Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is “listening closely” to people in his home state who are urging him to give up his plan to retire and instead seek re-election in November, the senator’s spokesman said Tuesday.
Corker had announced in September that he wouldn’t seek re-election, part of a flood of GOP senators and House members who decided to retire after this year. He has been a strong critic of President Donald Trump, calling the White House an “adult day care center” after the president called him a coward for not seeking a third term.
“In recent days, people across Tennessee have reached out to Senator Corker with concerns about the outcome of this election because they believe it could determine control of the Senate and the future of our agenda," spokeswoman Micah Johnson said in an emailed statement. "The senator has been encouraged to reconsider his decision and is listening closely.”
Representative Marsha Blackburn had already announced she would seek Corker’s seat, potentially setting up a Republican primary showdown. The winner likely would face Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former governor of Tennessee.
Trump offered his encouragement to Blackburn in a telephone call last week, according to a Republican familiar with the conversation.
‘Tired Old Men’
The pressure for Corker run for another term suggests at least some Republicans are concerned that Bredesen could beat Blackburn in the general election, putting the Republican Senate majority at risk. Blackburn’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, said in a statement Tuesday, "Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig."
"We aren’t worried about these ego-driven, tired old men," Bozek said.
Trump and Corker have battled bitterly in public, with the Tennessee Republican questioning the president’s stability and saying he was “debasing” the country. At the height of the feud last fall, Trump disparaged Corker as “Liddle Bob Corker” on Twitter and said he “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”
But then Trump invited Corker to accompany him on Air Force One in January to a speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asked by reporters whether he’s had discussions with Corker about seeking re-election, said, "You’re going to have to ask Senator Corker about what his plans are."
Vulnerability for GOP
Corker said when he announced his retirement in September that he never intended to serve more than two terms. The surprise announcement came after Corker, who had been an early supporter of Trump’s presidential bid, began expressing more frustration with the chief executive’s style and decision-making.
Corker’s retirement plans created an added vulnerability for Republicans struggling to keep their narrow Senate majority intact, a challenge that was heightened in December when the party lost one of Alabama’s Senate seats in a special election. That cut the GOP majority to 51-49. Corker’s seat is rated a “toss up” by the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Tennessee’s is one of the three most competitive GOP-held seats in this year’s Senate contests. The others are in Arizona, where Senator Jeff Flake is retiring, and Nevada, where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and incumbent Dean Heller faces a primary challenge.
Still, Republicans have the advantage of needing to defend only eight Senate seats in November, compared with 26 Democratic-held seats on the ballot.
As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker criticized Trump’s early handling of a travel ban on people from Muslim countries and for his belligerent statements on Twitter, and he has resisted budget cuts to the State Department. He stood by Trump on his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.
During the Obama administration, Corker showed a knack for bipartisanship and worked with Democrats to ratify a strategic arms agreement with Russia and renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
First elected in 2006, Corker has established himself as a leading deficit hawk in Congress, fighting for a cap on federal spending. He initially voted against last year’s broad GOP rewrite of the tax code, but he supported it in the final vote.