Trump, of course, garnered much of the spotlight throughout the rally, where he evoked raucous cheers from thousands of his adoring fans, but U.S. Senate Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn was the focus of the evening in her race against her Democratic opponent, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.
“The person we are here to support, we cherish this person. She’s a fighter. A true fighter for the people of Tennessee. She loves your state, and she’s your next U.S. senator. She’s going to be fantastic, Marsha Blackburn,” Trump said as the senatorial candidate joined him onstage and the crowd chanted “Marsha, Marsha Marsha.”
Blackburn’s tough opposition from Bredesen brought the president to Republican-stronghold Northeast Tennessee, where voters went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 and where the 1st Congressional District has not sent a Democrat to Washington, D.C., since the 1880s. It was the first visit to the city by a sitting president since Gerald Ford took the Freedom Hall stage in 1976.
“I know that the Democrats keep saying that there is a blue wave coming, but let me tell you something. Mr. President, when that blue wave gets to the state line, it is going to run smack dab into the great red wall, and that is every one of you,” Blackburn said pointing to the crowd.
“So, if you want a senator who is going to stand with the president, build the wall, cut your taxes and make certain that we take care of our men and women in uniform, I’m asking you to stand with me. Let’s take these Tennessee values to Washington, D.C., and put them to work with President Donald Trump.”
As he referred to the Democrats as the “party of crime,” the president’s directive to his conservative admirers in Johnson City was clear: Don’t get complacent, make sure to vote on Nov. 6.
If not, as Trump repeated often, Congress could slip into the hands of Democrats like U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. Those three names elicited the most emphatic boos of the rally.
Just as Blackburn has done throughout her campaign, Trump painted Bredesen as a surefire vote for Schumer to be Senate majority leader, should the Democrats take control.
“A vote for Bredesen is a vote for Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the real leader of the Democrats, Maxine Waters,” Trump said.
“(Chuck) Schumer is so desperate for Phil (Bredesen) to win because everything we stand for, (if Bredesen is elected) we’ll never get the votes. We need votes. It’s very important. No. 1, Marsha will be a great, great senator, but No. 2, we need the votes. We've got to have the votes.”
Bredesen repeatedly has said he will not vote for Schumer as majority leader, while also declaring he will maintain his independent mindset in Washington.
“You’ve got to remember this,” Trump said. “(Bredesen) seems like a nice guy, but what good does that do you?”
Before the presidential visit to Johnson City was scheduled, Blackburn had been invited to debate Bredesen Monday night in Chattanooga, but the Republican nominee announced weeks ago that she would not attend. Instead, Bredesen hosted his own “Choose Chattanooga” ideas forum.
“Presidential visits are good for fundraising, but I've found that Tennesseans are independent thinkers who can make up their own minds,” Bredesen said in a press release issued shortly after Trump’s rally in Johnson City ended. “When I ran for Governor, President Bush came down so many times that I lost count and in the end, I won, because people in Tennessee like to think for themselves for these kinds of things.
“I’m much more interested in getting out there and talking with voters about the issues that matter, which is why I hosted a forum tonight in Chattanooga. Tennessee voters have a choice: if they want more of the same shouting and bickering from Washington, then I'm not their candidate. However, if voters want to hire someone who has a track record of getting things done for Tennessee, then I'm applying for the job,” Bredesen said in the statement.