Tennessee Gov. Haslam won't run for Senate

Tennessee Gov. Haslam won't run for Senate
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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) won't run in 2018 for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R).

Haslam in a statement Thursday thanked those who encouraged him to run but said he wanted to focus on his current job.

"The primary reason is that I want to remain completely focused on my job as governor," Haslam said. "I know that being a candidate for the Senate during my last 15 months as governor would be a distraction from the task at hand.

"And, while I have loved being a mayor and a governor, I don't feel the same call to run for Senate at this point," he added. 

He went on to say that he believes his next role will be as a "private citizen." 

Haslam, one of the state's top Republicans, was seen as a strong potential candidate to fill the seat. He cruised to reelection in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote, is one of the nation's more popular governors and has deep pockets to fund a bid. 

But many grassroots Republicans in the state have been angling for a candidate outside the GOP establishment to replace Corker, who has frequently clashed with President Trump.

Haslam's decision to stay on the sidelines opens the door wider for Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBlackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' Nervous GOP seeks new 2018 Senate candidates in three states Corker 'listening closely' to calls to reconsider retirement MORE (R) to take the mantle as the early front-runner.

Blackburn is viewed more favorably by the party's right flank. She hasn't announced a bid yet but is expected to run for the seat.  

So far, conservative activist Andy Ogles is the only major official candidate on the Republican side. But along with Blackburn, former state Rep. Joe Carr, state Sen. Bill Green and Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherCorker 'listening closely' to calls to reconsider retirement GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE have all been floated as possible GOP candidates. 

Whoever wins the GOP primary will be a heavy favorite in the red state, but Democrats are looking to run a competitive race thanks in no small part to the unpredictable dynamics of an open-seat race.

Nashville attorney James Mackler is the top Democrat in the race right now, but other Democrats like Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke are considering a bid now that Corker is retiring.