Political Science faculty react to senator’s retirement announcement

Two UTM faculty members said it’s too early to tell whether a shift in the U.S. Senate might occur following the retirement announcement of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Corker announced Sept. 26 that he will not run for re-election in 2018 after serving two terms.

Dr. Chris Baxter, professor of Political Science, said that it probably would not cause a drastic shift in the Senate.

“To really have an impact on the vote composition of the Senate, you would really need the Democrats to come in and take that seat, which the Democrats feel that they’re going to be competitive next year and some see this (as) they want to use this opportunity, as they thought they could last time, to try to narrow the gap and maybe take over the Senate,” Baxter said.

“To make any impact nationally, it would require the Democrats taking that seat and maybe narrowing the gap that they have in the Senate overall, but when you look at the probable candidates you look at voting behavior over the past many election cycles,” Baxter said. “Whoever the Republican candidate’s going to be will probably be heavily favored and the Democrats would have a tough time getting that seat.”

Dr. Anderson Starling, assistant professor of Political Science, said that it is hard to tell this early as midterm elections can be weird.

“Midterms are usually a referendum on the president’s policies and the Republicans have not had a lot of success so far,” Starling said.

“I think if the election were today, you have one result which might not be as good for the Republicans, but a lot of time between now and then, 16 months-ish, it’s too early to tell,” Starling said.

Speculation has begun on who would be running to replace Corker in the 2018 election, but no official announcements have been made.

“Tennessee’s pretty (much a) red state; they may get some fairly high-profile candidate,” Baxter said of previous Republican candidates who have won in Tennessee elections.

Starling said that he does not anticipate anyone local to run for Corker’s seat.

“You should expect people out of the statehouse to probably run –  especially Gov. Haslam, maybe Marsha Blackburn, maybe House Speaker Beth Harwell – but not very many from this area are likely to run,” he said.

Corker has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2007 and he was elected chairman in 2015. Baxter said that Tennessee is losing the best voice on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“It’s been a very awkward situation because I think Sen. Corker had a view of conducting foreign policy that was very much focused on pursuing the same goals and continuing the same policies that we have had for decades,” Baxter said.

“He conflicted quite a bit with our president, who wanted him to bring in a lot of changes, but he was at the very center of that dialogue and so we’re losing that senior spot on that very important committee,” Baxter said. “Sen. Corker, just on this campus, has been very gracious in sending some of his staffers to talk about foreign policy, to talk about opportunities for jobs in foreign policy to our students, so we’re going to miss that expertise when it’s gone.”

Starling said  it would be interesting if Corker and Haslam switch jobs.

“Even if Haslam runs for the Senate seat, it’s not a guaranteed thing. People love Haslam around the state, but there are anti-establishment Republicans who would certainly run against him because he’s more of a moderate Republican, judging by his policies in Tennessee,” Starling said.

“We’re looking at a very interesting gubernatorial race next year and now we have a vacant Senate seat. It’s a very, very interesting election next year,” Baxter said.




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