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: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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