Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

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.

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