Rep. Marsha Blackburn will win the race to represent Tennessee in the US Senate, CNN can project, outlasting a challenge from former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who looked to run against his party to win in a state President Donald Trump won by 26 percentage points in 2016.
Blackburn, a conservative lawmaker closely tied to the President, looked to nationalize the Senate race as much as possible, hoping to tap into the same conservatism that elected Trump in order to blunt some goodwill Bredesen had built up during his two terms as governor. Trump visited the state three times. Blackburn will be the first female senator to represent her state.
Democrats had hoped to pick up Tennessee as part of a narrow path to retaking the Senate.
Although Bredesen ran as a Democrat, he largely ran away from the national party and regularly touted his ties to the state and independence from Washington, D.C. The strategy was clear: He hoped to bank on the fact he won every county in the state in 2006 during his second run for governor and looked to tag Blackburn as a traditional Washington ideologue.
Bredesen got some help, too. Sen. Bob Corker, whose decision to retire opened the seat and gave way to the Democratic campaign, declined to help bury the popular Democrat, a clear sign that not all Republicans have been wooed by the Trump wing of the party.
And the former governor also energized Tennessee Democrats who had long struggled to gain traction in the state. Taylor Swift, a pop star known for staying out of politics, eagerly got behind his campaign, too.
Blackburn, however, looked to highlight Bredesen’s party affiliation at every turn, regularly tying him to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and some of the more high-profile liberal members of the legislative body.
“Phil Bredesen has said he would have voted against the tax cuts,” Blackburn said during one debate. “Chuck Schumer has bought and paid for his campaign.”
Bredesen looked to blunt the attack by telling voters he would not back Schumer for Majority Leader if he were elected.
The former governor also announced during the campaign that he would have voted in favor of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s controversial Supreme Court pick, whose confirmation hearings became a national event after professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.