Republican Marsha Blackburn has won the open-seat Senate race in Tennessee, defeating a popular former governor.
With 74percent of precincts reporting, the eight-term congresswoman led Democrat Phil Bredesen 55 percent to 43 percent in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker when The Associated Press called the race.
Blackburn now becomes the Volunteer State’s first female senator and the first Republican woman elected statewide. She’s more conservative than either of the state’s current Republican senators. But while she doesn’t come from the same tradition of moderate, pro-business Republicans who have long dominated Tennessee politics, her victory underscores both the strength of the GOP in Tennessee and President Donald Trump’s popularity there.
Bredesen, the last Democrat to win statewide office, ran a strong campaign and is likely the only Democrat who could have made this race competitive and forced national Republican groups to spend here. But the national environment did not favor Democrats at the Senate level this year, especially in places like Tennessee, which Trump carried by 26 points in 2016.
Bredesen came out in support of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during the battle over his confirmation, and he said he wouldn’t back Charles E. Schumer for Senate Democratic leader. He ran ads touting his independence and his willingness to work with Trump.
But Blackburn pointed to how national Democrats lured him into the race and spent on his behalf, arguing he’d be another vote for his party at the end of the day. Bredesen even suggested Democrats were likely to lose the Senate to try to win over Tennessee voters who were worried that voting for him would put Schumer in charge.
Blackburn embraced the president, running ads that took full advantage of his rhetoric on immigration and the migrant caravan traveling through Central America toward the U.S. border.
It’s that kind of incendiary tone that worried some establishment Republicans who started out lukewarm on Blackburn. Corker, for example, said earlier this year that he would support her but wouldn’t campaign for her because he was friends with Bredesen. Another of Blackburn’s former colleagues, former Rep. Stephen Fincher, briefly launched a primary campaign against her before endorsing her late in the general election this fall.
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