President Donald Trump encouraged Sen. Bob Corker to seek a third term in a face-to-face meeting last week even though the two butted heads throughout August and September, the Tennessean reported Monday.
The Tennessee Republican has asked multiple members of the GOP brass, including the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for advice as he weighs whether to re-up for another term or return to the private sector, where he was a construction and real estate titan before entering public service.
“As far as what am I going to do in the future, I’m still contemplating the future,” Corker told CNN last week. “It’s a tremendous privilege to do what I do, and to weigh in on the big issues.”
He told reporters later in the week that he will decide on his future “very, very soon.”
McConnell, now joined by the president, has urged Corker to run again, a source familiar with their conversations told CNN.
Corker, who Trump once considered tapping as his running mate in 2016, sat on $6.5 million in his campaign war chest at the end of the most recent reporting period. His office told The Tennessean it has raised an additional $1 million. Corker’s campaign fund is the most flush of any Republican facing re-election in 2018.
In August, Trump and Corker exchanged verbal blows in the wake of Trump’s handling of the racially motivated violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
When Trump said “many sides” shared blame for the violent outbursts there, Corker said the president had neither the “competence” nor the “stability” to be successful leading the country.
Trump shot back with a tweet calling the senator’s statement “strange” considering Corker has come to Trump for advice on his re-election in Tennessee. The president also alluded to Corker’s chances of winning a third term there, adding, “Tennessee not happy!”
Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2017
If he wants to stay in Washington, Corker will have to stamp out at least three primary challengers, including conservative operative Andy Ogles, who recently headed the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity in Tennessee and announced his bid last week.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race “Solid Republican.”
Notably absent from the list of potential challengers is Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who nipped widespread speculation in the bud in June when she announced she would not be running for the seat. Blackburn has more than $3.1 million in cash in her campaign coffers, per her FEC filings. Renegade conservative operatives linked to Trump’s former chief political strategist Steve Bannon had long floated the possibility of supporting her in a primary challenge, The Hill reported.
Those same operatives said Corker’s challengers will likely weaponize his rocky relationship with the president against him since Trump remains popular in the state.
But Corker has downplayed the tension between the president and himself, telling constituents in August he wouldn’t describe the Charlottesville spat as “an exchange of blows.”
“I think the president has just come to know me as very direct,” he said. “I think it’s back to business as usual.”