Senator Lamar Alexander announced Monday he would not run for a fourth term in 2020.
“I will not be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate in 2020,” he wrote on Facebook.
The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state.
I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.
I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have.
I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill pointed out, “Lamar just gave political consultants and media buyers an early Christmas gift as he just kick-started the 2020 campaign for his open Senate seat.”
It is surprising that he has made this announcement so early rather than waiting another year. Every indication was that he was planning to run for reelection based upon his recent increase in public appearances, commissioning and releasing a poll by his longterm pollster Whit Ayers, and setting a date before year-end to announce his plans. It will be interesting to see if he pursues a more moderate path in the Senate now that he won’t have to face voters in two years.
There are Republicans who would not have challenged Lamar for his seat who will now be potential candidates, like Governor Bill Haslam and Interim UT President Randy Boyd. It is unlikely that they would run against each other so one will probably emerge. Mark Green won’t be sworn into Congress for a few more weeks but he may opt for an immediate Senate run with an open seat beckoning. Does Diane Black still have a political fire burning inside her that could tempt her back into the arena? Former West Tennessee Congressman Stephen Fincher launched a bid for the Corker Senate seat before yielding to Marsha Blackburn and could make another shot. And there is probably another successful businessman or woman with $8-10 million available to fund a race following the Bill Lee blueprint. Former ECD Commissioner and current U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty certainly fits that bill. At this point, nobody has a lock on the nomination so the GOP primary field could get crowded.”
As for the Democrats, the field is thin and the 2018 results showed that Tennessee is a dark red state even when Democrats field heavily funded candidates with strong credentials like Phil Bredesen and Karl Dean. A liberal mayor won’t win statewide, but that is pretty much what the Democrats have to choose from, whether it is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, or former Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan. None of them would bring in the national funding that fueled the failed Bredesen campaign so the winner of the GOP Primary almost certainly becomes a U.S. Senator.
“Lamar Alexander is a Tennessee legend,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said in a statement reacting to the news, adding:
The foundation of Tennessee’s modern success as a state and a people was built upon his wise governance. All Tennesseans owe him a great debt. Lamar, along with Howard Baker and Winfield Dunn, was responsible for the modern rebirth of the Republican Party. But he always put principles over party, people over politics. Lamar always did what was best for Tennessee. As a young legislator, I was honored to work with then-Governor Alexander and was consistently impressed with his diligence and integrity. His mentorship of me and countless others has been invaluable. Though he may not be running for re-election, I have no doubt Lamar will continue to serve our state with distinction for the next two years as Senator and as elder statesmen beyond that. We will need him.
Fellow senator Bob Corker – who will leave the Senate in January – wrote on Facebook that Alexander is “one of the finest statesmen our state has ever seen.”
Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) who will take over Sen. Corker’s seat next month, said in a statement that Alexander’s service “has been nothing less that exemplary.”
After establishing a successful legal practice in the early 1970s, Alexander ran for Governor against Democrat Ray Blanton and was soundly defeated. However four years later, Blaton, plagued by scandal, chose not to run for re-election. Alexander ran again, successfully, and served as Governor until 1987.
Upon his return from travelling abroad in Australia, Alexander served as the President of Tennessee University until 1991, when President George HW Bush tapped him to join his administration as the Secretary of Education.
After leaving Washington in 1993 (and two failed bids for the presidency in 1996 and 2000), Alexander reportedly vowed never to run for elected office again. But in 2002, the Bush White House persuaded him to run for Fred Thompson’s seat – who would retire after a single term. Alexander handily won re-election in 2008, and in 2014 – despite strong grassroots opposition.
Read more about Senator Lamar Alexander’s legislative record here.