UPDATE (Oct. 5, 2017): Governor Bill Haslam announced Thursday he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
In a statement released on Twitter, Haslam said he wants to remain focused on his job as governor and that running for Senate would be "a distraction" during his final 15 months.
"While I have loved being a mayor and a governor, I don't feel the same call to run for Senate at this point," Haslam said. "At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen."
ORIGINAL STORY: Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he is considering a U.S. Senate run, leaving the door open for the Knoxville Republican to take the post Bob Corker is vacating.
Haslam made the comment after an event Thursday morning.
"It merits spending some time thinking about it and praying about it," Haslam told reporters.
The governor said he's talked to Corker about the idea in recent days, adding that he had fully expected the U.S. senator to run for a third term.
"I've heard from a lot of folks on the national political scene and a lot of people around Tennessee," Haslam said. "But at the end of the day it’s more of a personal decision about what you want to do with your life. And it’s a question about can I be helpful in this role?"
Haslam did not give a timetable as to when he will reach a decision, noting he won't draw the process out for a month.
The governor said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has encouraged him to seriously think about running for the Senate.
"Sen. Alexander has been encouraging that I should think about it seriously," Haslam said. "I think he sees how important the United States Senate is and the decisions that happen there. I think he would say what you’ve learned being governor can really help up here."
If Haslam enters the race he would immediately become a leading contender for the seat Corker has held since 2006.
A former mayor of Chattanooga, Corker said on Sept. 26 he would not seek a third term.
Haslam entering the race could set up a GOP primary showdown with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. The 15-year congressional veteran is expected to announce whether she will run this week.
Haslam, a billionaire thanks to his family's Pilot Flying J truck stop company, has the national stature, state popularity, political experience and financial means to make a competitive run for the seat.
While he has sparred with conservatives and Democrats in the state legislature, Haslam is heralded for creating the popular Tennessee Promise free college education program and for implementing an increase in the state gas tax, a move expected to fuel extensive improvements to state infrastructure.
Haslam alluded to entering the race earlier this year, although he hadn't discussed the issue much publicly in recent months.
In February, Haslam didn't rule out a potential run, telling reporters at the time he "honestly didn't know."
Haslam has historically earned more than 60 percent support in Vanderbilt University polls and has run two successful statewide campaigns. But Blackburn has eyed a Senate race for years, and could garner the endorsement and financial support of President Donald Trump as one of his most fervent and public supporters in Congress.
Former Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee leader Andy Ogles has also announced as a Republican candidate for the post. Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher and many other Tennessee Republicans are considering entering the race.
James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Army veteran, is the only declared candidate on the Democratic side.
The primary election is Aug. 2, 2018.