NASHVILLE — Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is expected to announce this morning he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., setting up a potential clash with national implications.
Two sources confirmed Wednesday that the Nashville Democrat is running and has been making calls to influential Democrats. The Nashville Post first reported Bredesen, who had been weighing a race, will run.
A former Nashville mayor and self-made millionaire who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, Bredesen is the last Democrat to win statewide in a state that has become increasingly Republican.
The campaign of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Brentwood, Tenn., Republican who's already announced she's running for the Senate seat, quickly attacked Bredesen in a statement.
"Tennessee families want change and that is not what 74-year-old Democrat politician Phil Bredesen will bring to the United States Senate," reads the statement. "Bredesen's views are out-of-touch with Tennessee values, he supported President Obama's liberal policies, is against Second Amendment rights and even authored a plan to give illegal immigrants driving certificates."
One Democrat, who has spoken personally with Bredesen, pointed out that Republican President Donald Trump is 71. The source said Bredesen is expected to formally announce his candidacy this morning.
Also running in the 2018 Senate GOP primary is former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher of the tiny community of Frog Jump in West Tennessee.
Democrat James Mackler, a Nashville attorney, began running for the seat even before Corker, a Republican and former Chattanooga mayor, announced he would not seek re-election.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat, was weighing a bid, but went largely silent after Bredesen began showing interest.
Efforts to reach Berke on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
In a statement, Mackler, a decorated Iraq War veteran who joined the Army after 9/11, issued a statement indicating he isn't giving up his bid.
"The best pathway to win Tennessee is having a clear contrast between an Iraq war combat veteran that volunteers to serve his country against a career politician who only serves special interests, and with the help of Tennesseans across this state, we're going to win," he said.
According to a Middle Tennessee State University poll of 600 Tennessee registered voters released in October intended to gauge support of all six announced or potential Republican and Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, Blackburn led Bredesen by 37 percent to 34 percent in terms of being viewed positively.
But that could have been easily erased by the poll's 4-percentage-point margin of error. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed viewed Blackburn negatively, while 29 percent viewed Bredesen so. Again, that could have easily been reversed given the poll's margin of error.
In the Democratic primary, 60 percent of Democratic voters said they approved or strongly approved of Bredesen. Another 32 percent voiced similar approval of Berke and 28 percent voiced support for Mackler.
Blackburn had the support of 55 percent of Republican primary voters against several lesser-known GOP hopefuls. Fincher had yet to declare his candidacy and was not included in the MTSU poll.
Bredesen first ran for Tennessee governor in 1994, losing to Republican Don Sundquist in a year that the GOP swept the governor's mansion as well as both U.S. Senate seats.
After wrapping up his second term as Nashville mayor, Bredesen ran again in 2002, beating Republican Van Hilleary in the general election. While Hilleary garnered about 48 percent of the vote, Bredesen made inroads in traditionally Republican East Tennessee in a year when the GOP had a virtual civil war over Sundquist's push for a state income tax.
Bredesen easily won re-election in 2006 to a second four-year term.
Given the current slim GOP majority in the U.S. Senate, the Tennessee race is expected to draw both national attention and money if Bredesen, a moderate, pro-business Democrat, takes on either Blackburn or Fincher in the November 2018 general election.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
This story was updated Dec. 6 at 11:59 p.m.