Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is brushing off reports that Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is reconsidering retirement — saying that she intends to run for the seat regardless, arguing that she will win in November no matter what Corker does.
Corker fell out with Trump last year after he criticized Trump’s temperament and his response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading Trump to fire back that Corker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”
However, there are signs that Corker is reconsidering his decision.
On Friday, former Rep. Stephen Fincher who was running in the GOP primary announced he was ending his bid, and urged Corker to jump back into the race. Fincher’s announcement came as The Washington Post reported that Corker had “reconnected” with the president and they had cleared the air somewhat. Sources close to Corker told Fox News this week that their relationship had improved.
A Corker spokeswoman said the senator is “listening closely” to calls for him to re-enter the race.
“In recent days, people across Tennessee have reached out to Senator Corker with concerns about the outcome of this election because they believe it could determine control of the Senate and the future of our agenda,” Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said in a statement. “The senator has been encouraged to reconsider his decision and is listening closely.”
Corker has recently had conversations with the White House and his Republican colleagues in the Senate about the possibility of reversing his decision to retire, Fox News learned. He has until April 5 to file for re-election.
But Blackburn on Friday said that she will run regardless of what Corker decides.
“I am running, and I’m going to win,” Blackburn said when asked about a possible Corker re-entry on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “I think what Tennesseans want to see, Hugh, is a true conservative in the U.S. Senate. They want to see somebody there that is going to back Donald Trump and his agenda.”
When she was asked if she thinks she would beat Corker, she replied: “I certainly do.”
Blackburn was likely buoyed by some polls showing her holding a commanding lead over Corker should he jump back in the race. According to The Tennessean, a poll by a pro-Blackburn PAC found that found 55 percent of respondents favored Blackburn, while only 26 percent favored Corker.
That poll also found that in a head-to-head matchup between Blackburn and Democratic challenger former Gov. Phil Bredesen, 44 percent of likely voters said they favored Blackburn, while Bredesen netted 39 percent.
But another recent poll, conducted by Republican pollster Glen Bolger and obtained by Fox News, showed Bredesen with 47 percent to Blackburn’s 45 percent in a hypothetical matchup.
Should Corker re-enter the race, his supporters are likely to present Blackburn as an extreme candidate who will lose the race to Bredesen if she wins the primary. Fincher teased such an attack when he emphasized he was backing Corker because it was important to support a candidate who could win in December.
“The party must get behind a candidate that can win in November and stop Democrat Phil Bredesen, who would be a rubber stamp for the Chuck Schumer liberal agenda,” Fincher said in a statement to The Tennessean.
According to the Associated Press, some Tennessee Republicans and national GOP figures are concerned that Bredesen will use Blackburn’s conservatism against her among voters who have elected a number of center-right dealmakers. Corker’s chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee is also viewed as an asset that Bredesen would struggle to match.
But Blackburn’s dismissed concerns that she would be beaten by a Democrat as sexism.
“Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in the statement. “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.”
It also isn’t clear what role, if any, President Trump would play in backing either candidate. Trump may feel he was burned by wading into the Alabama Republican Senate primary in 2017, where he backed then-Sen. Luther Strange against conservative challenger Roy Moore.
During that primary he admitted he “might have made a mistake” in backing Strange, who went on to lose to Moore — who in turn lost to Democratic challenger Doug Jones in the election after Moore was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.