By Jim EllisFeb. 20, 2018 — In late September, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) announced that he would not seek a third term in 2018, saying he wanted to work “thoughtfully and independently” for the months remaining in his senatorial tenure. For the past several days, it has been widely reported that he is in a period of reconsideration, however.
At one time, Sen. Corker was considered as a potential nominee for secretary of state, and had a strong relationship with President Trump. In the succeeding months, their friendship cratered into an abyss. Understanding that the president is still highly popular within the Volunteer State Republican voting base, Corker is beginning to make overtures toward making amends with the president, thus signaling that he is at least contemplating running again, after all.
If Sen. Corker is listening to individuals telling him that leading GOP senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn could be vulnerable in either a primary or the general election, empirical data suggests that such counsel is erroneous. In fact, polling and fundraising data should lead any observer to conclude that the congresswoman is actually one of the strongest Republican statewide candidates not only for Tennessee, but also across the national political spectrum.
Late last week, the Senate Conservatives Fund released a poll (Feb. 12-13; 600 likely Tennessee Republican primary voters) showing eight-term Rep. Blackburn crushing Corker 49-26 percent on a GOP primary ballot test question. The potential third candidate in the race, former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County), posts only nine percent support in this poll.
Within this Tennessee polling sample, Sen. Corker’s favorability index is upside down within his own party, at 47:49 percent positive to negative. In contrast, Rep. Blackburn sports a 64:21 percent favorability ratio, clearly underscoring that she is the favorite within the party’s dominant conservative base.
In terms of fundraising, Rep. Blackburn has already raised $3.23 million for the Senate race, including transfers from her US House committee, and has over $4.6 million cash-on-hand. This compares favorably to the consensus Democrat in the race, former two-term Gov. Phil Bredesen. He raised $518,000, having just over $493,000 remaining in the bank. But Gov. Bredesen only formed his campaign committee at the beginning of December.
Early general election polling sees a January survey from Triton Polling & Research (Jan. 21-24; 1,003 likely Tennessee general election voters) giving Blackburn a 50-39 percent lead over the Democratic former governor. A later study from Public Opinion Strategies (Jan. 26-29; sample size not available) finds ex-Gov. Bredesen claiming a slight 47-45 percent lead.
It is this latter poll that the Blackburn detractors are using to support their argument that the congresswoman would be a risky nominee. But, the POS data also found strong Republican approval ratings for President Trump, and that the electorate would support a generic Republican over a generic Democrat.
Therefore, a reasonable conclusion suggests that unfamiliarity with Rep. Blackburn exists, particularly in the eastern part of the state where she has never before run, thereby yielding such an overall result. If true, the fact that Blackburn would already be in a virtual dead heat against a universally known two-term governor in a region where Republicans typically under-poll, actually suggests more strength for her than weakness.
It is likely that the Corker re-election saga has not yet run its course, and probably won’t for some time. The Tennessee candidate filing deadline isn’t until April 5, in preparation for the state’s Aug. 2 primary election.