NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker downplayed the notion that former NFL and University of Tennessee star Peyton Manning may run for his seat next year, saying he thinks the “chances are low.”
“Is there a chance down the road that he can be enticed to run for the United States Senate or something like that? I hope so,” Corker told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
Corker said the quarterback texted him after his announcement and pleaded with the senator not to “fan the flames.”
Corker said he also spoke to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a longtime family friend, and to U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, about their interest in running for his seat.
Haslam, who can’t run for governor again next year because of term limits, has not responded to questions about his plans now that Corker is retiring.
Tom Ingram, a campaign strategist for both Corker and Haslam, said he expects the governor to seriously consider a Senate bid.
“While I don’t think Haslam has any burning desire to run, I think he understands the importance of the office and of public service,” Ingram said. “Bob’s leaving big shoes to fill, and I think it’s going to take the right person to fill them. I hope the right person will step up to it.”
The governor laughed off questions last week about whether his newly announced policy cracking down on food stamp requirements might be designed to curry favor with the right wing of his party as he considers his political future.
“One hundred percent, no,” he said. Pressed specifically about his Senate plans, Haslam said: “I love my job, thanks.”
The only Republican who has declared for the Senate race so far is Andy Ogles, the former state director of Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s network.
Blackburn, who has often toyed with running for statewide office, is expected to announce her decision about a Senate bid in the coming days. A regular fixture of television news shows, Blackburn has more than $3.1 million in her campaign account.
Former Rep. Stephen Fincher, who retired from Congress last year, told The Tennessean he will decide by the end of the week whether he will run. He has $2.4 million remaining in his federal campaign account. Freshman Rep. David Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney in Memphis, may also be interested.
State Sen. Mark Green, who dropped out of the gubernatorial race after he withdrew from his nomination as Army secretary, is expected to announce his intentions in the next few days. Before Corker dropped out, former state Rep. Joe Carr said he was considering a bid.
Republican consultant Josh Thomas said a spirited primary — like the one Corker faced before his 2006 election — could help shape a stronger candidate.
“Energetic free-for-all primaries are good for the party and will produce a nominee who is ready to take on the Democrats in November,” he said.
Nashville attorney James Mackler is the only Democrat in the race so far.