- Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is running for US Senate as a centrist Democrat in a race that could determine control of the chamber – and his campaign looks nothing like the “resistance.”
- Rep. Marsha Blackburn, an eight-term GOP incumbent, is running for the seat on President Donald Trump’s agenda.
- And the competitive battle in the red state has grown increasingly nasty.
- Tennessee voters discuss their thoughts on the Senate race, President Donald Trump, and the state of politics in America.
Tennessee is so red that President Donald Trump won it by 26 points in 2016.
But the southern state’s consequential Senate race between Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen and GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn is one of the tightest in the country.
Blackburn – a staunch Trump ally and one of the most conservative members of the House – is running on Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation and her promise to be a virtual rubber stamp for his agenda.
Meanwhile, Bredesen, a popular former Nashville mayor and two-term governor, is selling his centrist candidacy with the promise that he’ll alleviate Washington dysfunction by working across the aisle.
Tennessee’s voters have complicated thoughts on the candidates and the national political moment.
Ron Deese, 60, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and for former President Barack Obama twice, but is fully behind Blackburn this year – not because he doesn’t like the Democratic alternative, but because he trusts his congresswoman and isn’t loyal to any party.
“I just like her, I think she’s honest. I think she’s pretty well done what she said she was gonna do,” said Deese, who works in the telecommunications industry in Nashville. “I don’t pull one lever … I vote for the person I think is gonna do the best job.”
Walt and Margie Murphy, a retired couple, are registered Democrats and Bredesen fans, but their son will likely vote Republican, they say, and their four grandchildren are independents.
Margie, 76, thinks many will vote the GOP ticket for one reason, “money.”
“The economy’s good, so let’s not mess up that,” she said.
Here’s what nine other Tennessee voters had to say.
“[Trump] needs to count to 10 before he speaks.”
Cindy Osborn, a 53-year-old teacher from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, is a Blackburn supporter who’s most concerned about the future of healthcare. She wants that Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, repealed.
On Trump: “I have been fairly pleased, as far as how he’s working the economy. I don’t agree with how he speaks sometimes, the way he mouths off. I think he needs to count to 10 before he speaks or before he tweets.”
But Osborn doesn’t think Trump’s attacks on the media and his political opponents has fuelled partisanship or extremism. She thinks the attempted mail bombings targeting top Democrats and CNN by suspect Cesar Sayoc, a Trump-supporting right-wing extremist, was actually orchestrated by leftists.
“I tend to believe that it’s probably fed in some way by the left being made to look like it’s the right, just because that’s how some of the far, far left with operate, she said. “I think we probably have some people working some evil deeds somewhere that we just choose to ignore.”
Blackburn’s support of Trump is “an embarrassment”
Kyle Drury (right), a 33-year-old IT project manager who lives in East Nashville, is a registered independent and voted for Bredesen.
“Blackburn’s on the Trump Train. It’s an embarrassment, I don’t know how else to say it.”
“I believe that people should be able to own a firearm, the whole nine yards.”
For Jesse Sauceman, a 63-year old chemical plant supervisor from Newport, Tennessee, the top issue is the Second Amendment.
He’s voting for Blackburn because “her philosophy just aligns with mine.”
On Trump: “I don’t like his tone of voice, but neither do I like Savannah Guthrie’s tone of voice, so I figure he can do better, they can do better. So it’s a wash.”
On guns and mass shootings: “You can’t pass a law against craziness. It’s just like the kids who shoot kids in schools, I mean, what are you gonna do? … I’m an NRA member, I believe that people should be able to own a firearm, the whole nine yards.”
He added that Americans may have to protect themselves against a fascist government in the future. “According to all I’ve read, past history predicts future events.”
“It’s been a pretty long last two years.”
Jasper Hendricks, a 2013 Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates who moved to Nashville 18 months ago, has been helping out on the Bredesen campaign.
“We’re living in an interesting time. It’s been a pretty long last two years for some people.”
“I think we get our feelings hurt a lot — too much.”
Sam Cook (center), a 28-year-old physical therapist from Franklin, Tennessee is a Trump and Blackburn supporter, but thinks Bredesen did “a lot of really great things” for the Nashville when he was mayor.
A few members of his family, who generally vote Republican, are supporting Bredesen because of Blackburn’s close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
On Trump’s leadership style: “If you look at Putin and some of these other big world leaders, they’re hard-nosed individuals. I think we get our feelings hurt a lot – too much – and I don’t like that he sometimes hurts people’s feelings, but he’s doing a great job with the country.”
“A Republican at heart.”
Dawn Van Ryckeghem (left), a 54-year-old swim coach, is a Blackburn supporter, but voted for a third party in 2016.
On Trump: “He’s spewing out hatred and divisiveness and he’s condescending – he’s not presidential.”
On Blackburn: “I’ve supported Marsha Blackburn since she started – in her very first race, she knocked on my front door and I had a conversation with her. I’m also a Republican at heart.”
“I don’t trust much of what comes out of [Blackburn]’s mouth.”
Lynn Moss, 66, is a retired teacher who works part-time at a store in Franklin, Tennessee and part-time at her husband’s office. She’s voting for Bredesen.
“I don’t trust much of what comes out of [Blackburn]’s mouth,” she said. “And I think she’s been there for a long time, she’s ready to come home and check out the real world.”
“I don’t have a problem with anything [Trump] says.”
James and Pam, who did not want their last names used in order to protect their privacy, are originally from South Texas but have lived in Tennessee for seven years and are strong Trump and Blackburn supporters.
Pam on Trump: “I don’t have a problem with anything he says … because he’s got the balls to stand up and tell people what he thinks. He’s not listening to other people tell him what’s PC and what’s not.”
James on the anti-Trump “resistance”: “I didn’t agree with most of the things [former President Barack] Obama wanted to do, but I got up and went to work. I didn’t go out to a restaurant and start harassing people, I didn’t write a tweet saying to go put your fingers in somebody’s food.”
He added, “If you come put your finger in my food, I hope you like a fork in the back of your hand.”