US Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn wins tight Tennessee Senate battle in US midterms

Marsha Blackburn addresses the Republican National Convention in July. John Moore/Getty Images
  • Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn has won the Senate race in Tennessee against Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen, keeping the red state in GOP hands.
  • President Donald Trump won the state of Tennessee in the 2016 election by 26 points against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn won a competitive battle against centrist Democrat and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to replace retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker, multiple news outlets projected on Tuesday night.

Blackburn, a hard-line conservative who embraced President Donald Trump’s support, will become the southern state’s first-ever female state-wide elected official.

The result all but erased Democrats’ chances of flipping the Senate – a long shot to begin with.

The race was unusually competitive for a deeply red state that Trump won by 26 points – in part because of Bredesen’s popularity and record as governor. (The Democrat won all 95 counties in Tennessee when he was reelected to the governorship in 2006.)

Polls had for months shown the candidates within single digits of each other – a late October Vanderbilt University poll found the two in a dead heat with Blackburn ahead by a single point.

While Blackburn was boosted by recent campaign events with President Donald Trump and other top Republicans, Bredesen received unexpected last-minute help from pop megastar Taylor Swift, who broke her political silence to endorse his campaign in October.

Despite the state’s right turn, it was hard to find a Blackburn voter who will say a bad word about their former governor.

“Phil Bredesen has actually done a lot of really great things here in Nashville,” Sam Cook, a 28-year-old physical therapist who’s voting for Blackburn and is a strong supporter of Trump, told Business Insider at a late October fall festival in Franklin.

While Bredesen did his best to distance himself from the national party and Democrats in Washington, Blackburn, like so many Republicans in red states, wrapped herself around the president.

But despite Blackburn’s full embrace of Trump, many Tennesseans draw a distinction between the candidate and the president. And the congresswoman herself occasionally draws a line herself, conceding that Tennesseans won’t always stand for his rhetoric.

“There’s been a couple of times … I’ve said we need to take a kinder approach,” Blackburn said in an interview last Saturday. “This is the South and people have a lot of respect for manners.”