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Bob Corker, the next Senator from Tennessee

Thursday, October 12, 2006

HH: Joined now by the next Senator from the great state of Tennessee, Bob Corker. Bob, welcome. It’s great to meet you for the first time over the air.

BC: Hey, I’m thrilled to be with you. Thanks for this great opportunity.

HH: Now I happen to have been watching C-SPAN this afternoon on the West Coast, so I watched all of your debate two nights ago. I believe it was in Chattanooga with Harold Ford.

BC: Yup.

HH: That might be illegal in a lot of states, what you did to Harold Ford there, Bob Corker, because he was…by the end, he was kind of reeling. What was the reaction in Tennessee to that debate?

BC: Well, it really energized our base. As I’ve traveled around the state since the debate, it’s been amazing. People have really gotten into the race, and I have to tell you, I was surprised at how many people have actually seen that debate. We had one the previous Saturday night in Memphis, his home town, and we got the same reaction from that. So I feel really good about it. Obviously, my opponent’s been in Washington for ten years. He’s known as a talker, if you will, and I’m just glad that the debate went so well, and look forward to the next one.

HH: It was also very, very substantive, in terms of being asked hard-hitting questions on both sides, and you stood up there and you took it. My question is, you’ve been down in the polls, now you’re up in the polls. Where do you really think the race is right now, Bob Corker?

BC: I mean, just honestly, I think it’s just a very, very close race. We…it’s a dead heat. There are polls that show…one just came out yesterday that was statewide. It showed me three points up. There was one just the day before that. It showed us a few points down. It truly is a very, very close race, and obviously, we’re going to do everything we can over the next 26 days to make sure that we win this race.

HH: Now I want to tell Americans they can go read more about you at I’m sure you need resources as well, because you’ve got a couple of expensive media markets there. Let’s give them some bio, Bob Corker. You came out of University of Tennessee, so you don’t know much about football. But after that…

BC: (laughing)

HH: …you got into the construction business, did quite well for yourself. How well?

BC: Yeah, let me…I’ll take you back even further. I started work, like so many people in this country, when I was 13 years old, and went to public schools in Chattanooga, went away to UT, started working as a construction superintendent after that. I was the guy on the job site that actually built buildings, and saved $8,000 dollars when I was 25. I went into business, started doing really small projects, literally started with my hands, and built a company that operated in 18 states around the country, building mostly shopping centers. When I was about 30, I went on a mission trip to Haiti with my Church. Incredible experience. Came back and got involved in our community, saw that we had a lot of people that didn’t have decent housing, led the creation of a non-profit that’s helped over 10,000 families have decent housing. So I sort of moved into the public arena by solving problems. I served as commissioner of finance for our state in the middle 90’s, and while I was there, we put in place one of the best welfare reform packages in our country, taking our rolls from 96,000 down to 57,000, almost overnight. The people really to work. And then as mayor, we streamlined our city’s government. I was mayor of Chattanooga until about a year and a half ago, brought in $2 billion dollars worth of investment for a city our size. That was huge. Lowered violent crime 51%. We actually put in place a teacher incentive. We paid them bonuses in the classroom to drive up student achievement in our non-performing schools. And it was amazing. They outpaced the other schools in our system, almost overnight. So those are the kind of experiences I want to take to Washington. I think people here in Tennessee want two things. Number one, they want a person who thinks like they do in the United States Senate. They want somebody that represents their values. And secondly, they want someone who’s had a demonstrated ability to solve problems. And that’s why I think I’m going to win this race.

HH: Now Mayor Corker, though you come into a state with a lot of tradition in the Senate recently, Fred Thompson, Lamar Alexander, great guys, Bill Frist, of course, the majority leader. And yet, Democrats have been grinding away. They haven’t won much, and they think this is their turn, and the Memphis machine is geared up. How dirty is it going to be the next 26 days?

BC: Well, it’s pretty rough. You know, I’ll tell you what happens to you in the course…you know this, knowing, just doing what you do. But you’re out here on the campaign trail, and you’re focused on the energy that’s out here. Obviously, both camps are going at it, the staffs, and there’s a lot of things going on in TV and radio and everything else. But what I feel out here is positive energy. Look, this is all part of people forming an opinion, getting a sense of who is like them, who’s somebody that’s going to represent them well. And actually, I really enjoyed the debates. You know, debating is not something I’ve done a great deal of, but that give and take, and letting people know where you stand on issues, is something that I’ve actually found to be enjoyable.

HH: Well, I watched that today, and I’ve never seen you before, and you stayed so calm in the face of some pretty outrageous statements. Did your blood pressure go up a little bit? Or was that part of the debate prep, you don’t get baited?

BC: You know, I think that you didn’t see it so much in that debate, but in the first one that you probably haven’t seen, my opponent did, and he was just constantly edgy and concerned. I don’t know, he seemed to lack the maturity, if you will, to deal with tough issues. Look, I know that when he’s doing what he’s doing in these debates, it’s all about just keeping your composure. Don’t worry about what they’re saying. Counter it in a measured way, and I think that’s what people want in a United States Senator. Look, the Senate is a place where heavy decisions are made, and I think it takes people with a temperament and comportment to conduct themselves like you mentioned, like the Howard Bakers, the Fred Thompsons, the Lamar Alexanders, and the Bill Frists, to really make a difference in the Senate.

HH: Now Bob Corker, this is just a point of personal privilege. I’m a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School as well, and I passed the bar. Actually, I passed two bars. Does it matter to the people of Tennessee that your opponent got out and didn’t from my alma mater?

BC: You know, I think the thing that probably they care about more than that is, and I think he’s represented that he is a lawyer. I know there’s some things that are being sent out, and going back forth, again between the campaigns, but I think it’s more of an issue of him representing to the people of our state, representing to people in Congress, that he has served as a lawyer, that he is a lawyer. And obviously, that’s the issue that I think is a bigger issue to Tennesseeans.

HH: Now I also noted at the end of the debate, as soon as he got assigned to the committee having to do with the Freddy Mac, that his dad immediately went down and became a lobbyist for that. Is that par for the course with the Fords of Memphis?

BC: You know, the Ford political machine is an interesting thing. They…my opponent is running…he’s got a slogan of something like the new generation of change, or I don’t know what it is exactly. There’s been a Ford in his seat, now, for 32 years. He’s served and been in that seat for ten years. In the Democratic primary, his cousin lost the Democratic primary to take his place in the seat. Since his cousin lost, his brother is now running as an independent. So the family business has been politics. And obviously, there’s always Fords on ballots there.

HH: Well, I hope they bring it to an end. We’re out of time, Bob Corker, but I look forward to checking back in with you., America. It’s one of the key races coming up.

End of interview.

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