Saying no to 3rd Senate term, Corker may trigger gold rush of GOP hopefuls

Saying no to 3rd Senate term, Corker may trigger gold rush of GOP hopefuls

September 27th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chats with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Corker, a two-term senator, announced today that he will not run for re-election in 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's announcement Tuesday he won't seek a third term may spur the political equivalent of a gold rush among ambitious Republicans in a state with only three statewide elected offices and where vacancies don't often occur.

Corker told Washington-based reporters that in a state with a tradition of having "outstanding senators ... I wanted to make sure there was time for someone of that caliber to consider it and be able to run and win the race, you know, to be well prepared to serve."

He already faced a Republican primary challenge from Andy Ogles, former state executive director of the billionaire Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity- Tennessee.

Andy Ogles

Andy Ogles

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the 76th annual Meeting and Luncheon of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Chattanooga Convention Center Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Haslam talked about the tourism and hospitality industry's force as an economic driver throughout Hamilton County and Tennessee.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the 76th...

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention on Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks during the final...

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning talks with umpire Butch Hannah before the start of a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning talks with umpire...

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Ogles issued a statement saying, "I appreciate Senator Corker's service and the decision to end his 12 year tenure in Washington D.C."

But Ogles could find himself vying with one or more heavyweight contenders.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a mainstream but often fiscally conservative Republican, is term-limited but enjoys good poll numbers among Democrats as well as Republicans. Asked whether Haslam might run for Corker's seat, Haslam press secretary Jennifer Donnals said by email, "[T]oday is a day to thank Sen. Corker for his service and I will not be issuing any other responses today."

If Haslam does decide to get in "there's no doubt about it things would change," according to a Republican political strategist.

Meanwhile, 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a long-time favorite of ardent conservatives, also thanked Corker for his service. Her spokeswoman, Darcy Anderson, also declined to say whether she would consider a run.

Blackburn later tweeted an image of the state, with an American flag on a red background and the slogan "Stand with Marsha." Not long after, she tweeted a similar image with the words "Pledge your support for Tennessee's conservative voice. Add your name."

There's speculation that former University of Tennessee, Indiana Colts and Denver Broncos star quarterback Peyton Manning might run.

Manning and Corker have palled around publicly, with Manning speaking at Republican senators' annual retreat earlier this year and the pair joining President Donald Trump for golf.

Former state Sen. Mark Green, R-Ashland City, who dropped a gubernatorial bid, then withdrew as a candidate for Army secretary after his controversial remarks about Muslims and the LGBT community, is considering a bid.

The same goes for former state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, another conservative who did better than expected in the 2014 GOP primary against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Independent polls showed Corker could be vulnerable in a GOP primary. His comments last month that Trump had not demonstrated the "competence" or "stability" to succeed as president made national news.

Though Corker said he and Trump get along fine, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon reportedly had been searching for a candidate to take on Corker.

Corker also faced a challenge from a credible Democratic candidate for the first time since his 2006 slugfest with Democrat Harold Ford Jr.

Nashville attorney James Mackler, a decorated Iraq war veteran, has attracted attention from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has avoided Tennessee since the Ford contest.

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

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