Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s September 26 announcement that he would retire at the end of this Congress creates an open seat that is likely to produce a heated battle for the GOP nomination between establishment Republicans and the Trumpian wing of the party. The prospect that Republicans could field a less than desirable nominee provides an opening for Democrats, even in this solidly red state.
There is no shortage of interest in the GOP nomination. The most biggest name considering the race is Gov. Bill Haslam, who is term-limited next year. Haslam remains fairly popular in his seventh year in office, but he has been critical of President Trump on a number of issues, which almost guarantees that he will get a challenge to his right. If Haslam doesn’t run, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is likely to get in the race and might start as the nominal frontrunner; Blackburn is a strong Trump supporter. It’s an even-money bet as to whether she would challenge Haslam. Other Republicans mentioned as potential candidates are: U.S. Reps. Stephen Fincher and David Kustoff, state Sen. Mark Green, state Rep. Andy Holt, and Joe Carr, a former state Senator who challenged U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for the GOP nod in 2014. Andy Ogles, the former director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, got in the race on September 14, 12 days before Corker announced his retirement.
On the Democratic side, attorney and Iraq war veteran James Mackler has been in the race for months. Although he is a political newcomer, he gets good reviews from some potential donors who have met him. The question is whether Democratic strategists will stick with a fresh face, or recruit a more seasoned candidate into the race. Possibilities include Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.
This race needs time to develop as candidates make decisions on whether to run. While Republicans remain favored to hold the seat, the outcome of their primary may present Democrats with an opportunity that didn’t exist when Corker was thought to be running for re-election. The contest is in the Likely Republican column.