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U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander will retire in 2020

Decision sets up a open Senate race in Tennessee for the second election cycle in a row

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, bringing down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and setting up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state,” Alexander said in a statement announcing his retirement. ” I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.”

“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”

Alexander’s decision means that Tennessee will have an open Senate contest for the second election cycle in a row. His longtime seatmate, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, did not seek re-election this year.

The contest will likely draw a large field, particularly on the Republican side. Among candidates being mentioned are outgoing Republican Governor Bill Haslam and two unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor in 2018, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and Randy Boyd.

Given the result of the 2018 Senate election — which Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won by 11 points — the GOP candidate will be heavily favored. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990.

Alexander, 78, is serving his third term in the Senate and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he has been a key player in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Alexander’s service in political office began in 1978, when he was elected governor on his second try. During that campaign, he walked more than 1,000 miles across the entire length of Tennessee to meet voters, wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt that became his trademark.

After leaving the governorship in 1987, Alexander became president of the University of Tennessee, a post he left in 1991 when he was named education secretary by President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Senate and was easily re-elected in 2008 and 2014.

He is the only Tennessean ever elected as both governor and senator, and his 2008 vote total — 1.58 million votes — still stands the largest ever recorded by a statewide candidate.

In the Senate, Alexander had a conservative voting record but was also willing to work with Democratic colleagues on bipartisan measures. He drew a Tea Party challenger in his primary in 2014, Joe Carr, but won easily after getting the backing of the entire state GOP establishment.

Unlike Corker, Alexander has not been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, although he did publicly criticize the president’s executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries and opposed a program to separate migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alexander is also a trained pianist who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Tennessee seat will be one of 12 Southern Senate seats open in 2020, 10 of which are held by Republicans. Alexander is so far the only Southern incumbent to announce his retirement.

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam won’t run for U.S. Senate; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is in

Haslam’s decision portends wide open, crowded GOP primary race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to seek Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2018, which means the chase for the GOP nomination will likely be fought out among a crowded slate of candidates without his statewide electoral experience.

As Haslam announced he wouldn’t run, a veteran member of the Volunteer State’s U.S. House delegation, Marsha Blackburn from Brentwood, announced that she was would seek the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated after two terms by the retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

U.S. Rep. Masha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

In her announcement video, Blackburn — describing herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse — offered a full-throated blast at sitting senators in her own party.

“The fact that our majority in the U.S. Senate can’t overturn Obamacare, or will not overturn Obamacare, it’s a disgrace,” she said. “Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse, and that’s what we have to change.”

Blackburn, 65, 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. She served on President Trump’s transition team after his election in 2016.

After Corker announced his retirement on September 26, the attention in Tennessee political circles turned to Haslam, who is term-limited in 2016 but retains strong approval ratings after eight years in office. The governor is also a billionaire, thanks to his family’s truck stop business, which would have given him considerable personal financial resources to bring to a Senate race.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

But announcing his decision not to run on Twitter, Haslam said a Senate run “would be a distraction” during his last 15 months as governor.

“I want to remain completely focused on my job,” he said. “At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

Haslam, 59, was mayor of Knoxville before being elected governor in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote.

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Blackburn is so far the only member of the House delegation to jump into the Senate race, although former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who left the House in 2017 after serving three terms, is considering a run.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran, although Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke may also be considering a run. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has bowed out.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennessee — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018

Departure of former Chattanooga mayor sets off scramble for suddenly vacant Senate seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has announced that he won’t seek re-election to a third term in 2018, setting off what’s likely to be a high-octane battle between establishment and populist Republicans vying to succeed him, along with providing a possible opening for Democrats.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” Corker said in a statement announcing his retirement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But 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.”

In his statement, Corker also made this oblique reference that will likely set off much rumination over what he meant: “The most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

Corker, 65, served four years as mayor of Chattanooga before being elected to the Senate in 2006 to replace the retiring Bill Frist, after a hard-fought race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. He was re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote, and became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015.

Had he sought re-election, Corker would have been the prohibitive favorite in 2018, but he would also have faced a primary challenge from the populist wing of the GOP, whose activists are expected to target a number of Senators in the Republican leadership in 2018.

Corker made headlines in August when he told a local television station in Chattanooga that President 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.”

Trump responded with a Tweet: “Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!”

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Among the establishment Republicans being mentioned are U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, from Williamson County near Nashville, and outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam from Knoxville, who is term limited in the governorship in 2018.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has said he does not plan to run.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennesse — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Tennessee primary: Lamar Alexander wins, Scott DesJarlais in cliffhanger

Alexander beats back Tea Party U.S. Senate challenger; DesJarlais battles to keep U.S. House seat amid messy personal scandal

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has taken a major step towards securing a third term by easily beating back a Tea Party-inspired GOP primary challenge from State Rep. Joe Carr.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

Alexander took 50 percent of the vote in the August 7 primary, where he faced Carr and five other challengers. Carr, who had the support of Tea Party and outside conservative groups that had targeted Alexander for defeat, took 41 percent.

Alexander was one of five sitting Southern Republican senators targeted in primaries this year. All five survived.

In a closely-fought Democratic primary, Gordon Ball, a former federal prosecutor, narrowly defeated Terry Adams, a Knoxville attorney, by less than 2,000 votes. Ball will face Alexander in November.

After a fractious primary in which half of the voters from his own party voted for someone else, Alexander, 74, sounded a note of conciliation in his victory speech at a Nashville pizza parlor, reaching out not only to his GOP opponents but also to Democrats and independents.

“After we make our speeches, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, get together, work with each other and get something done,” he said. “That’s the Tennessee way. That’s the American way.”

Meanwhile, in Tennessee’s 4th District, with some absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais held a lead of just 35 votes over his primary challenger, State Senator Jim Tracy, amid a messy personal scandal that took a toll on DesJarlais’s popularity.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

Given the district’s strong GOP tendencies, the GOP nominee will be favored for re-election in November over Democrat Lenda Sherrell, a retired accountant from Monteagle.

DesJarlais, 49, was facing voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from the case file of his bitter 2001 divorce from his first wife. In it, the congressman admitted having a string of extra-martial affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his then-wife to have two abortions.

DesJarlais (pronounced Dez-yar-lay), a medical doctor, also admitted having relationships with two female patients, which prompted the Tennessee State Board of Medical Examiners to reprimand him for unprofessional conduct and fine him $500.

Details about DesJarlais’s divorce became an issue in his contentious 2012 re-election campaign, which he won with just 56 percent of the vote. However, he successfully fought to prevent release of the full transcript of the case file until after the election.

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