Senate race breaks records in Tennessee

Robert Houk • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:12 AM

The race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is well on its way to becoming the single most expensive political campaign ever waged in Tennessee.

And even with a competitive race for governor on the same Nov. 6 ballot, it's the U.S. Senate contest between Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn and her Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen that has been the talk of pollsters, pundits and party leaders.

Polls show the race to be tight, with both candidates enjoying slight leads in recent months. Blackburn, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has campaigned as a staunch supporter President Donald Trump and his policies on immigration, border security and tax cuts.

If she wins on Nov. 6, Blackburn — who is the first woman nominated by Republicans for a statewide office in Tennessee — would be the first female to represent this state in the U.S. Senate.

Bredesen is a two-term governor and was the last Democratic candidate to win a statewide race in Tennessee. He has focused on his record governor, and on ways to improve health care and lower prescription drug costs.

President Trump will have made three trips to Tennessee in the past year to stump on behalf of Blackburn, including a rally at Freedom Hall in Johnson City on Oct. 1 and one scheduled in Chattanooga today.

With control of the U.S. Senate at stake, both parties have put a lot of money and resources into the Tennessee race.

Campaign finance reports from October show spending in the Senate race has totaled more than $51 million, with more than half of that amount spent by outside groups. Both sides have stepped up attack ads in recent weeks, with a record number scheduled to appear on TV and radio as Election Day approaches.

Blackburn and her supporters have hit Bredesen hard in mailings and TV ads claiming he was responsible for "giving" driver's licenses to "illegal aliens" while he was governor. Those attacks, however, have been debunked by fact checkers (including a story by staff writer Zach Vance in the Johnson City Press in May) who note Bredesen wasn't even governor during the period Blackburn claims these events occurred.

It was actually Republican Gov. Don Sundquist who signed House Bill 983 into law on May 3, 2001, which allowed illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses in Tennessee.

The latest federal campaign financial disclosures show Bredesen’s campaign has spent $11.7 million since the race began, with outside groups spending about $13 million to help him. Meanwhile, Blackburn’s campaign has spent about $9 million, with outside groups contributing $17.6 million to support her bid.

In early October, the Press asked both candidates to explain to the voters of Northeast Tennessee why they should vote for them. Blackburn said: “Northeast Tennesseans and I share the same values. Those values are one of the reasons why 76 percent of Northeast Tennessee voted for President Trump in 2016. When President Trump came to Johnson City to hold a rally for my campaign, he was greeted with an enormous crowd and resounding support."

Meanwhile, Bredesen said: “When I was governor, I worked with former East Tennessee State University President Paul Stanton to develop what became the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, which was initially created to address a shortage of pharmacists in the region. Since then, it has graduated more than 700 students who are on the front lines of fighting the opioid crisis in Tennessee."

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