This story was updated Feb. 27, 2018, at 11:18 p.m.
NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is throwing in the towel on efforts to re-enter the U.S. Senate contest after announcing last fall he would retire, according to his long-time chief of staff, Todd Womack.
Womack said the former Chattanooga mayor had "been encouraged by people across Tennessee" to reconsider the decision he made last fall not to seek a third term amid an ongoing public quarrel with President Trump which cost Corker politically.
Reactions to Corker's announcement
"I want to thank Senator Corker for his dedicated service on behalf of Tennessee families. Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November. As we continue to take our campaign to every corner of the state, I'm looking forward to listening to Tennesseans families and sharing my ideas on how we can get the United States Senate back to work and pass President Trump's agenda."
— Marsha Blackburn
"Republicans raised concerns over Congresswoman Blackburn because they know she is out of touch with Tennessee. Their public display of anxiety has not only underscored her vulnerabilities but revealed a point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans: Congresswoman Blackburn is not fit to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate."
— DSCC spokesman David Bergstein
"Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out," Womack said in a statement. "However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018."
Corker's move comes as several polls showed him losing to Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who entered the race after Corker announced he would not seek a third term.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen is running in the Democratic primary and one poll commissioned by Corker allies showed Bredesen besting Blackburn by two percentage points.
"When he ran for the Senate in 2006, he told Tennesseans that he couldn't imagine serving for more than two terms because he has always been drawn to the citizen legislator model and believes public service should be missional," Womack said. "This has been the greatest privilege of his life and he is forever grateful to the people of the Volunteer State for the opportunity to serve our state and country."
Corker was coming under increasing pressure from the Blackburn camp to stay out of the GOP primary. One Blackburn ally said more than a dozen Republican U.S. senators were prepared to back the Brentwood congresswoman who represents the 7th Congressional District.
In a statement, Blackburn, a Brentwood congressman now representing the 7th Congressional District whose staff has been attacking efforts to get Corker in the race, thanked Corker.
"Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November," Blackburn said. "As we continue to take our campaign to every corner of the state, I'm looking forward to listening to Tennesseans families and sharing my ideas on how we can get the United States Senate back to work and pass President Trump's agenda."
Earlier this month, Blackburn's campaign spokeswoman slammed what she called "ego-driven, tired old men" who feared the congressman couldn't win a general election campaign.
"Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can't win a general election is just a plain sexist pig," Blackburn campaign spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in a statement called Corker "a terrific United States senator and a good friend.
"I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision," Alexander said. "I invited Marsha Blackburn to breakfast this morning. We had a good discussion about a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution."