In today’s edition of 7 Races in 7 Days, we review the United States Senate race in Tennessee.
Tennessee is a state that appears to be clearly on a march to the right. Just ten years ago, there was a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion, an evenly split State Senate, and a State House with a slim Democratic majority. Today, Republican Bill Haslam is Governor, the State Senate is solidly Republican by a 26-5 majority and the Democrats in the State House have seen their majority shattered, with Republicans taking control by a 74-25 majority.
At the federal level, the story has largely been the same. In 2008, Tennessee was represented in the US House by 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans. Today, there are 7 Republican Members of Congress and just 2 Democrats.
In an era of traditionally red states taking on shades of purple, Tennessee appears to be bucking that trend.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R) – Elected to Congress in 2004, Marsha Blackburn represents the Tennessee 7th Congressional District, rated by Cook Political Report as R+18, one of the most solidly Republican districts in the country.
In Congress, she has been a solid supporter of President Trump and his policies, going so far as to joining a letter written in support of his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize, citing his work on the Korean Peninsula.
Proudly labeling herself a Tea Party Conservative Republican, Blackburn has taken the hard right position on each of the hot-button issues of the day.
Phil Bredesen (D) – Having served both as Mayor of Nashville and two-term governor, Phil Bredesen is a household name in Tennessee.
Bredesen governed largely as a fiscal conservative, working with the General Assembly to pass across-the-board spending cuts, government reforms, and a campaign against drug abuse, easily winning a second term.
State of the Race
In September 2017, incumbent Senator Bob Corker announced he would not seek re-election. Corker had been a frequent critic of President Trump, saying at one point that any Senator who is not conflicted about Trump is “either comatose or is pretty useless in their blindness.”
Corker also vowed to stay out of the race for his old Senate seat, saying that Bredesen was “a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good businessperson” and that he has “cross-over appeal.”
Blackburn’s campaign has slammed Bredesen as someone who will go to the Senate and vote with Senator Chuck Schumer and the so-called Washington Liberal Elites. In a rare campaign ad in this era, she features President Trump at a rally railing against Bredesen and declaring that he would be bad for Tennessee. Blackburn’s embrace of Trump is a bet being made on the fact that the President won her home state by 26 points in 2016.
Conversely, Bredesen has run a campaign focused on his history as a coalition-builder, and as someone who has worked across the aisle to achieve a common goal. He does not like to identify himself as a Democrat, but as someone who will do what is right for the people of Tennessee.
With combined spending from both campaigns and outside groups nearing $70M, this has shaped up to be the most expensive Senate race in the state’s history, and a key battleground in the fight for the Senate majority.
Polls have wavered back and forth within the margin of error since the beginning of the campaign, but Blackburn appears to have gained some momentum in the final weeks leading up to Election Day (despite a key endorsement of Bredesen from Taylor Swift).
All the major ratings organizations, with the exception of the Cook Political Report, currently have the race as Lean or Likely Republican. That said, this is exactly the type of contest that could flip the other way given the right political environment on Election Day.