LEBANON, Tenn. - Former Tennessee governor and U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen told cheering state party members Saturday night that while Democrats have had "a bit of a dry spell" in recent elections, he believes that will "come to an end" in 2018.
"I'm going to open some doors and pave the way for this next generation," Bredesen told an estimated 1,000 attendees at the state Democratic Party's Three Star Dinner fundraiser in Lebanon, pledging to focus on the "kitchen table issues" of concern to Tennesseans, regardless of party.
Bredesen said if elected he will focus on many of the same issues he did as governor: education, health care, promoting jobs and boostng the economy. He is expected to face U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in the November election.
Excited Democrats said Saturday the "stars have aligned" with the "most credible candidates" they've fielded in a dozen years heading their ticket as Bredesen runs for U.S. Senate and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh vie for the party's gubernatorial primary.
The state Democratic Party held its annual fundraiser here in Wilson County, once a Democratic bastion that in recent years has gone Republican, as have many areas of the state.
State Party Chair Mary Mancini said about 1,000 people attended the event, raising an estimated $450,000, the most successful event in several years.
"We have over a thousand Democrats from across the state tonight, and they're up and ready to go out and win some elections. We sense some opportunity in Tennessee and we're going to make sure that we take advantage of that opportunity."
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said earlier in an interview that "this is certainly the most credible slate of candidates that we've seen in 12 years, and people are activated. We have people on the ticket who are going to make the case for how they can make our state a better place. They're practical. They're reasonable. They're looking for ways to work alongside people from the other party to make government work."
Berke, a former state Democratic senator, said, "I think that will be a message that is particularly potent this year."
This year's keynote speaker was U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who ran as a moderate in December, when he narrowly bested Republican Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice beset by sexual harassment allegations from multiple women who said Moore made untoward sexual advances on them decades ago, while they were in their teens.
Jones had not yet spoken at the event as of press time Saturday night. Jones ran as a moderate.
Abbi Sigler, a Blackburn spokeswoman, said Jones "tried to paint himself as a moderate, but as soon as he got to Washington, he fell right in line with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. That's exactly what Tennesseans expect from Phil Bredesen."
She said a "vote for him is a vote for the policies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Tennesseans know they can trust Marsha Blackburn to represent their values in the United States Senate."
Earlier, Bredesen, a former Nashville mayor, said in an interview that "I think my whole history has been to cool down party politics," noting that in areas ranging from health care to education, he had pushed issues "contrary" to party issues.
Bredesen and Blackburn are vying for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga.
Corker said he is supporting Blackburn but won't campaign against Bredesen, with whom he's worked in various capacities, including on projects such as recruiting Volkswagen to Chattanooga.
President Donald Trump, with whom Corker has quarreled on various issues, is fully backing Blackburn and came to Nashville last month to rally on her behalf. At that event, Trump charged Bredesen would be a "total tool" for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Said Bredesen: "That's just politics. Everybody who knows me know I have no problems operating against the party's wishes."
GOP gubernatorial candidates include U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin; Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd; state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville; and businessman Bill Lee of Franklin.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.