Outgoing Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker on Sunday defended his praise of the Democrat running in the race to replace him, but said he still plans to support the Republican nominee.
"He is my friend," Corker said of the candidate, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen,to CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union." "I'm not going to campaign against him, but I'm supporting our nominee."
Corker, who has publicly criticized President Donald Trump, announced last year he would not seek re-election. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn is running to replace him, and has Trump's backing against Bredesen.
When Bash asked Corker why Blackburn was better, he responded, "I think most people in our state, it is a red state, will focus on the first vote she makes, and that's the vote to elect the majority leader."
Corker commented on the race last Wednesday during a breakfast event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. He said he was following through on his pledge to support Blackburn as the GOP choice, but also outlined his positive view of the state's former two-term Democratic governor.
"He was a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good business person," He said at the event. "And look, I'm not going to campaign against someone who I've been a friend with and worked with, so that's the way it's gonna be."
After the event, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Corker those comments were unhelpful as the GOP seeks to retain both that Senate seat and control of the narrowly held chamber, The Washington Post reported.
In his interview with CNN on Sunday, Corker expressed some annoyance that the story of his conversation with McConnell had been disclosed to the press and reiterated his official support for Blackburn without mentioning her by name.
"It's hard to believe that the leadership of the senatorial committee on the Republican side would even leak that story out to The Washington Post and cause you to ask me about it," he said. "Look, I've sent the maximum contribution to the Republican nominee on our side. I've said I'm gonna plan to vote for this person."
When Bash pointed out that his endorsement for Blackburn was not that enthusiastic, Corker responded, "Well, Dana, you know I'm supporting the nominee. I've worked with the nominee for some time, and I don't know what else to say."