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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., pauses during a hearing before being asked by reporters about derisive exchange of name-calling with President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. In a remarkable Republican war of words, Corker says Trump is "utterly untruthful" and debases the nation. Then the president fires back that the two-term lawmaker "couldn't get elected dog catcher." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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A new poll suggests U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's ongoing feud with President Donald Trump isn't going over well in his home state.

The MTSU fall poll released Friday shows Corker's approval rating fell from 52 to 45 percent from the spring, as he and the president swapped insults, while his disapproval rating rose 14 points to 41 percent.

Meanwhile, Trump's approval ratings held steady at 50 percent — well above his national average of 37 percent — while his disapproval rating rose 8 percentage points to 40 percent in the same period.

Dr. Ken Blake, who directed the poll for Middle Tennessee State University, said results from the poll of 600 registered Tennessee voters sends "mixed signals."

"Trump's approval ratings are holding steady while Corker's are sliding, but both men's disapprovals are rising and they've both ended up in roughly the same place."

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That's 45 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval for Corker, 45 percent approval and 40 percent disapproval for Trump.

Other political leaders

As for approval of other key political players, the poll also found that:

-56 percent approve of Gov. Bill Haslam, compared to 57 percent in the spring

-48 percent approve of the Tennessee Legislature, compared to 50 percent in the spring

-45 percent approve of Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, unchanged from the spring

-13 percent approve of the U.S. Congress, compared to 21 percent in the spring.

"Corker's a little behind Trump, but he's not that far behind, especially considering how public the feud has been," Blake said.

Corker on Friday said he wasn't surprised by the results.

"I know the president has a lot of support in the state," he said. Any number of federal office holders have far lower numbers, the senator added.

"I knew when I began this process [criticizing Trump] that it would take a toll on poll numbers, but look, we're elected to do what we feel is right and that's what I've been doing and that's what I'll continue to do," he said.

The Tennessee Republican Party did not return a request for comment.

At one time, the senator and the president were cordial, even friendly. Trump considered Corker as his vice president and secretary of state. Once Corker began voicing public criticism, though, Trump launched Twitter barrages saying, among other things, that "Liddle Bob Corker" decided not to run for Senate again because the president didn't endorse him and that the Foreign Relations Committee chairman "couldn't get elected dogcatcher."

For his part, Corker began referring to the White House as an "adult day care center," called Trump "utterly untruthful" and blamed the president for "the debasing of our nation."

In the poll, taken Oct. 16-23, 68 percent of Tennessee voters said they had read or heard "some" or "a lot" about the conflict, Blake said in a news release Friday. Another 31 percent said they had read or heard "only a little" or "nothing at all until now" about the nationally publicized spat.

By party affiliation, 71 percent of Democrats (who comprised 23 percent of the sample) who were familiar with the feud approved of Corker and disapproved of Trump. Among Democrats who knew little about the spat, 53 percent disapproved of Trump and approved of Corker.

Among Republicans (35 percent of the sample), 65 percent of knowledgeable voters disapproved of Corker and approved of Trump. Among those who knew little about the conflict, 56 percent approved of both men.

The largest group, independents (40 percent), 40 percent of those who knew about the conflict disapproved of Corker and approved of Trump; 36 percent approved of Corker and disapproved of Trump. Among those who didn't know, 30 percent disapproved of both men, while 26 percent approved of Corker and disapproved of Trump.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"It appears that Trump has generally weathered the conflict better than Corker among Tennesseans" except among Democrats, who favor Corker, and some independents who disapprove of both or of Trump, associate poll director Dr. Jason Reineke said in the release.

Blake pointed out that even at 45 percent, Corker's approval rating matches that of senior Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has spent a lifetime in politics.

He noted that Alexander's ratings are steady despite his occasional departure from party orthodoxy, such as criticizing Trump's policies and negotiating a bipartisan attempt to shore up Affordable Care Act funding in the face of GOP attempts to dismantle it.

"Alexander's numbers suggest it is possible to be somewhat critical of President Trump and his policies without doing damage to one's standing statewide," he said.

"Corker's problem is a lot of people who didn't know how they felt about Corker have decided they don't like him."

At the same time, while Trump's base is sticking with him, "the people who are now making up their minds about him are deciding by and large they don't like him" as well, he said.

Still, that strong and unwavering base might convey a signal to anyone hoping to take Corker's place in the U.S. Senate next year.

"It's an indicator that Tennessee is remaining a red state," Blake said.

All three declared Republicans in the race — U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher and former Americans for Prosperity director Andy Ogles — are firmly in the party's hard-right wing.

On the Democratic side, only Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran James Mackler and Sevierville teaching assistant Billy Bailey are declared candidates. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen have said they are weighing bids.

Asked for comments on the poll, Mary Mancini, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said in a statement:

"Working Tennesseans, like most voters, are looking for answers on how to afford health care, medicine, and retirement. They want a reason to feel good about the future. This poll again shows that the Republican party has no answers and voters are getting more and more disgruntled and disgusted."

Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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