Decision clears way for Senate showdown between GOP U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — After reconsidering his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate, Republican Bob Corker has now ruled out seeking another term this year, setting up a general election match-up between U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen that could determine control of the Senate.
In an February 27 interview with Politico, Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, said the senator has decided to stick with the decision he made last September not to seek a third term, despite being urged by other Republicans to reconsider amid fears that Blackburn could have trouble keeping the seat in GOP hands in November.
A week earlier, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, Blackburn’s chief opponent in the Republican primary, ended his campaign and publicly called on Corker to run again.
Central to the considerations about whether to reverse course was Corker’s contentious relationship with President Donald Trump.
Last August, the senator said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and also referred to the White House as an “adult day care center.” After his criticisms triggered a presidential pillorying on Twitter, Corker said Trump “debases our country” and has “great difficulty with the truth.”
Blackburn, 65, who was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state, served on Trump’s transition team and has positioned herself as a strong supporter. She has also been critical of the current Republican leadership in the Senate, in which Corker chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.
Although the departures of Fincher and Corker have cleared the Republican field for Blackburn, she will face a formidable obstacle in Bredesen, 74, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011 and has the distinction of being the last Democrat to win a statewide election in the Volunteer State. He is also a multimillionaire who could pour his own resources into the campaign.
Bredesen had initially declined to run for the Senate seat after Corker announced his retirement. But in December, a week before Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Alabama that had been thought to be unwinnable, Bredesen jumped into the race. Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee, then dropped out.
With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate, the unexpectedly competitive race in Tennessee complicates the GOP’s efforts to keep control. However, Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee in 28 years.
The contest in Tennessee is one of five Southern U.S. Senate races that could potentially be competitive in 2018:
- In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Democrats haven’t won a Senate in the Lone Star State since 1988.
- In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson appears likely to face a challenge from Republican Governor Rick Scott in what is likely to be the 2018 cycle’s most expensive Senate race.
- In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin will face the winner of a GOP primary between U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in a state Trump won by 40 points in 2016.
- In Virginia, five Republicans will vie in a June primary to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, in an increasingly Democratic state that Hillary Clinton carried.
Of the 28 senators representing Southern states, only four are Democrats, three of whom are up for re-election in 2018. The fourth is Doug Jones, who won a special election in Alabama in December.