Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced for U.S. Senate Thursday, aiming to take the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Blackburn enters the race running as a populist conservative for a seat heretofore held by a noted moderate.
The Brentwood, Tennessee, the Republican quoted fellow Volunteer State politician President Andrew Jackson as she broke the news of her run in a campaign video released first to The Tennessean, saying, “One man with courage makes a majority.”
“Courage comes in both genders and I’m running for the U.S. Senate because I’ll fight every day to make our Republican majority act like one,” she goes on to say, noting that the performance of the GOP-controlled Senate is “enough to drive you nuts.”
Blackburn, a consistent conservative voter, staked out an unapologetic position on the right of the race. “I know the left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what, I say that’s alright, bring it on,” she said in the video.
A Blackburn U.S. Senate victory in the race would likely represent a major gain by the populist-nationalist wing of the Republican Party, taking a seat held by Corker, widely considered a member of the party’s establishment faction. Two-term senator Corker announced his pending retirement as it became clear populist Roy Moore had likely defeated the establishment-aligned Lucas Strange in Alabama’s special GOP Senate primary, despite the endorsement of the latter by President Donald Trump. Corker had been involved in a large-scale taxpayer-funded real estate development run by a Strange campaign donor.
Corker came under fire from the right in recent months for his stance on refugees. Since announcing his retirement, Corker has distanced himself further from President Trump and his populist-nationalist base. On Wednesday, he again appeared to seriously question Trump’s leadership, telling Capitol Hill reporters, “I think Sec. Tillerson, Sec. Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”
In contrast Blackburn, whom the American Conservative Union named as the most conservative potential Speaker of the House in 2015, has staked out populist positions on President Trump’s wall and refugee policies, and been a consistent supporter of bans on travel from terror-ridden nations. She also has made opposition to net neutrality a centerpiece of her ideological portfolio.
Announced challengers for the GOP nomination include only Americans for Prosperity chapter-head Andy Ogles, but former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), and Joe Carr, who has waged two unsuccessful runs for office, are rumored to be considering entering the race.
Gov. Bill Haslam, once considered a likely candidate, made clear Thursday, just before Blackburn’s announcement, that he would not run. Breitbart News has extensively reported on Haslam’s woes with Trump, the populist right, and the entanglements of his ownership interest in the Flying J truck-stop chain, employees of which are under federal indictment.
Tennessee State Senator Mark Green launched his own campaign to take Blackburn’s place in the U.S. House Thursday, an announcement seemingly timed to correspond with Blackburn’s own. He quickly picked up the endorsement of the Koch brothers-funded “super PAC” Club for Growth, who called him “an outstanding advocate for economic growth.” Green’s name was previously floating as a potential challenger to Corker based on his stark criticism of the incumbent from the right.