RALEIGH, N.C. — “The rallies I have back home aren’t quite like this.”
Sen. Bob Corker is not usually speechless.
But when presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump brought the Tennessee Republican up on stage Tuesday night in a historic performing arts facility that’s played host to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, he sounded like he didn’t know quite what to do.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Corker said in a space that wasn’t quite the Grand Ole Opry but impressive nonetheless. “I just came to visit.”
Corker said he had the “incredible privilege” to spend time meeting Trump’s family and longtime employees of the Trump organization.
“The reason you love him so much is because he loves you,” Corker said to applause from a full house at the roughly 2,300 seat Memorial Auditorium.
A successful businessman himself (and among the wealthiest members of the Senate), Corker said it was good “to see the respect that they have for the person they’ve worked with.”
“People become caricatures of what the media makes them,” Corker said, in an endorsement of the character of the presumptive Republican nominee ahead of the party’s national convention in Cleveland this month. Corker joined Trump at the rally as NBC News reported that the Tennessee senator was indeed on the list of people being formally vetted for consideration to join the Republican ticket.
It wasn’t long ago that the two men met for the very first time .
After that meeting, Corker expressed concern that Trump could squander an opportunity to solve big fiscal challenges, such as tackling entitlement spending. Corker has said he believes a candidate like Trump is better suited for the task than someone like presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump could “change the trajectory of this country,” Corker told Yahoo News last month, and he said the billionaire mogul would have a few weeks to right the ship of his campaign from that point.
His appearance in Raleigh with Trump came after flying with him from New York City after meetings at Trump Tower, according to a person familiar with the itinerary. The North Carolina trip is likely to fan the speculative flames that Corker is part of an effort by Trump to audition potential vice presidents.
Corker has a biography that shares more with Trump than might meet the eye for a senior member of the Republican Conference and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He was elected to the Senate after serving as mayor of Chattanooga, where he had worked to redevelop the city’s waterfront.
Before entering public life? Corker was a successful businessman who excelled in the world of real estate development.
After the first Manhattan meeting in May, Corker said he was eager to learn more about Trump’s plans, and that his “sense is that he will evolve.”
Corker is the latest in a line of prominent Republicans to meet with Trump, with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst also on the list.
“I will continue to share my insights with Donald about the need to strengthen our economy, keep our nation safe, and ensure America is always a strong, stabilizing force around the globe,” Ernst said in a statement after meeting with Trump over the Fourth of July weekend.
While Corker was with Trump in North Carolina, the Tar Heel State’s senior Republican senator wasn’t in the room, despite also having had his name surface as a potential running mate.
Sen. Richard M. Burr was in Washington ahead of the Senate’s return Wednesday afternoon, Jesse Hunt, the communications director for Burr’s campaign, said in an email.
“After multiple terror attacks associated with the Islamic State this past week, Sen. Burr is attending to his duties in Washington as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman,” Hunt said.
The so-called “Trump train” came through Raleigh just a few hours after President Barack Obama stumped with Clinton in Charlotte, and predictably, Trump focused his attention on Tuesday’s announcement by FBI Director James B. Comey that he would not be recommending charges against Clinton following the investigation into her use of private email during her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state.
“The system is rigged, but we’re still happy to be together,” Trump said.
David Hawkings contributed to this report.