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Lamar Alexander Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election in 2020

Tennessee Republican plans to retire from the Senate

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has announced he’s not running for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has announced he’s not running for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a longtime Republican senator from Tennessee who previously served as governor, will not seek re-election in 2020.

He made the announcement on Monday that he will be retiring at the end of his current term.

“I will not be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate in 2020. The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state. I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege,” Alexander said in a statement.

Alexander had said he would decide by the end of the year whether he’d seek re-election. As recently as last week, it seemed his team was gearing up for him to seek a fourth term, when his pollster released a poll showing the senator with a 65 percent favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters.

North Star Opinion Research surveyed 600 people from Nov. 26-29, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have,” Alexander said on Monday. “I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”

In the Senate, he was a member of the Republican leadership team, serving as the chairman of the Republican Conference for four years. Alexander announced in 2011 that he would be leaving the leadership because he felt he could have more influence from outside the formal structure.

Alexander has been a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, where he has been chairman of the Energy-Water subcommittee. That role has given him a platform for advocacy and support for nuclear security programs and scientific research — much of which takes place in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

As Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman, he’s led successful efforts to advance medical research through the landmark 21st Century Cures law, and also worked closely with ranking Democrat Patty Murray of Washington on an elementary and secondary education overhaul that replaced the beleaguered No Child Left Behind law.

Among his other accomplishments has been a successful effort to prohibit in-flight cellphone calls on commercial flights, which became something of an obsession for the Tennessee senator.

“I would suggest that any senator who opposes banning cell phone conversations on flights be sentenced to sit next to a loud businessman talking to his girlfriend on a six-hour flight between New York and California,” Alexander said in a statement issued in July.

The current HELP chairman has been among the closest confidants of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from neighboring Kentucky. Both men are senior appropriators who tend to share a world view on federal spending.

Alexander has been a fixture in Tennessee politics for more than four decades, having first been elected governor in 1978, his second run for the office.

“I often tell him he is the legislator of the decade because of the effective way he has worked across the aisle to pass legislation that directly affects the lives of so many throughout our state and around the country. As one of the finest statesmen our state has ever seen, Lamar will leave behind a remarkable legacy,” said fellow Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker. “I know he will press through the next two years with great vigor, and I look forward to all he will accomplish on behalf of Tennesseans as he completes his service in Washington.”

Corker, the Foreign Relations chairman, is retiring at the end of the current Congress.

He gained national attention as a gubernatorial candidate by traversing the state on foot in a red-and-black plaid shirt. Tennesseans liked it, electing him with more than 55 percent of the vote.

Alexander would go on to serve eight years as governor, as president of the University of Tennessee and as secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush.

Alexander geared up for the 1996 presidential election, but his campaign foundered after he finished third in the New Hampshire primary. He set his sights on the 2000 nomination but stopped campaigning in the summer of 1999, when George W. Bush became the front-runner.

That was a prelude to his next act, as senator from Tennessee, succeeding fellow Republican Sen. Fred Thompson.

As for what comes next for Tennessee, among potential Republican successor candidates are outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam and GOP Rep. David Kustoff, who represents the 8th District. Rep.-elect Mark Green, who won the open 7th District last month, has long been known to be interested in a Senate bid, perhaps even a primary challenge to Alexander had he run for re-election.

It would be no surprise to see Alexander and Corker advocating for a Haslam candidacy. GOP operatives also mentioned University of Tennessee president and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd as a possible candidate.

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.

Watch: Hatch and Alexander Play Piano, Discuss Songwriting Legislation

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