Corker won’t campaign against Democrat running for Tennessee Senate seat

Retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump to hold Nashville rally amid efforts to boost GOP Senate hopeful Kim Jong Un surprises with savvy power plays Tax reform postmortem reveals lethal dose of crony capitalism MORE (R-Tenn.), an outspoken critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo to outline post-deal strategy on Iran Trump asking aides whether he should proceed with North Korea summit: report Stopping Robert Mueller to protect us all MORE, says he will not campaign against the former Democratic governor of Tennessee who is running for his seat.

Corker praised Phil Bredesen, the expected Democratic nominee in the race to replace him, as a good governor and a savvy businessman with whom he worked closely when Corker was mayor of Chattanooga and then later the junior Republican senator of the state.

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“Phil Bredesen is a friend of mine,” Corker said at a Wednesday breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

“I worked very closely with him for years. He was a very good mayor, very good governor, a very good businessperson,” Corker added. “Look, I'm not going to campaign against someone I’ve been a friend with and worked with.”

Corker noted, however, that he has already contributed the maximum to the expected Republican Senate nominee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump to hold Nashville rally amid efforts to boost GOP Senate hopeful The Hill's 12:30 Report Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE, an outspoken conservative and strong ally of Trump’s.

Corker also said he has promised to back Blackburn and will do so, at least nominally.

“I did as I said I would do. I said when the primary was over, I would support our nominee. The primary became over because all of the folks running against her were disqualified by the [Republican] executive committee, and therefore I sent a check immediately for the maximum amount you could send,” he explained.

The Blackburn campaign immediately pushed back against Corker’s praise of its Democratic opponent.

“Phil Bredesen will be a solid vote for Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer: GOP efforts to identify FBI informant 'close to crossing a legal line' Patients deserve the 'right to try' How the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel MORE and Obama, Clinton-era liberal policies, and Tennesseans are not interested in that,” said Abbi Sigler, the campaign spokesperson.

Corker has about $6 million in cash on hand in his Senate campaign account but doesn’t plan to spend it in the Tennessee race or other Senate races.

Asked what he would do with the money, Corker said, “I have absolutely no idea, but I certainly don’t plan on disbursing it anytime soon.”  

A poll earlier this month from Middle Tennessee State University found Bredesen with a 10-point lead over Blackburn among registered voters. 

He's expected to give Democrats a decent chance of winning a seat that is deep in Trump country. 

Corker said Bredesen will have crossover appeal with Republican voters.

“No question. Significant Republican fundraisers are [holding] fundraisers for him today,” he said.

During the Wednesday roundtable with reporters, Corker discussed working with Bredesen to bring Volkswagen to Tennessee. 

“We worked together. Infrastructure-wise we did all kinds of things together, and then when I became a senator and he was governor, we brought Volkswagen to our state,” Corker said.

Corker recalled clandestine meetings he had in his home with Bredesen and Volkswagen executives to bring the major auto manufacturer and employer into his state.

Corker explained to reporters after the breakfast that he didn’t have much of a history of working with Blackburn.

“The reason I speak the way I do about the governor is it’s just been such an intertwined working relationship, on and off, for 23 years,” he said. “I just never had had that kind of relationship with the congressperson.”

“It hasn’t been like we’ve been close friends and worked on issues together,” he said of Blackburn. “I can’t think of a single piece of legislation we’ve ever worked on together.”

He said, however, that he’ll probably vote for her.

“I don’t usually give money to candidates I don't plan to vote for but we’ll see,’ he said.

--This report was updated at 11:25 a.m.