running for the seat held by long-time Haslam family friend U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a fellow Republican.
Haslam has said he will announce his decision on the Senate race by the end of this week.
Long-time Haslam adviser Tom Ingram said the governor "has been struggling with his decision and he'll do what he thinks is right."
Ingram believes the governor "doesn't have a burning desire to do it. He'd be great at it. But he'd also be great at finishing out his term as governor."
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Still, no one Wednesday was placing bets.
A Haslam friend said the governor has been through a "gauntlet" of calls from Washington Republicans and others suggesting he's the only option. The friend said he doesn't think Haslam will run. But he quickly added, "Never say never."
The 65-year-old Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, upended the state's political universe last week when he announced he would not seek a third term to the seat he first won in 2006.
Despite an already announced GOP primary opponent, Andy Ogles, in the contest before Corker's announcement, a number of Republicans are looking at the race with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood mentioned most frequently.
Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher of the Frog Jump community in West Tennessee is giving the race the once over, as well.
Regardless of what Haslam decides, on Monday, he and Bob Rolfe, the state's Economic and Community Development commissioner, are embarking on a five-day trip to Japan and South Korea.
"We've worked hard to bring more foreign direct investment to Tennessee, and it's helped create both high quality jobs and a thriving economy," Haslam said in a news release.
He said he's "looking forward to sharing Tennessee's story with more Asian businesses and strengthening ties with existing companies who already know that our business-friendly environment and ready-to-work workforce make Tennessee a great choice to locate operations."
Rolfe said the state has "strong momentum in terms of foreign direct investment, and Governor Haslam and I plan to build on Tennessee's recent success during this trip. Asia is home to some of the world's most successful companies, and we look forward to promoting our state's business advantages to a number of companies next week."
While not mentioning any Asia trip plans, Rolfe told Memphis Rotary Club members Monday that locating a major tenant for the 4,000-acre Memphis Megasite in Haywood County near Memphis is a major priority for Haslam before he leaves office in January 2019, WMC reported.
The station also reported Rolfe saying the governor told him "I would love to announce a tenant before we leave office."
Haslam, WMC reported, has named the site near Stanton, Tenn., as a prime location for a planned $1.6 billion automobile manufacturing plant announced by Toyota and Mazda as a joint venture in August.