- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

DICKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Sen. Lamar Alexander said Tuesday that he was disappointed when Sen. Bob Corker decided not to seek re-election, and the two Republicans have recently talked about calls for Corker to reverse course. But Alexander claims he hasn’t urged Corker to run again, insisting that he is “staying out of it.”

Alexander’s comments to reporters come as Corker’s camp said he’s “listening closely” to those encouraging him to reconsider and run in a contest that could sway the thin majority in the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

“I wanted him to stay,” Alexander said. “But I didn’t urge him to stay because it’s a big decision to make. So I don’t urge people to run or not run for public office.”

Despite reports that some Republicans have encouraged Corker to reverse course because they worry former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen might flip the Senate seat, almost none of them are saying it publicly.

But the news has roiled the campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and rallied supporters of her bid for Corker’s Senate seat. Plenty of Republican state lawmakers and conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, assured their support for her since news of Corker’s latest wavering. Blackburn’s campaign has said she’s staying in the race regardless of Corker’s choice.

Her campaign has said previously anyone who thinks she can’t win the Senate general election is a “plain sexist pig,” saying they aren’t worried about “these ego-driven, tired old men.”

Asked about those comments, Alexander chuckled Tuesday.

“I just assumed they were talking about somebody else,” Alexander said.

Last week, Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher became the most prominent voice to call publicly for Corker’s entry into the Senate race. He did so when he dropped out of the race himself.

“The party must get behind a candidate that can win in November and stop Democrat Phil Bredesen, who would be a rubber stamp for the Chuck Schumer liberal agenda,” Fincher said in a statement last week as he ended his Senate campaign. “For that reason, I believe Senator Bob Corker should continue to serve in the U.S. Senate, and stand with the President to fight for Tennessee families.”

Bredesen’s campaign, which says he’s also in the race regardless of Corker, pointed at the dissent among Republicans as an example of what’s wrong with Washington.

“These candidates are campaigning like they govern in Washington - name-calling and dividing - which is why Governor Bredesen’s track-record and get-things-done attitude is resonating with Tennesseans,” said Bredesen campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen.

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