NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s U.S. Senate contest has run up a tab that tops $51 million so far, more than half of it spent by outside groups that are clogging TV airwaves with attack ads.
Federal campaign finance disclosures filed this week show that Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s campaign has spent $11.7 million since the race began, while outside groups have spent about $13 million to help him. Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign, meanwhile, has shelled out about $9 million, and outside groups some $17.6 million for her bid.
New reports detailing the spending onslaught in the attack-riddled race came out hours before Bredesen floated a new idea seeking to show he’s an independent thinker. He said President Donald Trump, who remains popular in Tennessee, should negotiate terms with pharmaceutical companies that would ensure they charge the U.S. the same prices for drugs as other countries.
The idea would require repealing a law that prevents the federal government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare Part D, Bredesen’s campaign said. Bredesen said savings could add up in the billions, even on just two specific drugs.
“We’ve got a strong negotiator and a businessman as president,” Bredesen told reporters after revealing the idea at a Nashville business group event. “Let’s stand up to (the drug companies) and make them … spread the costs of research a little more fairly around other countries, and get their profits a little more fairly in all of the countries they’re dealing with, not just the United States.”
Bredesen said the idea squares with Trump’s “America First” mantra because negotiations would be needed with some major international drug companies. He added that he’s willing to meet with Trump to discuss the idea.
In response, Blackburn’s campaign called the proposal “just another phony political stunt.”
“Every ‘plan’ he has begins with big government control,” Blackburn campaign spokeswoman Abbi Sigler said. “He claims he wants to sit down with President Trump, but he didn’t even want him to be President. He gave $33,400 to elect Hillary Clinton and urged Tennesseans to roll up their sleeves and get to work to elect her.”
Health care has become a focal point of attacks against both candidates in the race, particularly by independent groups who have spent more than $30 million to sway a race with implications for the 51-49 GOP Senate majority.
The outside spenders that have topped the $1 million mark on Blackburn’s side are Senate Leadership Fund, a group linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with $8.5 million spent; the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity, with $4.7 million spent; and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, with $1.5 million.
Three groups have spent more than $1 million to help Bredesen: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer-linked Majority Forward, with $8.4 million spent; Schumer-linked Senate Majority PAC, with $3.4 million spent; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees PAC, with about $1 million spent.
Bredesen has pledged not to support Schumer for leader if he’s elected. Asked Tuesday who he thinks would be a better fit to lead the Senate, Bredesen said he “wouldn’t put anybody on the spot.” He added “it was not even so much a specific criticism of” Schumer because he wants all four Democratic and Republican congressional leaders switched out.
“I’m certain there are, in both parties, lots of people who would be interested in performing those jobs and could bring a fresh approach,” Bredesen said.
From mid-July through September, Bredesen’s campaign raised $4.3 million, spent $6 million and loaned his campaign another $2 million, bringing his total personal loans to about $5.5 million. He entered October with $3.2 million cash remaining.
In that time, Blackburn raised almost $2.7 million, transferred in $750,500 raised through related committees, and spent $5.6 million. She ended September with $5 million cash left.