Former state Rep. Joe Carr is laying the foundation to run against Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee in the Republican primary next year, accusing the incumbent of being too reluctant to back President Trump’s agenda.
He’s formed a political action committee dubbed “Stand Firm America” that raised $500,000 over the last three weeks, in what Mr. Carr said is an early show of support.
Mr. Carr becomes the latest insurgent hoping to use Mr. Trump as a cudgel in a Republican primary, making the president a critical dividing line within the GOP.
“There is a great opportunity for someone like myself to run against Sen. Corker and be victorious because there is an appetite for change, for someone to stand with President Trump, and stand up against the establishment of our party,” Mr. Carr told The Washington Times on Tuesday. “We are very, very serious.”
Mr. Corker has yet to announce he is running for re-election and his office did not return a request for comment.
Should Mr. Corker seek a third six-year term, political analysts say the 65-year-old chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could be tough to oust.
“Sen. Corker remains popular in the state and that popularity has been very stable over the last five or so years,” said John G. Geer, political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “He remains the prohibitive favorite to win re-election. In fact, many have wondered if he might run for governor. If he did, he would be the immediate front-runner.”
Though he’s generally voted for Mr. Trump’s positions so far this year, Mr. Corker has pointedly broken with the president rhetorically, including last month when he said Mr. Trump has “not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Mr. Trump fired back on Twitter.
“Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ‘18. Tennessee not happy!” the president tweeted.
Mr. Corker is one of several Republican senators who have ended up on Mr. Trump’s naughty list. Another, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, is also facing a difficult primary next year.
In Tennessee, Mr. Carr said voters will compare Mr. Corker’s treatment of Mr. Trump and former President Barack Obama.
“For a lot of us here in Tennessee it is like he was more willing to cozy up with Obama and play golf with him, yet he seems to want to go out of his way to shame and embarrass the president to correct behavior that he disagrees with,” Mr. Carr said.
Mr. Carr tried a similar run in 2014 against Sen. Lamar Alexander, also a Republican, and fell short — though his 9-percentage point loss was closer than analysts had predicted, which could be a boost in a future race against Mr. Corker, whom he describes as a big government Republican who is weak on immigration.
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said incumbents usually survive primary challenges.
“That said, Joe Carr performed fairly well against Lamar Alexander in 2014 despite getting very little help or national attention, and with anti-establishment feeling still broiling on the GOP side, I wouldn’t rule out an upset, particularly if the president speaks out against some Senate incumbents next year,” Mr. Kondik said.
Mr. Carr said he learned lessons from his 2014 primary and says he wants to make sure he has all his “ducks in row” before he makes a final decision on whether to run.