Rep. Marsha Blackburn is preparing to run for Senate in Tennessee, building a campaign team and lining up the financial backing necessary if she decides to get into the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Blackburn is gathering internal data to assess the playing field for what could be a competitive Republican primary. The polling she has seen so far has been encouraging, say Republican operatives familiar with her planning. Her immediate priority is building a network of grassroots and donor support for a contest she estimates could run $10 million — $15 million if Republican Gov. Bill Haslam decides to run.
"If the governor doesn't get in, I think it's a relatively clean shot for her," said Dan Eberhart, a Republican bundler who had breakfast with Blackburn on Tuesday morning in Washington as part of her effort to lock down support for a Senate bid. "I think she's in a good place, she would be a good consensus conservative for the seat."
Eberhart, who runs an investment firm in Phoenix, worked in politics in Tennessee when Blackburn won her congressional seat in 2002, and has maintained ties with her since. He told the Washington Examiner that he expects Blackburn to run for Senate in 2018 and agreed to help her raise money. The GOP primary is set for next August.
Corker announced his retirement effective at the end of his current term on Sept. 26, sparking interest on the Right in laying claim to a seat that is likely out of reach for the Democrats given the sharp conservative turn Tennessee has taken over the past decade.
Blackburn is being urged by some influential conservatives in Washington to jump into the Senate race. Sources close to the congresswoman said she has not yet made a decision, but confirmed that she is doing what is necessary to wage a strong campaign from Day 1 if she runs.
"We are working the phones very hard and that's all we're focused on," a Republican operative familiar with Blackburn's planning said.