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Would-Be Frist Successor Corker Rakes in $2 Million

Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) will report raising roughly $2 million in the first 60 days of his candidacy to replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), according to informed sources.

Corker’s huge war chest for a race that is nearly 20 months away is sure to give pause to the other Republicans considering the contest, a list that includes Rep. Marsha Blackburn as well as former Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary and state party Chairwoman Beth Harwell. Frist will honor a two-term limit pledge by stepping down in 2006.

“This much money this early is unprecedented in Tennessee and clearly signals that Corker is a force to be reckoned with,” said one Republican consultant familiar with the state’s politics.

“For Republicans, the race is now on to be the grassroots conservative alternative to Corker. Wavering candidates dither at their peril,” the source added.

Corker’s prodigious fundraising, which came from just a handful of events, is simply the latest example of the mayor’s attempts to become the establishment candidate.

His lead fundraiser, Kim Kaegi, has been heavily involved in campaigns waged by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), and Alex Vogel, a close confidante of Frist, is serving as general counsel to the Corker campaign.

“This is such an important seat with Senator Frist leaving,” said Kaegi. “We wanted to start off doing the groundwork that was necessary for it.”

Aside from Corker, only Bryant has formed a committee with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for the race. Both men will file their first financial reports with the FEC at the end of this month.

Bryant did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

In his unsuccessful 2002 primary bid, in which he lost to Alexander, Bryant spent roughly $1.6 million and received 43 percent.

Blackburn showed $577,000 in her House account as of Nov. 22. If she chooses to run for Senate, she could transfer all of that money to a statewide account.

The second-term lawmaker, who won the open seat vacated by Bryant in 2002, is also pondering a race against Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) in 2006.

Hilleary lost to Bredesen in 2002, 51 percent to 48 percent; if Bryant makes the race, Hilleary is not likely to run.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. appears to be the nominee although he continues to remain coy about his intentions.

Ford, who flirted with a challenge to Frist in 2000 and stepped aside for then-Rep. Bob Clement (D) in 2002, had $1.1 million in the bank as of Nov. 22.

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