It’s a U.S. Senate Rumble, Not a “Tennessee Waltz” —Former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen v. GOP Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn April 23, 2018
Let’s open our political arithmetic books. In midterm Campaign 2018, in order to retake the House, Democrats need to flip a net 23 seats “Blue” to retake that chamber (huffingtonpost.com, Marans, 4/07/18). As of 4/11/2018, at least 39 House GOPers are leaving, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the fastest exodus in modern history (huffingtonpost.com, Marans). Those GOPers heading for the exit are creating open seats, where there are no incumbency advantages. According to CNN’s most recent analysis, 179 seats are “Solid Democratic.” Eleven are “Likely Democratic,” while 11 “Lean Democratic.” An additional 21 seats are in the “Toss Up” category. Donald has poor ratings and rank-and-file Democrats vigorously oppose Trump and his “Team Red” lackeys. A President’s party usually loses seats in its first midterm. It is, therefore, fairly easy to cobble together the 23 “Red” to “Blue” flips needed for a House Democratic 2018 takeover (See CNN, Burlij, 4/11/2018).
The Senate is another story. GOPers only hold a 51-49 advantage in the upper chamber and Democrats need a net gain of two seats. However, most of the Senate’s seats on the ballot in 2018 are held by Democrats, giving the GOP a better chance of snagging “Blue” seats (huffingtonpost.com, Bobic, 4/09/18). Nine of those incumbent Democratic Senators are in states that Donald won in 2016, often handily. These include IN, MO, and ND (See CNN, Burlij, 4/09/18). However, in political campaigns, as in military ones, the best defense remains going on offense. If Democrats can hold most of those nine seats, they can retake the Senate by winning NV and AZ (See CNN, Burlij). GOP Incumbent Dean Heller is vulnerable in NV, a state that went for Hillary in 2016. Democrats have a good chance to take the open AZ seat of retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. “Team Blue” is additionally eyeing TN. In that race, Democrats have recruited Tier A candidate, former Gov. Phil Bredesen. He will be facing GOP Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn to replace retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker. This contest will constitute a TN rumble, not a “TN Waltz” for control of the U.S. Senate.
NJ native Phil Bredesen (74) was raised in rural Shortsville, NY. He graduated from Harvard with a 1967 physics degree. In 1975, Bredesen moved to Nashville, where his wife had a job (nationaljournal.com, 2011, thedailybeast.com, Meacham, 5/29/09, Harvard University, 2005 Alumni Directory). In Nashville, Bredesen founded HealthAmerica Corp., an insurance company that eventually grew to more than 6,000 employees and traded on the NY Stock Exchange. In 1986, he sold his controlling interest to HealthAmerica (tennesseeencylopedia.net/entry, 2009). In 1991, Bredesen won election as Mayor of Nashville (ourcampaigns.com). He won a second term in 1995. As Nashville’s mayor, Bredesen added more than 440 new teachers, built 32 schools, and renovated 43 others. He implemented a back-to-basics curriculum for Nashville’s students (tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry, 2009). Bredesen brought the NFL’s Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, to Nashville. The NHL (National Hockey League) awarded Nashville its first of four new expansion franchises, the Nashville Predators, and the Bridgestone Arena was built (“Nashville Scene,” Dobie, 1/06/11). Two new parks were established, a new downtown library was built, and the city’s entertainment district was renovated (tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry, Dobie, 1/06/11).
In GOP year 1994, Bredesen unsuccessfully ran for governor, losing by 9.6% (ourcampaigns.com, Phil Bredesen, TN gubernatorial election, 1994). Running for governor in 2002, he won by a 3.1% margin. Bredesen, a member of the moderate “good government” Nashville Democratic group, garnered more support from GOP East TN than “Team Blue” members usually get (ourcampaigns.com, Bredesen, 2002 TN gubernatorial election).
Because of his wealth, Bredesen did not accept a gubernatorial salary (Humphrey, blogs.knoxnews.com). As Governor, Bredesen faced a budget shortfall of about $800 million. Much of this budget deficit was due to TennCare being $650 million over budget. Bredesen’s GOP predecessor wanted to implement a state income tax to cure this shortfall, but this unpopular proposal was never enacted. Bredesen, in 2003, therefore, ended up signing a 9% across-the-board spending cut. In 2004, Gov. Bredesen enacted a series of changes to TennCare, removing 191,000 Medicaid-eligible patients and reducing benefits. By 2006, these changes had reduced the program’s cost by more than $500 million.
Bredesen used some of these savings to establish aid for health clinics affected by the cuts. In 2006, Gov. Bredesen implemented “Cover Tennessee” to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and for the uninsured (nationaljournal.com, 2011, Abramson, nashvillescene.com, 1/06/11). Gov. Bredesen enacted a series of measures to improve education. In 2003, TN established the Tennessee Lottery to fund college scholarships. Teachers’ pay was raised above the average Southeast salary and TN’s pre-kindergarten initiative was expanded to include a statewide program for four-year-olds. Bredesen signed legislation that increased funding for education by $366.5 million, much of which came from savings in the TennCare reform (nationaljournal.com). Gov. Bredesen worked with his legislature to help laid-off employees develop new skills. While Governor, 2,889 companies expanded or moved to TN, brought more than 104,000 jobs, and added $12.8 billion in new business investment (Lapin, CNBC.com, 10/28/10). Bredesen launched TN’s war on methamphetamine abuse with the Governor’s Meth-Free TN initiative. It focused on treatment, prevention, and public awareness. Criminal penalties and resources were increased as part of this program. As a result of Bredesen’s efforts, there was a 50% decline in illegal and toxic meth labs (tn.gov/sos/bluebook).
Running for re-election in 2006, Bredesen clobbered his GOP opponent, 68.6%- 29.7%. He swept all of TN’s 95 counties and won more votes than any gubernatorial candidate in state history (TN gubernatorial election, 2006, ourcamaigns.com, Bredesen). During the 2009 recession, Gov. Bredesen enacted a voluntary buyout for state employees that reduced the workforce by 5% without requiring layoffs (nationaljournal.com, 2011). In 5/2009, Gov. Bredesen, a hunter and Second Amendment supporter, vetoed a bill that would have allowed people to carry guns in bars. The GOP legislature overrode his veto (nationaljournal.com, 2011).
In 2008, Bredesen endorsed Obama for the presidency (timesfreepress.com, Wang). Since leaving office in 2011, Bredesen has served as chair of a solar energy plant developer that he started (USA Today Network, TN, Garrison, 10/31/17). He supports abortion rights (AP, Schelzig, 2007). After the 2/14/2018 Parkland, FL massacre, Bredesen stated that he favored stronger background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, felons, and people with domestic violence records (tennesseestar.com, 2/23/18). He does not want to repeal Obamacare, but emphasizes the need to fix it (Martin, NY Times, 12/07/17). Bredesen has been described as a “political moderate.” He has embraced both fiscal conservatism and social liberalism “in a way that has a broad appeal to voters across the political spectrum (“The Tennessean,” “Political Encyclopedia of U.S. States and Regions”).”
Bredesen’s GOP opponent, eight-term Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (65), currently represents, TN’s 7th Congressional District (CD). The TN 7th CD, the Volunteer State’s largest district, borders MS and AL to the south and KY to the north. It is one of that state’s most sparsely settled areas. One-quarter of the 7th CD lives in northern Montgomery County, where the city of Clarksville is located. Another quarter of this CD’s population lives in Williamson County, south of Nashville, the state’s fastest growing county. Measured by median income, Williamson County is the wealthiest in TN and is heavily GOP. Politically, the entire TN 7th is considered a very safe GOP seat with an R+20 Cook PVI, Partisan Voting Index. The TN 7th has long been seen as the state’s most GOP area outside the Republican East TN heartland (Cook Political Report, 4/07/17, CQ & Barone 14 Political Almanacs).
Marsha Blackburn was born and grew up in Laurel, MS. Her parents were GOP activists. She won a 4-H scholarship to MS State University. She then became a sales manager and moved to TN’s Williamson County. Blackburn became director of retail fashion for a Nashville department store. GOP Governor Don Sundquist, who had initially defeated Bredesen, appointed Blackburn executive director of the TN Film, Entertainment, and Music Commission. In 1998, Blackburn won a seat in the TN Senate where she outspokenly opposed Sundquist’s proposed income tax. In 2002, Blackburn ran for the open seat of the district’s retiring GOP Congressman. She was endorsed by the right-wing anti-tax Club for Growth. She won the primary and handily won the general election (See CQ & Barone). She has since coasted to re-election.
In the House, Cong. Blackburn, an active member of the dominant hard-right Republican Study Committee, is known as a conservative firebrand. From 2008-2012, she voted with her hard- right party over 98% of the time (CQ 14). She voted in line with Donald’s positions 91.3% of the time and was vice-chair of his presidential transition team (fivethirtyeight.com, Halper, Nypost.com,11/11/16). She declared the failure to repeal Obamacare “a disgrace (vox.com, 10/15/17).” Blackburn rejects both the theory of evolution and scientific opinion on climate change (bbc.com, 9/23/15, Harrabin). She has dabbled in “birtherism,” conspiracy talk that Obama was not born in the U.S. (Barone14, Chapman, shareblue.com, 10/09/17). She claimed that balancing the budget is more important than helping people who “have a (Hurricane) Katrina.” She opposes gun safety because “hammers and hatchets also kill people (Chapman, shareblue.com).” She is for banning abortion in nearly all cases. In Congress, Blackburn chaired a committee that ran a baseless witch hunt against Planned Parenthood. Twitter recently pulled an anti-Planned Parenthood ad she was running for being false and excessively offensive (shareblue.com). In a 2013 Meet the Press appearance, Blackburn argued that women “don’t want equal pay laws (huffingtonpost.com, Horowitz, 6/03/13).” Cong. Blackburn voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009. She was a “NAY” on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act making it easier for women to file wage discrimination suits against employers (huffingtonpost.com 6/03/18).
A recent Middle TN State University Poll gave Bredesen a 10-point lead over Blackburn with 20% of GOP voters favoring Bredesen. Retiring TN GOP Sen. Corker called Bredesen a “very good mayor, a very good governor, good business person, and a friend.” He stated he would support the GOP nominee, but not campaign against Bredesen, a very tepid endorsement of Blackburn (Watkins, CNN, 4/22/18). However, 11/06/2018 is political eons away. And this is TN, now part of the “Solid” GOP South. Trump handily carried TN in 2016 by 26 points (nytimes.com, 8/01/17). TN has not voted for a Democrat statewide since 2006, when Bredesen won re-election as Governor (Wash. Post, Tumulty, 2/23/18). Bredesen has already been able to raise $1.8 million, but so has Blackburn (USA Today, Ebert, 4/16/18). The Koch Bros. are big fans of hers. From 1991-2018, they gave her at least $80,800. They have promised to back her in 2018 (“The Hill,” Sanchez, 2/13/18, opensecrets.org). Trump has endorsed Blackburn and has promised to help her campaign (Scherer, Sullivan, & Dawsey, Wash. Post, 4/19/18). Trump still has fans in rural culturally conservative TN. Remember, the only poll that counts is the one taken on 11/06/2018, Election Day. TN Democrats and moderate GOPers must come out in droves to send Bredesen to Capitol Hill.