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 CorkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing GOP senators frustrated with Romney jabs at Trump Vulnerable senators hold the key to Trump's fate 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.

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"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 BlackburnProgressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring 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 FincherTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP 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.