CORKER’S EXIT NEEDN’T CHANGE NOVEMBER OUTCOME
It will be two terms and out for Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., after all.
The former Chattanooga mayor said through a spokesman Tuesday that he appreciated the encouragement to get back in the race for a third term in Washington but that he decided his original decision to serve only two terms was the right one.
We wish Corker had decided to run for a third term in the first place. If he had, though he’d had dust-ups with President Donald Trump, we believe he would have sailed to victory. We don’t believe he would have been challenged in the Republican primary by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and we don’t think Democrats would have convinced former Gov. Phil Bredesen to come out of retirement and oppose him.
But when he called it quits in September, following spats with the president and in keeping with statements to serve only two terms he made when he first ran in 2006, Blackburn immediately declared her candidacy, and Bredesen opted to jump in the race a month later.
Despite reported support from some in the Senate and others across the state to get back in, many of them afraid only he could beat Bredesen, Corker would have had a difficult primary. Although we appreciate his pragmatic leadership, his desire not to let ongoing problems like the lack of entitlement reforms continue to fester and his concern about the ballooning federal debt, Blackburn has tied herself to Trump, who is much more popular in Tennessee than he is in some other parts of the country.
Even though the state’s junior senator has said he and the president have patched up things and that he talks with him often, some polls have shown him trailing the congresswoman in the primary.
It also would have appeared a little unseemly for Corker to have gotten back in the race to face a candidate who only launched her campaign when he declared he was done.
Unfortunately, optics are everything these days, and a messy Republican primary battle would only have hurt Republicans and helped Bredesen, who was a moderate, business-friendly Democratic governor in an era when most of those have gone the way of the passenger pigeon.
Now it likely will be Blackburn versus Bredesen. A primary without a major opponent will allow both to consolidate their money, their endorsements and their respect until the fall, when their opponents and dark-money organizations will go on the attack.
Blackburn, for her part, said in a statement she wanted “to thank Sen. Corker for his dedicated service on behalf of Tennessee families. Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November.”
The state’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander, said he is “disappointed” in Corker’s decision not to run but respects it. He said he had breakfast with Blackburn Wednesday and discussed “a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution.”
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee told the Nashville Tennessean people wanted Corker back in the race because “they know [Blackburn] is out of touch with Tennessee” and “not fit to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.”
As much as we think that is the usual campaign pablum, Blackburn will have to earn her way to become the first woman the Volunteer State has sent to the Senate. As wrongheaded as it may be, any miscues she makes in the race will be magnified because of her gender. She also has a formidable opponent who is not the far left candidate Democrats are putting up in most states.
Nevertheless, we believe Republicans can retain the Senate seat as long as Trump remains highly popular in the state and she doesn’t make a serious gaffe. Bredesen has vulnerabilities as anyone who has served as a governor would, and the state has become more conservative since he left office in 2011. Blackburn also ended 2017 with $5 million in her war chest. In addition, her spokeswoman recently made clear the candidate’s feistiness should Corker have gotten back into the race.
“Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig,” Andrea Bozek said on Feb. 13. “She’s the best fundraiser in the country and is beating Phil Bredesen in several polls. We aren’t worried about these ego-driven, tired old men. Marsha has spent her whole life fighting people who told her she wasn’t good enough, and she will do it again.”
So, while we wish Corker would have made the choice to make the race in September, we don’t believe that decision necessarily has to change what already was likely to happen in November.