By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam still isn’t ready yet to throw his support behind presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The governor had been on a trade mission to Asia for most of the past two weeks, and his comments about the campaign before the state GOP’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner on Friday were his first since Trump’s last rivals for the nomination dropped out of the race.
“This is a very winnable race for our party that we need to win,” Haslam said. “I’ve said before that I have a few questions I want to talk about with Donald Trump.”
Haslam said he plans to join a group of governors meeting with Trump in the next couple weeks. The governor endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio before Tennessee’s primary in March and has raised concerns in the past about Trump’s rhetoric. But Haslam said he wants to specifically discuss issues important to states, like health care and education.
“Most states would tell you right now that states aren’t getting their say at the table the way that we should under the Obama administration,” he said.
Other Republicans in Tennessee have been less hesitant about embracing Trump.
“I’m going to support the nominee when we have one and focus on re-electing a Republican Senate,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said.
Sen. Bob Corker, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has held conversations with Trump about international affairs but stopped short of calling himself an adviser.
“I’m certainly not calling over, but only responding when asked,” he said.
Corker said he looks forward to moving beyond the “personality-based” primary campaign.
“Over the course of the next two or three months, you’re going to see their campaign really addressing some of the policy issues that matter to people, because this hasn’t been that kind of campaign,” Corker said.
“People were looking for a leader, a type of leader, but now you’re going to see that roll out,” he said.
State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes rejected questions about whether a Trump nomination could hurt Republicans this fall.
“There’s not going to be any kind of down-ballot effect,” Haynes said. “We overwhelmingly control the Legislature; we have seven of nine congressmen. We’re very comfortable going forward.
“And we’re going to continue to win, and I think the Democratic party is going to continue to suffer in this state.”