Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will not run for re-election after all, sticking with his decision last fall to retire at the end of this Congress.
"Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election. Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out," chief of staff Todd Womack said in a Tuesday statement.
"However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018," Womack said.
The news was first reported Tuesday morning by Politico, which interviewed Womack.
“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” he said at the time.
But in the past two weeks, his team confirmed that he'd been encouraged to reconsider his decision and was “listening closely” to those voices who wanted him to run.
Blackburn thanked Corker for his service Tuesday.
"Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November," Blackburn said in a statement.
Blackburn's campaign had attacked skeptics of her general election viability as sexist.
“Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement earlier this month.
In the days since Corker confirmed he was taking another look at the race, the Blackburn team has touted a series of endorsements and polls to try to show she's locked up GOP support in the state.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally endorsed Blackburn last week, along with two-thirds of GOP state senators. The Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity have said they'd stick with Blackburn if Corker got back in the race.
Corker ended 2017 with $6.2 million. (He raised $14,000 during the last quarter of the year and had already given away some of his cash.) Blackburn’s campaign says it raised $2 million in the last quarter of the year and had $4.62 million at the end of the year.
Former Rep. Stephen Fincher, who’d entered the GOP primary in October, dropped out of the race earlier this month, urging Corker to run again. He said he thought Corker was the Republican who could beat former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
At least one Republican poll showed Blackburn losing to Bredesen. A Public Opinion Strategies survey of the race conducted for a Tennessee business group gave Bredesen a 47 to 45 percent advantage, according to Politico.
Democrats are excited about the prospects of Bredesen making the race competitive. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election race Likely Republican.