Sen. Corker mum on future plans, but doesn’t rule out gov’s race

This Oct. 6, 2011 file photo shows Senator Bob Corker during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Senator Bob Corker gave few hints Wednesday on his political future after he leaves the U.S. Senate, but he appeared to leave the door slightly ajar on continuing his service to the community.

Corker told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that he plans to “serve in some capacity,” but that he’s not actively pursuing any other office at the moment.

“If there’s an opportunity for me to make a difference in some other way, I’m sure that I would look at it,” he said. “Right now, again, I have absolutely nothing.”

Some have speculated that the Republican may be looking into succeeding term-limited Governor Bill Haslam, who in turn is being urged to run for Corker’s seat next year.

“If that were something that I was going to attempt to pursue, it would have been good to think about that a year ago,” Corker told reporters. “There’s been a lot of people who’ve been working hard.”

“But over the course of the next 15 months, who knows what might happen?” he said.

The filing deadline for governor’s race is April.

Corker said he’s not retiring out of frustration over the glacial pace major legislation moves on Capitol Hill, but also acknowledged that burnout may have played a role in his decision to return home to Tennessee after more than a decade in Congress.

“I’m frustrated we’re not getting more done, but that has nothing to do with me leaving,” said Corker, who is the chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee. “I’m in a position where I can pick up the phone and make a phone call and make a difference.”

Corker reiterated what he said in his retirement announcement: That’s he leaving because he’s a “citizen legislator” who pledged before his 2006 election not to serve more than two terms in the Senate.

Corker, who has traveled to dozens of countries since his election, said he wakes up every day feeling privileged to come to work.

“Am I burned out on hearings, hearings, hearings? A little bit. Yeah, I’m more of a doer,” he said. “I’ll be honest. I hit the wall a little bit.”

Who will replace Corker?

The Senator confirmed he spoke to Haslam about his interest in running for the seat.

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.

So far, the only Republican who has declared for the Senate race is Andy Agles, the former state director of Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s network.

Representative Marsha 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.

Football star Peyton Manning, whose name was also thrown around after Corker announced his retirement, confirmed he will not be seeking the Senate seat.

“I certainly have an interest in politics and in our country,” the former NFL and University of Tennessee quarterback told WGFX-FM. “I just have zero interest in being a politician.”

Corker told reporters in Washington earlier Wednesday that he hopes Manning will consider public service in the future.

“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 said.