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Bob Corker faces uphill climb if he reconsiders retirement

Republicans are warning that Sen. Bob Corker would be doomed in Tennessee's primary if, in a change of heart, he deci...

Posted: Feb 14, 2018 2:17 AM
Updated: Feb 14, 2018 2:17 AM

Republicans are warning that Sen. Bob Corker would be doomed in Tennessee's primary if, in a change of heart, he decides to run for re-election.

In the months since Corker announced he would retire -- and publicly feuded with President Donald Trump -- the GOP establishment and outside forces have coalesced around Rep. Marsha Blackburn as his replacement in a race against Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen.

The prospect of a Corker re-election run has emerged in part due to concerns that Blackburn can't win in November, potentially flipping the Senate into Democratic hands.

But it's not clear that Corker would be a stronger candidate than Blackburn in a general election -- and Republicans believe he'd be the heavy underdog in a primary, creating a waste of time, money and damaging the GOP's overall election hopes.

Trump won the state by 26 points, and his favorability with Republican voters is consistently around 90%. Blackburn has cast herself as an unabashed Trump ally -- whereas Corker has publicly feuded with the President who has dubbed him "Liddle Bob Corker."

Despite the odds, Corker, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander have discussed a Corker run.

Blackburn will she not step aside for Corker, said spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.

"Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can't win the general election is just a plain sexist pig," Bozek said.

"She is the best fundraiser in the country and is beating Phil Bredesen in several polls despite never even running statewide," she said. "We aren't worried about these ego-driven, tired old men. Marsha has spent her whole life fighting against people who told her she isn't good enough and she's going to do it again."

While Washington chattered Monday about the prospect of a Corker re-election bid, Blackburn was in New York City courting top donors alongside Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The trip underscored how fully Blackburn has been embraced by the GOP. The party's establishment sees her as capable of beating Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen in a state President Donald Trump won by 26 percentage points in 2016. The Koch brothers political operation and conservative group Club for Growth have also quickly aligned behind Blackburn's campaign.

That Corker would face an uphill battle in getting back into the race is also the view of top Republicans -- including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who CNN's John King reported Sunday told Corker he'd need to first get Trump on board.

Corker's second thoughts

Corker is torn about what to do, a source familiar with his thinking said. He has enjoyed being a senator and having the influence that he does. But after talking to some of his colleagues, and having smoothed over his relationship with Trump, he's starting to harbor second thoughts, multiple sources said.

He knows he has to make a decision, and knows he would have a tough fight against Blackburn if she continued to run, the sources said.

Alexander has spoken to Corker but is not pushing him to run, one source said. Corker, he believes, needs to make the decision soon.

Asked Monday by CNN's Manu Raju whether he is having second thoughts about retirement and is considering running for re-election, Corker three times responded: "I don't have anything to say." He repeated those words when told his response would be viewed as not ruling it out.

Blackburn's advantage with GOP voters

The Club for Growth conducted a poll in January that several Republicans pointed to as they analyzed the race.

That poll showed Blackburn with a massive 38-point lead over Corker -- drawing 63% from Republican primary voters to Corker's 25%. It also showed Blackburn outpacing her primary rival, former Rep. Stephen Fincher, by 53 points in a head-to-head matchup.

The poll found that Blackburn is viewed favorably by 64% and unfavorably by 12% of Republican primary voters -- much better marks than Corker's underwater 44% favorable and 50% unfavorable ratings.

In an election cycle that has seen a series GOP fundraising disappointments, Blackburn has been an exception. She raised $2 million in the first two months of her campaign and had $4.6 million in the bank at the end of 2017. She's already reserved $1 million in television advertising time on Tennessee's airwaves from the late spring through the early-August primary.

Blackburn was among the Republicans who attended the California retreat hosted by the Koch brothers' powerful donor network last month.

She was among the first candidates to get a check from Vice President Mike Pence when he launched a political action committee in November.

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List rolled out its endorsement of Blackburn on Tuesday. And Republican sources pointed out that the GOP is in dire need of more women in its predominantly male Senate caucus.

Corker's feud with Trump

Corker is perhaps best known nationally for his feud with Trump.

Trump claimed in October that Corker "begged" for his endorsement and "didn't have the guts" to run for re-election. He said Corker was responsible for the Iran nuclear deal -- which Trump has opposed -- and "that's about it."

"I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn't have the guts to run!" Trump tweeted.

Corker responded in a tweet of his own: "It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."

"I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard, and debases our country in a way that he does, but he does," Corker told CNN in October.

Corker's words have manifested themselves in his voting pattern in Congress. In legislation and nominations that have been voted upon in the Senate, Corker has voted against the President more times than all but four Republican senators. He was the only Republican senator, for example, to vote against the initial version of the Republican tax cut. His voting pattern most closely resembles that of Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski who voted against the Republican health care plan.

Corker's defiance of Trump might be more acceptable to Republicans if he were from a blue or even purple state, but Tennessee is very red: No Democrat has won a Senate race there since Al Gore in 1990.

The Lugar experience

Corker could face a fate similar to former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar if he runs for re-election. Lugar, the last senator to lose in a primary, faced an ad onslaught from Republican Richard Mourdock and groups supporting him.

This caused Lugar's one time lead in the polls to disappear and Lugar's net favorability rating to drop 16 points in a month to 0 points. Even before facing any primary ads against him, Corker would start in worse shape. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake -- facing similar problems -- opted to retire rather than seek re-election this year.

Still, tensions between Trump and Corker appear to have eased. After facing scrutiny over how he'd personally benefit from the GOP tax bill, Corker told Fox News he had "newfound empathy" for Trump. The two spoke several times over the phone in the months after their public feud, CNN reported in January, and raised eyebrows when they traveled together aboard Air Force One to Tennessee for a football game early last month.

Another Tennessee Republican who was on that flight: Marsha Blackburn.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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