Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 2006, term expires 2018, 2nd term.

Born: August 24, 1952, Orangeburg, SC

Home: Chattanooga

Education: U. of TN, B.S. 1974

Professional Career: Owner, Bencor Corp., 1978-90; Commissioner, TN Dept. of Fin. and Admin., 1995-96; Owner, Corker Group, 1982-2006.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Protestant

Family: married (Elizabeth) , 2 children

Republican Bob Corker, elected in 2006, is the junior senator from Tennessee and became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2015. He has a reputation as a pragmatic problem-solver, something that in mid-2014 spurred talk of his running for president. He didn't discourage such speculation, telling MSNBC: “Who knows what happens down the road?" But he didn't pursue the idea, preferring to use his new status to try to shape his party's often-fractious approach on international affairs.

Corker was born in South Carolina, grew up in Chattanooga, and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974 with a degree in industrial management. Just a few years out of college, he started a construction company, which he sold before he turned 40. He was the Senate’s fourth-wealthiest member in 2013, with average assets of $54.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Before that, Corker took a church mission trip to Haiti, which inspired him to help create Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a non-profit organization designed to get low-income families into affordable housing.

In 1994, he ran for the Senate, finishing second in the Republican primary to Bill Frist, who went on to defeat Democratic incumbent Jim Sasser that year and eventually became the Senate majority leader. After his defeat, Corker was named state finance commissioner by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist. After 18 months, he returned to private business, purchasing two real estate and development companies in Chattanooga. In 2001, he won election as Chattanooga mayor and got credit for reducing violent crime and revitalizing the city’s waterfront.

While still in his first term as mayor, Corker in October 2004 announced he would run to succeed Frist, who stuck to his initial campaign promise to serve just two terms. By the end of the year, Corker had raised $2 million. Two former Republican congressmen also ran, Ed Bryant, who lost to Lamar Alexander in the 2002 Senate primary, and Van Hilleary, who lost to Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2002 governor’s race. Corker drew on his personal wealth and spent $5 million through mid-July to introduce himself to voters and defend against attacks that he was insufficiently conservative.

Bryant and Hilleary claimed Corker raised property taxes in Chattanooga and criticized his support for abortion rights during his 1994 Senate campaign. Corker called his opponents “ineffective career politicians” and talked about his background as a successful businessman and mayor. He said he was “wrong” on abortion in 1994 and that he opposed the right to abortion, although he agreed with exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Corker ended up winning by a comfortable margin as Bryant and Hilleary split the conservative vote. He carried nearly every county east of Nashville and a half-dozen west of it, winning 48% to Bryant’s 34%; Hilleary finished third with 17%.

The Democratic nominee was Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., of Memphis, who, in the absence of serious primary opposition, was able to conserve his resources for the general election. Youthful, ambitious, and telegenic, Ford was an attractive candidate. The son of former Rep. Harold Ford, Sr., he was first elected to the House in 1996, just months after graduating from law school, and his record was sufficiently moderate to make him a competitive statewide candidate. For much of the general election campaign, it appeared Corker might defy Tennessee’s recent Republican trend in national elections and lose a seat that was critical to the party’s hopes of retaining its Senate majority. Corker struggled to unify the party after the contentious primary and failed to gain traction in the two months following the August primary. Meanwhile, Ford ran a nearly flawless campaign. Corker’s efforts to frame Ford as too liberal for Tennessee fell flat in the face of Ford’s centrist positions on illegal immigration, the Iraq war, border security, and gay marriage. Ford also put Corker on the defensive about his business dealings.

Nevertheless, as the scion of a Memphis political dynasty, Ford had to weather distractions caused by several family members, including his uncle, former state Sen. John Ford, who was indicted on federal corruption charges. Then, John Ford’s sister—Harold’s aunt—won the special election to replace him, but she was ousted by the state Senate in April amid allegations of vote fraud. Meanwhile, in the racially-charged House race to succeed Harold Ford, his brother, Jake, unexpectedly ran as an independent candidate against white Democratic nominee Steve Cohen.

Heading into the final weeks of the campaign, the election appeared to be a dead heat. But Corker gained momentum after Republicans launched a series of attack ads and zeroed in on Ford’s personal story, characterizing it as a life of privilege. Corker’s ads described his rise from a laborer who poured concrete. In late October, the Republican National Committee weighed in with a controversial ad featuring purported on-the-street interviews with regular people, including an attractive young, blonde, and white woman, claiming that she had “met Harold at the Playboy party,” a reference to news stories that Ford had attended a Super Bowl party hosted by Playboy magazine. The commercial ended with the woman saying, “Harold, call me.” Critics called the ad racial politicking, while Republicans insisted it was about values. Corker’s campaign asked television stations not to air the spot.

Corker won 51%-48%. Whites voted 59%-40% for Corker, and blacks voted 95%-4% for Ford. Ford won 61%-38% in the Memphis area, while Corker carried the Nashville area 50%-49%. Corker far outpaced Ford in East Tennessee, winning 58%-40%. Ford carried Middle and West Tennessee 52%-46%.

In the Senate, Corker's voting record is conservative, but not overly so. In the 113th Congress (2013-14) his legislative score from the conservative group Heritage Action for the 113th Congress was just 48%, well below the average Senate Republican and just 2 percentage points above his home-state GOP colleague Lamar Alexander. He is popular with reporters and is a regular guest on Sunday television talk shows. 

Corker became the ranking minority member on Foreign Relations after Indiana’s Richard Lugar, one of the Senate’s most respected voices on foreign policy, lost to tea-party favorite Richard Mourdock in the 2012 GOP primary. In taking on his new assignment, he met with an assortment of Republican foreign policy figures, in part to allay concerns that he was insufficiently hawkish. (By January 2015, he also had visited 63 countries.) In 2013, rather than join other GOP panel members in pummeling outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her handling of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Corker suggested that the incident be used as an opportunity to craft a policy “that reflects the dynamics of the region as they really are today.”

He also cosponsored a resolution calling for new sanctions on North Korea in response to developments in its nuclear program, He earlier complained that the Obama administration did not sufficiently consult Congress on military engagement in Libya, and he introduced a resolution with Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., asking for a detailed justification for the U.S. operation. He was among the Republicans voting to ratify the New START arms-reduction treaty with Russia in 2010 after getting assurances from appropriators of funding for the modernization of nuclear weapons.

By August 2014, Corker's exasperation with Obama reached the point where he wrote a blunt op-ed for The Washington Post blasting the president as unreliable on foreign affairs. "Those around the world who are looking to the United States for support against intimidation, oppression or outright massacres have learned a tough lesson in the past few years: This U.S. president, despite his bold pronouncements and moral posturing, cannot be counted on," he wrote. He cited the White House's handling of the situations in Syria, Libya and Eastern Europe and concluded, "More often than not, the president doesn’t hit singles and doubles; he just balks .. It is hard to watch."

As the new chairman in 2015, Corker worked with the panel's ranking Democrat, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, to get an Iran sanctions bill through the Senate. But he lamented in February that effort had lost momentum because the Obama administration was reluctant to let Congress define how the process should turn out when officials were conducting delicate negotiations with the country over its nuclear program. “The thing they have been far more concerned about is us laying out what the end deal has to look like,” he told The Washington Examiner.

When he first arrived, Corker tried to further separate himself from the controversial attack ads against Ford. He introduced a bill to allow candidates to approve commercials and direct mail pieces from political parties before they are released to the public. While he was a reliable vote for Republicans on issues such as opposing embryonic stem cell research and troop withdrawal timetables in Iraq, Corker broke with the party on some high-profile issues. He backed an energy bill to raise gas mileage standards for cars and trucks. He joined a bipartisan effort to promote a 2008 energy bill allowing offshore drilling while also emphasizing renewable energy sources. In 2007, he voted for a Democratic bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and also played a crucial role in negotiations to renew federal funding for the state’s TennCare Medicaid program.

In 2008, Corker got a seat on the Banking Committee. When committee ranking Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama refused to participate in bipartisan talks about a bailout for the collapsing financial industry, Corker engaged in meetings with Democratic Chairman Christopher Dodd that produced the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. In late 2008, when the big three domestic automakers sought a multi-billion-dollar bailout, Corker criticized auto executives who appeared before the committee, chiding their plans for securing government loans and waiting for mergers. He told the head of Chrysler: “While this is happening, you’re going to be going to spas and getting facials and hopefully finding someone to marry you.” In December, Corker offered an alternative proposal that required retiring autoworkers to accept most of their benefits in stock rather than in cash, forced bondholders to accept a steep cut in the value of their bonds, and required wages and benefits comparable to American employees of foreign automakers. Corker’s conditions angered big auto’s supporters in Detroit, but they were in large part followed by President Barack Obama’s task force on the auto companies.

Corker was unusually active for a junior member on financial regulation, the big issue before the Banking Committee, in 2009 and 2010. By then, he had built a good working relationship with Dodd, who encouraged him to engage in informal meetings with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner. “I don’t see him as a partisan,” Warner later told The Associated Press. “I think he’s somebody who’s willing to work with anybody who he thinks has a good idea.” In early February 2010, when Dodd concluded that negotiations with Shelby on the bill were going nowhere, Corker once again agreed to work with Dodd.

On the sensitive issue of creating a consumer finance protection agency, strongly backed by liberal Democrats, Corker, Dodd, Shelby, and New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg agreed to put the new CFPA under the authority of the Federal Reserve. But Corker continued to be troubled by what he regarded as the too-big-to-fail treatment of major banks and other financial institutions. And in March, Dodd announced that he would unveil his own bill without support from Corker or other Republicans. Corker complained that the unilateral action was ordered by the Obama White House, but he was also critical of fellow Republicans, saying they had made a major strategic error in not reaching a compromise and that GOP assertions that the bill would increase the likelihood of bailouts were overstated. In March 2013, when Republican leaders circulated a letter vowing to block any director to lead the consumer agency unless Democrats agreed to restructure it, Corker declined to sign it and expressed hope that a compromise could be reached.

After a report revealed that top executives at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rewarded with some $13 million in bonus pay, Corker introduced a bill in November 2011 to phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 10 years and replace them with a private mortgage market. In 2008, the struggling companies were taken over by the federal government in a conservatorship to keep them afloat. In the summer of 2011, Corker joined with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in an attempt to delay a rule sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., that placed limits on bank fees charged to retailers for debit card transactions. Corker argued that the cap on transaction fees would actually hurt small, community banks. The Corker-Tester bill garnered 54 votes, but that was not enough to stop a filibuster.

Corker jumped into the debate over cutting federal spending in 2011, and again, did so in a bipartisan way. He and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill sponsored a bill to require reductions of federal spending from 24.7% of gross domestic product to the 40-year historic average of 20.6%, with the White House budget office charged with making simultaneous cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending if Congress did not meet the targets. When the Republican leadership and Obama brokered a deal to raise the debt ceiling in early August 2011, some hardline conservatives carped that the legislation failed to achieve substantial deficit reduction, but Corker voted for the deal.

In the 113th Congress, Corker drew attention for a number of iconoclastic moves. He complained in September 2013 that his more junior GOP colleagues Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah sought a government shutdown for what amounted to publicity purposes. He was the only Senate Republican in April 2013 to vote with Democrats in favor of considering a minimum-wage increase. He and Warner teamed again to tackle housing finance reform, crafting a framework that became incorpoated into an April 2014 draft from Banking Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and ranking Republican Mike Crapo of Idaho. He also worked with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy on a proposal to boost the federal gasoline tax to save the depleted Highway Trust Fund.

On an issue of interest at home, Corker worked with fellow Tennessee Republican Alexander to strip from the 2010 Federal Aviation Administration bill a provision that would facilitate unionization of Memphis-based FedEx. To help Nashville's music industry, he joined Alexander and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch in introducing a bill in May 2014 that would allow songwriters to be paid based on the fair-market value of their songs.

Corker is among the senators who’ve grown exceedingly frustrated with the protracted gridlock on Capitol Hill in recent years. “The last two years of my first term were like watching paint dry, because nothing was occurring and it was fairly discouraging, and one has to ask oneself is this worth a grown man’s time,” he told the Associated Press in 2012 when he was running for reelection. It helped that his race was far easier than his earlier one. After beating four Republicans in a primary with 85% of the vote, he faced Democrat Mark Clayton, a self-described author and anti-gay rights activist.  Within days of the primary, the state Democratic Party disavowed Clayton and made it known that it didn’t consider him to be a legitimate nominee. Corker won 65%-30%.

Regarding his potential 2016 ambitions, Corker told National Journal: ""Every senator has probably thought about it. All I really wish to see happen in 2016 is that we have a good president, great president for our nation. I hope someone steps forward that has the ability to solve problems—not just throw rhetoric out there."

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3344

(202) 228-0566

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 425
Washington, DC 20510-4207

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3344

(202) 228-0566

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 425
Washington, DC 20510-4207

DISTRICT OFFICE

(615) 279-8125

(615) 279-9488

3322 West End Avenue Suite 610
Nashville, TN 37203

DISTRICT OFFICE

(615) 279-8125

(615) 279-9488

3322 West End Avenue Suite 610
Nashville, TN 37203

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 756-2757

(423) 756-5313

10 West Martin Luther King Boulevard Sixth Floor
Chattanooga, TN 37402

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 756-2757

(423) 756-5313

10 West Martin Luther King Boulevard Sixth Floor
Chattanooga, TN 37402

DISTRICT OFFICE

(865) 637-4180

(865) 637-9886

Howard H. Baker Jr. Courthouse Suite 121
Knoxville, TN 37902

DISTRICT OFFICE

(865) 637-4180

(865) 637-9886

Howard H. Baker Jr. Courthouse Suite 121
Knoxville, TN 37902

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 753-2263

(423) 753-3679

1105 East Jackson Boulevard Suite 4
Jonesborough, TN 37659

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 753-2263

(423) 753-3679

1105 East Jackson Boulevard Suite 4
Jonesborough, TN 37659

DISTRICT OFFICE

(731) 664-2294

(731) 664-4670

91 Stonebridge Boulevard Suite 103
Jackson, TN 38305

DISTRICT OFFICE

(731) 664-2294

(731) 664-4670

91 Stonebridge Boulevard Suite 103
Jackson, TN 38305

DISTRICT OFFICE

(901) 683-1910

(901) 575-3528

100 Peabody Place Suite 1125
Memphis, TN 38103

DISTRICT OFFICE

(901) 683-1910

(901) 575-3528

100 Peabody Place Suite 1125
Memphis, TN 38103

Staff

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Abortion

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

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Hunter Bethea
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Douglas Sellers
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John Haley
Legislative Aide

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Assistant to the Chief of Staff

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Hayly Humphreys
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Douglas Sellers
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Assistant to the Chief of Staff

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Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

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Michael Ahern
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Hayly Humphreys
Assistant to the Chief of Staff

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Stacie Oliver
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Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Sarah Ramig
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Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Joe Curtsinger
Legislative Correspondent

Internet

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Judiciary

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

John Haley
Legislative Aide

Douglas Sellers
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Hayly Humphreys
Assistant to the Chief of Staff

Military

Joe Curtsinger
Legislative Correspondent

Minorities

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Native Americans

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Privacy

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Public Works

Hunter Bethea
Legislative Assistant

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

John Haley
Legislative Aide

Recreation

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Rules

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Science

Hunter Bethea
Legislative Assistant

John Haley
Legislative Aide

Seniors

Hayly Humphreys
Assistant to the Chief of Staff

Social Security

Douglas Sellers
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Hunter Bethea
Legislative Assistant

Douglas Sellers
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Hunter Bethea
Legislative Assistant

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Telecommunications

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

John Haley
Legislative Aide

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Trade

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Joe Curtsinger
Legislative Correspondent

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Hunter Bethea
Legislative Assistant

John Haley
Legislative Aide

Veterans

Joe Curtsinger
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Women

Stacie Oliver
Professional Staff Member

Sarah Ramig
Legislative Counsel

Matthew Smith
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Bob Corker
Votes: 1,506,443
Percent: 64.93%
Mark Clayton
Votes: 705,882
Percent: 30.42%
2012 PRIMARY
Bob Corker
Votes: 389,613
Percent: 85.24%
Zach Poskevich
Votes: 28,311
Percent: 6.19%
2006 GENERAL
Bob Corker
Votes: 929,911
Percent: 51.0%
Harold Ford
Votes: 879,976
Percent: 48.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Bob Corker
Votes: 231,541
Percent: 48.0%
Ed Bryant
Votes: 161,189
Percent: 34.0%
Van Hilleary
Votes: 83,078
Percent: 17.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (51%)

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