Republican Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga, is running a close race against Rep. Harold Ford for the U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee. Today he spoke with me about the issues of concern to Tennessee voters, Harold Ford’s liberal record and the problem-solving attitude he hopes to bring to Washington. What follows is our interview, which is also available as a Podcast (click to download).
To start things off, Bob, I want to ask you, what’s the top issue that you’re hearing from voters that they care about in Tennessee?
You know, it’s interesting. First of all, I’d say that the climate is one of general concern. The reason I’m running for the Senate, and I really do believe we face the most complex issues today that we’ve faced in my adult lifetime, and I think that as you talk to voters, it’s more of a general concern. Everything from the war in Iraq to issues of—even though we’ve had 6.6 million jobs created since ’03—I think there’s an uneasiness about the future. Certainly, health-care costs are a big issue. Energy prices were of greater concern—gasoline prices—a month ago, but I think that’s still an issue that sort of concerns people. It still hasn’t gone completely away in their minds.
But I think there’s a general unease about the future. I think among Republicans, probably the thing that has created concern is sort of the mentality of spending, if you will, that has existed in Washington. I think that that is, to some degree, created concerns about the size of government. But I think there are a lot of different issues that cause people to be, I think at this point in time, just very concerned in general.
I didn’t mention one I should have mentioned, obviously, and that is illegal immigration. I mean, it continues to be an issue in our state, and depending on the person you’re talking to, it might the top issue.
Well, you know, Bob, we hear a lot being based in Washington how the national climate is mostly hurting Republicans and President Bush can’t be as effective as a campaigner because his numbers are down. How would you say these national issues are playing in Tennessee?
How the national—
In terms of how you have Democrats saying there’s a culture of corruption in Washington and there needs to be a change in the direction of the country? Is this resonating in Tennessee at all?
I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say it that it had an effect. I think it’s caused people to question—I mean people who would automatically, if you will, be with you under normal circumstances. I’m a guy who started working when I was 13 and built a business at the age of 25 after saving $8,000—just being the kind of candidate that a lot of people would really relate to. And I think they are relating to me, but there’s no question the national issues have created a little wind in face.
I think it’s not so much the issues mentioned about corruption. I think it’s more the issues in our country of having not been dealt with. Of course, I’m running against a young man who has been in Washington now for 10 years, and really is a part of Washington. But I would just say there’s no question that a lot of the independent voters have concerns about a lot of the country’s issues not being addressed fully.
Now, I want to turn to—take a step back. In the Republican primary this year, you faced two candidates who positioned themselves to the right of you. Could you articulate why conservatives should turn out to vote for you on November 7?
Well, actually, we won among conservatives in the primary. That was the interesting thing. They tried to position themselves to the right of me, but I—and I mean this sincerely—these are both nice guys and they’re campaigning for me now, they’ve been both helpful. In fact, I’m getting ready meet Ed Bryant in an hour-and-22-minutes and campaign with him in Jackson, Tenn. And he’s actually featured in an ad, by the way, for me right now in various parts of the state.
I actually didn’t see any position differences. We debated five times over the course of the primary. Obviously, in a primary like that, you try to position yourself—and they did try to position themselves to the right of me—but, really, there really were no differences on the issues. And as the campaign ended, we had actually won among base GOPers and conservatives in the primary.
Bob, what’s the first thing you want to do if you’re elected?
Well, of course there’s so many issues to focus on, but obviously I will focus every day—there are two different types of issues, Robert. There’s the daily blogging and tackling issue that you just every day focus on and work on hard. And then there are those issues where you’re looking to the future on—that you really see as moving our country ahead in solving some of the problems.
So in the blogging and tackling thing, I would say, certainly, taking with me that culture of living within your means. That mentality is something I’ve had to do all my life. I really want to cause our federal government to focus on constraining spending and focus on being the limited government that causes an economy to flourish. And so I want to work on that on a daily basis and do everything we can in intelligence gathering and homeland security—doing those things to make sure we keep our citizens safe. I want to do that every day.
As far as those things that move us into the future, meaning solving problems that can move us ahead economically, I want to make sure we really do focus on an energy policy that creates energy independence. That doesn’t mean, obviously, that we don’t have energy resources come from other countries, but it does mean that no one part of the world can hold us hostage. So I really want to focus on that. And I really do want to focus on health-care issues—affordability and accessibility. I was disappointed that we haven’t been able to pass tort reform. We have so many counties here in the state of Tennessee where especially OB/GYN services are limited because of malpractice insurance. I want to make sure we focus on these associated health plans to make sure that small businesses are able to band together and continually work on the rising costs of health care in general.
Those are things I want to focus on. I know that the thing that drives me to be in this race—why I care about a multitude of issues—is making sure that we as a country put in place those policies to allow future generations to have an even higher standard of living that we have today. We’re in a tremendously competitive world. I was in China nine or 10 months ago, observing what was happening there. I want to make sure that we continue to be the place of innovation, that we keep our taxes low so people invest here and prosper, and that we move ahead. We know our young people understand the challenges of the future and are prepared for that. Those issues that will move us ahead in that regard is what I want to put tremendous energy and focus into.
Well now, Bob, you mentioned earlier in the conversation your opponent, Harold Ford, who has spent the last few years in Washington compiling a voting record. But during this campaign he has tried to define himself as a moderate. Is he selling himself as something that he’s not?
Well, there’s just no question about that. That’s just an absolute fact. He’s running as somebody he’s not.
I think by the time this campaign is over, and there’s only 19 days as we talk, I think voters will see through that. But he obviously is running in a very different way than he’s voted. And I think that you know that he’s the most liberal voting member of our Tennessee delegation. He votes like Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy 88% of the time.
He opposed the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts and their extensions. He’s said that doing away with the Death Tax would be foolish. He’s opposed the marriage penalty offsets. So on taxes, he’s been—as a matter of fact, I think he’s voted to raise taxes 76 or 77 times on the federal level. He opposed Judge Alito—thought he was a bad choice to sit on the Supreme Court.
I could go on and on and on and on, but his votes, obviously, have not been in step with Tennesseans. He’s running as somebody he’s not, and I think that our citizens, over the course of this race, will see through that.
What do you see as the biggest differences between you and him on the big issues?
Well, as far as what he’s saying or what he’s doing?
In terms of voting. On an issue like abortion, for instance, on a socially conservative issue like that?
He’s voted time and time and time again for federal funding for abortion. I oppose that. I’m pro-life. He’s not pro-life. Early on in his career, he voted against banning partial-birth abortion, which even—that’s an extreme view, certainly in our state anyway. On the issue of life, I am pro-life. I’ve been endorsed by National Right-to-Life. He is not. He has voted, as I mentioned, time and time again, for federal funds to be used to actually pay for abortions.
And how about on immigration?
On immigration, you know, the votes that he’s actually cast have been OK. I have to say that. He’s said, though, on national broadcast, that he could support the Senate bill that came out, which I couldn’t have. I’m opposed to that bill. He’s said he could support it on national broadcast. He ended up seeing that our state, obviously, wants tougher immigration laws, and I think did, in fact, end up voting for this last bill that they’ve passed through the House.
Can you tell me what’s the most important thing you think you’ll do in the next 19 days?
The next important thing I’ll be doing in the next 19 days is making sure that people know that I’ve lived a Tennessee life. I’ve been here all my life, working, solving civic problems—as commissioner of finance put in one of the best welfare reform packages in our country; solved problems as mayor—brought in $2 billion worth of investment, lowered violent crime by 51%, used incentives in education to drive up student achievement, streamlined our city government.
I want people to see that I’ve been right here in Tennessee solving problems. My opponent, obviously, has been in Washington since he was 9. The other thing, though, is that I think that people of all walks of life want to see the problems that we have in Washington solved. They don’t just want to see people yelling at each other, bickering at each other. They want to see people solve problems, and I’ve demonstrated in a lifetime the ability to do that.
I think people will see that in the course of the next 19 days even more clearly. So what I really want them to do, Robert, is just to make sure they know me—they know that I’m the guy who has been here in Tennessee, has been shaped by those life experiences here in Tennessee and will take that to Washington. But also have a demonstrated ability to work with people to solve the problems that face our country.
For more information about Bob Corker, visit his website at BobCorkerForSenate.com.