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VOL. 42 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 23, 2018

Bredesen: U.S. Senate win possible for Dems

By Bill Dries | Memphis Daily News

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Former Nashville Mayor and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen opened his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Memphis last week in South Main for a statewide race in which he will appeal to moderate Democrats who have left the party and become independents.

-- Bill Dries | Memphis Daily News

The last Democrat to win statewide elected office in Tennessee eight years ago acknowledges times have changed.

“The Democratic brand is damaged in Tennessee,” former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said in Memphis. “The Republican percentage has stayed the same over the last decade. What’s changed is people have abandoned the Democrats and started calling themselves independents.”

Bredesen said his path to the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Bob Corker will necessarily be different as a result.

“The trick for me is to not just let it be about electing Democrats,” he said after a campaign reception in South Main Thursday, Feb. 15, that drew 40 people. “There was a time in the state’s history when that was the strategy. For me, it’s got to be about just carving out who I am and where I agree and where I might not agree in some ways with those things.”

Bredesen has hit the campaign trail across the state in the wake of a poll showing him leading in a November general election matchup against Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. The lead in the poll was within its margin of error, but the poll was weighted toward Republican voters.

“I’m a little bit old to be going on suicide missions,” Bredesen told the Memphis group. “There is a really good path forward from there. We really can elect moderate Democrats in Tennessee.”

Blackburn is the leading contender for the Republican nomination. Her campaign has already labeled Bredesen “Chuck Schumer’s No. 1 recruit,” referring to the Senate’s Democratic leader.

Bredesen reminded supporters at the Memphis event that he was an outspoken critic of the Obama’s administration’s Affordable Care Act.

“I’ve been unhappy with the way things have been going in Washington for a while. It didn’t just start with (president Donald) Trump, but it certainly accelerated,” he said.

Asked later about his criticism of Obamacare, Bredesen said, “I’m not going to do it, but I was almost tempted to run up and say, ‘I told you so.’”

He said with so many Americans dependent on the Affordable Care Act provisions, long-term changes have to follow short-term stability.

“We’ve got to do some things to stabilize the insurance market. We are going to see some big increases this spring in insurance rates. … We start with just giving some assurances as to whether or not those subsidies are going to be there that were part of Obamacare,” he said. “Over the long run, I honestly believe we’ve got to move beyond the notion of these little programs for every little segment of the population to something that is fairer, broader. We are a ways from that.”

Some Democrats across the state questioned Bredesen’s Democratic values after his administration pared the rolls of the TennCare program just before he ran for and won a second term as governor in 2006.

Bredesen described the decision as “agony,” adding, “I never want to go through that again.”

“That just sort of underlined for me the fact that people will cut you some slack if they think you are honestly trying to solve a problem,” he said, describing that as being “bipartisan.”

“Whatever your political persuasion, people are just tired of this standing in the corner and shouting across the room at other people,” he said. “Whether you are a big Trump supporter or a liberal Democrat over here somewhere, people just want some motion. They want the ball to move.”

The appeal is similar to the philosophy another former Nashville mayor, Karl Dean, has outlined in his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in this election. In a Tennessee Press Association forum with most of the Democratic and Republican contenders for governor last month, Dean defined his candidacy as being about building bipartisan support free of “ideology.”

Bredesen says he believes Dean is the “presumptive” Democratic nominee for governor despite the presence of Ripley Democratic state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh in the August primary.

He and Dean may campaign together some, Bredesen said, as he and Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis did in 2006.

“We did things together, but we didn’t lock arms and run a campaign together,” Bredesen said.

Bredesen is not the first Tennessee governor to consider a move to the U.S. Senate. Current Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is the only former Tennessee governor to become a Senator since the Senate became an elected office in 1917.

Before 1917, the U.S. senators representing Tennessee were appointed by the governor.

Tennessee’s territorial governor before it became a state in 1796, William Blount, represented Tennessee in the Senate shortly after statehood. He was later expelled from the Senate on a conspiracy charge.

Andrew Johnson was the state’s governor before the Civil War and its military governor during the war. After serving as president and avoiding an impeachment conviction by one vote, Johnson served as a U.S. senator.

Former Tennessee governors William Brimage Bate and Robert Love Taylor each served in the Senate until their deaths. Bate was succeeded by Gov. James Frazier, who appointed himself to the vacancy.

William Brownlow, the state’s governor during Reconstruction, resigned as governor to take a seat in the U.S. Senate that he appointed himself to as governor.

Reach Bill Dreis at bdries@nashvilleledger.com