NASHVILLE, Ten. — Former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn have been running their campaigns for a critical U.S. Senate seat like their matchup was assured.
Voters made it official Thursday.
Bredesen and Blackburn disposed of minimal opposition in their primary elections, kicking off what’s expected to a bruising, expensive fight that could determine Democrats’ chances of overturning the 51-49 Republican Senate majority.
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Polls have indicated a close contest to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
A general election win would be historic for Blackburn, who would become the first female U.S. senator ever elected in Tennessee.
Voters faced a more competitive field in the race for the nomination to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black, former state economic development commissioner Randy Boyd, businessman Bill Lee and state House Speaker Beth Harwell were vying for the Republican nomination. They all embraced President Donald Trump’s agenda, with Black securing the endorsement of Vice President Mike Pence.
The Democratic contest pitted former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean against state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who was heavily outspent by Dean. Both touted themselves as leaders who can break down partisan barriers and make divided government work during divisive political times. Either would give Democrats their best chance to ascend to the governor’s office since Bredesen won a second term in 2006.
Bredesen, who remains popular, is pledging to work across party lines, saying he will support Trump on policies that are good for the state, and oppose him when they aren’t.
Blackburn is a strong Trump backer in a state that voted for the president by 26 percentage points in 2016. She has run in support of Trump’s agenda, including his wall-building immigration crackdown and his U.S. Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
Bredesen was the last Democrat to win statewide in Tennessee, where he clinched all 95 counties in his 2006 re-election as governor. He would again need to peel off support from moderate Republicans and independents in the red state. For Tennessee Democrats, it’s been an even longer drought in the Senate. The last to win was former Vice President Al Gore in 1990.