President Donald Trump was in Nashville on Monday to stump for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the leading GOP candidate in the race for the Tennessee Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Trump’s support will take Blackburn a long way in November. After all, he won 92 of Tennessee's 95 counties in 2016. But leading Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen enjoys wide support among the Tennessee constituency. Still, voters who attended the rally revealed where they currently stand in the race, which may surprise some.
First, what did Trump say?
Speaking to thousands at Municipal Auditorium, Trump called Bredesen "very liberal" and "an absolute total tool" for Democratic leaders in Congress, according to The Tennessean.
"If Bredesen were ever to get elected, he’d do whatever Chuck [Schumer] and Nancy [Pelosi want]," Trump said. "You have to work with Marsha. We have to get the votes. We need the votes."
He added that if Tennesseans desire safe communities, then they need to "go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office."
Bredesen spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen pushed back against Trump's claim that the former governor is a Democratic shill. She told The Tennessean that Bredesen is an "independent thinker" who will put the needs of Tennesseans above his own politics should he be elected in November.
"Governor Bredesen has made it clear that if President Trump proposes something that’s good for Tennessee, then he’ll support it. Bottom line: Phil Bredesen is an independent thinker with a proven record of working with Democrats and Republicans," she said.
But what did voters say?
A Vanderbilt poll released earlier this month found the vast majority of Tennesseans view Bredesen as "favorable," while a much smaller percentage view Blackburn the same way. Bredesen is a pragmatic moderate with crossover appeal whose governorship was received bipartisan support, while Blackburn is seen as a hardline Trump ideologue.
But none of that may matter when Tennesseans step inside voting booths five months from now. More than choosing the best candidate for the job, a majority of voters may just pull the lever for whoever says they will support Trump's agenda.
"First of all, I like Phil Bredesen. He is a good guy, but he is not going to support Trump, Marsha is. It’s proven already, and we can’t put somebody in just because we like 'em. We gotta put somebody in who is going to help out president do what he set out to do. This is not personal. This is politics," Marie Stringfellow, 48, told The Tennessean.
"We can’t have any more Democrats in there. We just have to get Republicans. That’s just the way it is. Things are going so good, we don’t need to get complacent," Andy Nichols, 35, told the newspaper.
If the voters' comments are any indication of wider voter sentiment in Tennessee, then Bredesen will have to move closer to the center if he wants to find victory in November.