Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has ended his Hamlet act and decided once and for all not to run for reelection, his chief of staff said in a statement, a move that eliminates the possibility of a brutal primary between him and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and likely boosts Republicans’ chances of holding the seat.
Corker had announced his retirement last fall, leading to swift announcements from Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) that they’d run for his seat. But earlier this month he pulled a surprising about-face, floating the idea that he might run again after all as his allies questioned whether Blackburn’s flaws might put the seat at risk for the GOP.
But his backtrack didn’t play particularly well with many GOP voters in the state. Corker’s past criticism of President Trump had hurt him with the party base, and a number of polls conducted by Blackburn allies made it clear she’d have a solid edge over the two-term senator should he decide to run again. While Fincher dropped out of the race to make room for Corker, Blackburn made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere as her team blasted away at the senator for his indecisiveness.
Corker’s team argued he could have won, but decided against a bid.
“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election. 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,”Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said a statement emailed to TPM. “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 latest decision was first reported by Politico.
Corker likely would have needed a hearty endorsement from President Trump to have a real shot at defeating Blackburn — and he made efforts to cozy up to the president in recent months after publicly worrying about Trump’s leadership last summer. But that endorsement didn’t seem forthcoming, and while Senate GOP leaders like Corker they had already moved on to backing Blackburn after his initial retirement, leading to frustration about his back-and-forth.
Even some of Corker’s closest allies were quick to tout Blackburn in the wake of his decision.
“Bob Corker is a terrific United States senator and a good friend. I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision. 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,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is close to both Corker and GOP Senate leaders, said in a statement.
Some Republicans continue to worry Blackburn’s hardline conservatism and her backing of a deal that helped the pharmaceutical industry and critics say hurt efforts to fight opioid addiction make her a risky choice for the nomination, especially since Democrats landed a strong recruit in former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) for the race in the conservative state. But Corker’s dithering and eventual decision may have helped her in the race by clearing the primary field for Blackburn and eliminating the chance that a tough primary would hurt her chances at victory.