- Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former two-term Tennessee governor who also once served as mayor of Nashville, is rejecting the anti-Trump “resistance” – and his party’s leadership – in an attempt to win a Senate seat in his deep red state.
- Bredesen says Democrats are in part to blame for Tennessee’s rightward drift over the past decade.
- The 74-year-old former healthcare executive has advice for his party: Focus on economic issues, reach out to suburban and rural voters, and don’t wage cultural warfare.
Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former two-term Tennessee governor who also once served as mayor of Nashville, is rejecting the anti-Trump “resistance” – and his party’s leadership – in an attempt to win a Senate seat in a state that went for Donald Trump by 26 points in 2016.
The wealthy, centrist 74-year-old former healthcare executive is critical of his party in a way most Democrats – even those running in red states – rarely are. His advice to the party: Focus on economic issues, reach out to suburban and rural voters, and don’t wage cultural warfare.
Bredesen insists that Democrats have lost ground outside urban America because they have focused too much on wedge social issues and abandoned their core economic message of “expanding opportunity for working and middle-class Americans.”
He says that is why Tennesseans have increasingly moved to the Republican camp, turning the state deeply red over the past decade.
Like many Democrats in red states, Bredesen wants a bigger tent and a shift away from identity politics.
“I’m from Nashville now, but I’m originally from a rural upstate New York area, and I know these nonurban folks all over the country, and certainly in this state – it’s a different culture, it’s a different set of values,” he said. “They’re not better or worse. They’re just different. And I think Democrats, we claim to have respect for multiculturalism – well, some of those cultures are American.”
In the year of the anti-Trump “resistance,” Bredesen’s path to victory necessarily involves persuading disaffected Trump supporters and independents to go his way.
“I’m really trying to reach out to voters who have abandoned the national Democratic Party to try to get to see me as acceptable, and OK, and desirable,” Bredesen said. “As opposed to trying to convince people who have a lifetime commitment to the Republican Party as an organisation change their views.”
His pitch to Tennesseans is clear: Vote for me if you’re sick of the partisanship and dysfunction in Washington. He’s promising to cut through the “nonsense” and reach across the aisle to make deals with Republicans and thus restore “the mechanics of government,” as he puts it.
And he says he’ll be independent from party leaders – he says he won’t support Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer if he goes to Washington, even though Schumer’s PAC has poured millions of dollars into the race.
Bredesen is unapologetic in his centrism. He says all the most important legislation in modern history (he names Social Security, Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act) was made possible because of bipartisan support. And he’s rejected big policy ideas emerging on the left, including Medicare for All and eliminating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
“When someone says something like abolish ICE, my reaction is that’s a stupid idea,” Bredesen said in an interview. “If they’re not doing something right, let’s fix what they’re not doing right, but I think most Americans want to control the borders.”