NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that he had been holding out hope that his friend Bob Corker would run for a third term in the U.S. Senate. But now that Corker has decided to retire from Congress, the governor said he’s been thrust into the position of having to give a Senate bid serious consideration.
Haslam can’t run for re-election as governor next year because of term limits. He was first persuaded by Corker, his brother’s college roommate and later the mayor of Chattanooga, to leave his career in business and seek public office as mayor of Knoxville in 2003. He was elected governor in 2010.
“I’ve loved being governor, there’s no secret there,” Haslam said. “And being in the United States Senate is not something that I’ve long dreamed about and thought about.
“Having said that, I do think it’s really important who serves,” he said. “And I think it merits spending some time thinking about it and praying about it.”
Haslam did not indicate when he would make a decision, other than to say it wouldn’t be as soon as within 24 hours — or as long as a month.
“In fairness to other people who would be involved, I won’t stretch it out forever,” he said.
Others considering entering the Republican race include U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, former Rep. Stephen Fincher and state Sen. Mark Green. Conservative activist Andy Ogles announced his candidacy before Corker announced his retirement.
The only Democratic candidate so far has been Nashville attorney James Mackler, but several others have voiced interest since Corker’s announcement. They include Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro and real estate investor Bill Freeman.
Haslam said he would weigh several factors, including whether he is prepared to make the move from being the head of the executive branch in Tennessee to running for a legislative seat in the federal government. He will also consider the stresses that a move to Washington could put on his family, and whether he is ready to commit to running for at least two six-year terms.
And then there is the question about whether he wants to plunge into the hyper-partisanship that surrounds Congress, he said.
“The country really wants to see some progress made in Washington, and there’s a sense of frustration about people who just want to come in and argue the politics of it,” he said. “I think that’s why everybody looks at Washington and says we’re not getting anything done, and why a lot of people go: ‘I don’t even know that I even believe in the process anymore because they’re arguing about the politics of it.'”
Haslam said that Lamar Alexander, a former Tennessee governor who is now the state’s senior senator, has encouraged him to seriously consider a Senate run.
“He would say what you learn being governor can really help up here,” Haslam said.
Haslam is reviled by some Republicans in the state for calling on Donald Trump to step aside as the party’s nominee last year after the release of a videotape in which Trump boasted about groping women.
The governor said he’s not concerned that he could become the target of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and other groups if he decides to run.
“One of the advantages of having run several times and having being in office for a while is that you get a little bit more used to being shot at than you were initially,” Haslam said.
Haslam noted that he remains close friends with Vice President Mike Pence and several members of President Trump’s administration. But as a candidate for one of just 100 seats in the Senate, he said, “you have to assume you’re going to be in the middle of a battle.”