Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has been uncharacteristically mum this week when asked to comment on reports that he may change his mind about retiring this year.
“I don’t really have anything to say,” Corker told NPR Monday evening.
Reports surfaced over the weekend, first by CNN, that some forces within the GOP were prodding Corker to reconsider over concerns that an open-seat race could deliver an upset Democratic victory in this year’s midterm elections.
Democrats are rallying behind former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a rare breed of Democrat that has the potential to put a Southern Red State in play.
The GOP Senate primary includes half a dozen candidates, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a media-savvy, Tea Party-styled conservative, is leading the pack so far.
While Blackburn’s politics play well in a GOP primary, there appears to be some intraparty concern that she could lose a general election. Blackburn’s campaign pushed back hard against that narrative, accusing forces within the GOP of blatant sexism.
“Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig,” said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for Blackburn’s campaign. “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.”
A potential un-retirement is unusual, but not unprecedented. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, reversed his retirement decision in 2016 after losing the GOP presidential primary in the face of pressure to reconsider from GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. His reversal protected a vulnerable GOP-held seat and helped Republicans hold their Senate majority.
Corker now faces similar pressures. Senate Republicans are decidedly on offense in 2018 — defending just eight seats against Democrats’ 28 seats. But with a slim 51-49 majority, nothing can be taken for granted.
Democrats need to pick up two seats — and suffer no losses — to win a majority in the Senate. Their best prospects for doing so are in Nevada and Arizona, but they aren’t guarantees. The open seat in Tennessee is the only realistic option for a third target at this time. It’s a long shot, but also a long shot that is clearly making some Republicans nervous.
Democrats are also defending four toss-up seats in Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia and Minnesota, according to the Cook Political Report. And Republicans are also targeting competitive seats held by Democrats in Florida and North Dakota, as well as possibly Maine, Ohio, Montana and possibly elsewhere.
So, as many targets as Democrats can put on the map, the better for their chances.
Corker has some time to make up his mind — Tennessee’s filing deadline for candidates is April 5. His toughest challenge in reentering the race may be the amount of crow he would have to eat in order to win a GOP primary in a state where President Trump remains popular, and where primary opponents like Blackburn remain steadfastly loyal behind Trump.
While Corker was an early ally of Trump, he slowly became one of the harshest and most outspoken critics of the Trump administration in 2017, attacking the president’s leadership, character — and moral fitness for office.
He had also made it quite clear in September that he was tired of being a senator.
But then again, so did Rubio.