Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) clashed Tuesday night in their first of two televised debates in the crucial fight for Tennessee's U.S. Senate seat.
Aside from trading political barbs, the two debated tax cuts, Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, the opioid crisis, immigration reform, and a host of other issues. The defining moment, however, may have come when Bredesen pledged not to support Senate Democratic leadership.
What were the highlights?
Blackburn, whom President Donald Trump has endorsed, aggressively marketed herself as the best choice for Tennesseans while arguing that Bredesen is "bought and paid for" by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The line of attack sought to minimize Bredesen's strategy of posturing himself as an independent Democrat not beholden to party politics.
And it appears to have succeeded.
After persistent attacks from his Republican challenger, Bredesen vowed he would not be "political lackey to anyone" if elected in November.
"We need to get new leadership," Bredesen said. "I will tell you right now that if I’m elected, and when I’m elected and go to Washington, I am not going to be voting for Chuck Schumer."
Clashing on Kavanaugh, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for quickly voicing her support for the judge in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct; he cautioned that "we need to listen to everyone." Meanwhile, Blackburn reiterated that she would vote for Kavanaugh if she were a senator.
Later, touting her endorsement from the National Rifle Association, Blackburn claimed Bredesen supports further restrictions on the Second Amendment. Bredesen, however, defended himself as "a strong supporter of the Second Amendment" who believes that "reasonable restrictions" bolster the right to bear arms.
Bredesen also attacked Blackburn for being "very friendly with big pharmaceutical companies" during her early years as a member of Congress. He claimed she supported bills that took power from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which he contended has contributed to the opioid crisis. Blackburn said her opponent's claims were false.
The candidates also sparred on the No. 1 issue affecting Tennesseans. Blackburn alleged it is the economy — to which she said tax reform has helped improve — while Bredesen said it is dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
What issue did the candidates agree on?
Surprisingly, the candidates appeared to agree on immigration. Both candidates stressed the need for border security, while they equally voiced support for a path to citizenship for recipients of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Blackburn said "there should be a path for legalization for Dreamers," while Bredesen said the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to act in favor of "Dreamers."
"They are people that were brought here not of their own choosing. They’re, in many cases, virtually Americans in the sense that they speak the language, this is the home that they know, they have no more connection to Mexico or Guatemala or anywhere else than I do," Bredesen said.