Campaign: Only 'sexist pig' would think Blackburn can't win

FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2017, file photo, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., leaves the House chamber after the House gave a significant boost to President Donald Trump's promise to cut taxes on Capitol Hill in Washington. Blackburn's campaign said Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, that anyone who thinks she can't win the general election in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race is a "plain sexist pig." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

J. Scott Applewhite

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn's campaign said Tuesday that anyone who thinks she can't win the general election in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race is a "plain sexist pig."

Campaign spokeswoman Andrea Bozek released the statement after reports that some Republicans are encouraging U.S. Sen. Bob Corker not to retire over fears that Democrats will win the seat.

A Corker spokeswoman said Tuesday the senator is "listening closely."

"In recent days, people across Tennessee have reached out to Senator Corker with concerns about the outcome of this election because they believe it could determine control of the Senate and the future of our agenda," Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said in a statement. "The senator has been encouraged to reconsider his decision and is listening closely."

Bozek noted that several polls have found Blackburn leading former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in a potential Senate general election matchup. Others found Bredesen with an advantage.

Bozek also pointed out Blackburn's fundraising success, with $2 million raised last quarter and $4.6 million cash entering January.

"Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can't win a general election is just a plain sexist pig," Bozek said in the statement. "She's the best fundraiser in the country and is beating Phil Bredesen in several polls. We aren't worried about these ego-driven, tired old men. Marsha has spent her whole life fighting people who told her she wasn't good enough and she will do it again."

Blackburn faces former Republican U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher in the August GOP primary. Fincher's campaign says he raised $1.45 million last quarter, with $3.7 million in cash to start the new year.

In Washington on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell wouldn't say if he's asked Corker to stay.

"You'd have to ask Senator Corker about what his plans are," the Kentucky Republican told reporters Tuesday.

Asked how a possible Corker comeback could affect Blackburn's bid, Bozek said the campaign "is running full steam ahead because we want to ensure President Trump has a reliable vote in U.S. Senate."

Likewise, Bredesen's campaign said the speculation over Corker "changes nothing."

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"Governor Bredesen got in this race to be a true advocate for the people of Tennessee in the Senate, not to run against anyone," Bredesen campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen said in a statement.

Blackburn remains a popular figure among the most conservative Republican circles, having aligned herself with the tea party movement from its beginning. That might not have mattered with the rightward shift of the Tennessee electorate in recent years and the decline of the state's Democratic Party. But Bredesen, the former two-term governor who was a Nashville mayor before that, emerged as perhaps the weakened party's only viable candidate.

The worry among some Tennessee Republicans and many national GOP players is that Bredesen can exploit Blackburn's strident conservatism and appeal to voters who helped elect a long line of Republican senators — Howard Baker, former GOP Senate leader Bill Frist and the current incumbents, Corker and Lamar Alexander — who styled themselves more as center-right dealmakers. Corker's chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee is also viewed as an asset that Bredesen cannot match in a Senate contest.

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Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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