Sen. Bob Corker announced Tuesday he won’t seek re-election in 2018, making him the latest Republican to retire and opening the door for pro-Trump forces to elect one of their own to the Senate from Tennessee.
Mr. Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said giving up his seat was a tough decision, particularly with the GOP now in control of the Senate, but said he’d always been reluctant to go beyond 12 years in office.
“I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me,” he said.
The senator was already facing a primary challenge from his right flank in conservative activist Andy Ogles, and analysts have speculated that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, whose term ends in 2018, will also seek the seat.
Others are looking to Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, who announced she is running for governor, but could change her plans. State Sen. Mark Green and former state Rep. Joe Carr, who challenged Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2014, also are considering bids.
“I think the big question is: Does Gov. Haslam have any interest in going to Washington?” said John G. Geer, political science professor at Vanderbilt University.
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the Republican primary could be very crowded and get very “spirited.”
“Establishment Republican forces, in the guise of the Senate Leadership Fund, are not shy to spend in primaries, as evidenced by their support of Luther Strange in Alabama,” Mr. Kondik said, referencing the special election runoff race between Mr. Strange and Roy Moore that played out Tuesday. “SLF may have to engage in Tennessee, too.”
He said a messy primary could open a door for a Democrat to win next November, though the state’s GOP bent makes that tough.
James Mackler, an Iraq War veteran, is already running for the Democratic nomination, and others are wondering whether former Gov. Phil Bredesen is open to a bid.
Tennessee is a reliably red state in presidential elections and support for Mr. Trump remains strong, though Mr. Geer noted that the state’s top three statewide officials — Mr. Corker, Mr. Alexander and Mr. Haslam — come out of the Howard Baker school of Republicanism.
“They are kind of mainstream Republicans who will work across the aisle on certain issues,” he said, adding that the incumbent was well positioned to win re-election, and the wide-open race will provide more insight into the state’s political bent.
“The atmosphere in Washington with Trump probably makes the job even less appealing to [Mr. Corker],” he said.
Mr. Corker has had an up-and-down relationship with President Trump, and things turned decidedly sour over the summer after Mr. Corker questioned Mr. Trump’s competence following the chaos in Charlottesville.
Mr. Corker last week downplayed the idea their relationship was in tatters.
“It has not deteriorated in any way,” he told reporters. “We are two people who know each other in a very unique way. We speak with each other in a very frank way. I think our relationship is very, very strong.”
On Tuesday Mr. Corker’s Senate colleagues praised his service and said he will be missed.
“Even when he’s been investigating smugglers’ tunnels near the Gaza Strip, talking to foreign leaders or giving advice to President Trump, Bob has never let his feet leave the ground in Tennessee,” Mr. Alexander said. “He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues involving the federal debt and national security.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was “incredibly saddened” by the news.
“In my view, it is a body blow to the institution,” Mr. Graham said. “And the Senate will be missing one of its most unique, talented and thoughtful voices.”
© Copyright (c) 2017 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.