Tennessee Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Bradshaw hits GOP rival over 'division and hatred'

Marquita Bradshaw, environmental justice chair of the Sierra Club Chickasaw Group, speaks July 7, 2020, during a news conference in front of City Hall in downtown Memphis, Tenn. (Max Gersh/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
Marquita Bradshaw, environmental justice chair of the Sierra Club Chickasaw Group, speaks July 7, 2020, during a news conference in front of City Hall in downtown Memphis, Tenn. (Max Gersh/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

NASHVILLE - Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Marquita Bradshaw said Monday that Republican rival Bill Hagerty's "type of division and hatred" isn't what Tennesseans want to see in their next senator.

"I don't think about him. He doesn't represent the voices of the majority of Tennesseans," the 42-year-old environmental and social justice advocate and organizer from Memphis told members of Hamilton County Democrats' JFK Club on Tuesday during a Zoom teleconference.

Bradshaw added, "That type of division and hatred is not representative of what we as Tennesseans want to see in our future. I think about how best to serve the people I want to serve when I'm elected and making sure that this people's platform is reflective of the voices that have been marginalized from being represented in the state of Tennessee."

She told local Democrats, "I am the first U.S. Senate candidate in history to run on an environmental justice platform, and I am also the first Democratic Senate nominee in the state of Tennessee to run as a Black woman."

Bradshaw unexpectedly won Democrats' Aug. 6 primary, spending less than $10,000. She said she relied instead on her environmental and labor organizing skills as well as social media and a heart-driven message on issues ranging from the environment to racial justice. She beat the presumed favorite, James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and decorated Iraq war veteran who spent some $1.5 million, only to come in at No. 3.

Bradshaw received 33.5% of the nearly 331,000 votes cast.

The candidate also said she's undaunted by Hagerty's personal wealth and fundraising capacity as demonstrated during his knock-down-drag-out Aug. 6 GOP primary battle and victory over Nashville physician Manny Sethi.

photo Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty speaks at a polling place Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Brentwood, Tenn. Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi are competing to become the GOP nominee in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

During his campaign Hagerty, a venture capital firm executive and President Donald Trump's former U.S. ambassador to Japan, denounced what he called "radical, socialist Democrats," saying "if these Marxists have their way, they will shove our nation over the cliff into socialism" and he would "stand up to this angry mob." Late in the primary, Hagerty abruptly resigned his seat from a company that tweeted support for Black Lives Matter in the wake of social and racial arrest over the death of a Minneapolis man in policy custody.

In a statment to the Times Free Press on Tuesday, Hagerty said: "Tennesseans sent a clear message on primary night: we are a conservative state. This is the most liberal Democratic Party we have ever seen. They support keeping you locked inside, free health care for illegal immigrants, open borders and they also want to take away your Second Amendment rights."

At last count, Hagerty raised $5.8 million in outside contributions during his primary while also taking out $2.5 million in self-endorsed loans. He blitzed cable, television stations and radio with ads, as well as maintaining an active social media ad presence.

He won with just over 51% of the GOP primary vote out of nearly 650,000 votes cast. About 330,000 people voted in the Democratic primary.

"Whether we raise $1 or $4 million dollars, it doesn't matter," Bradshaw told local Democrats, pointing to how she was was outspent in the Democratic primary. "It's almost like a David versus Goliath situation. And as you see, it does not matter how much money we put into this race. It matters about the people you want to serve, and that's how I got to this point."

She cited the principles of grassroots organizing, talking to people, learning their concerns and "making sure people feel valued. And that's a winning strategy. It doesn't matter how many television ads you make or billboards. What's important is the relations you make on the campaign trail. That you will fight for their family just as if it was your family."

The candidate described her formative experience growing up in a South Memphis neighborhood near a former U.S. Army depot. It was packed with deadly chemical waste. Earlier, people became sick and a number died, including her great-grandmother, she said. Those experiences led her mother and others to battle for cleaning up the massive property, now a federal Superfund site. Bradshaw as a teen joined in the effort, making environmental cleanup her life's passion.

That taught her about listening to people, Bradshaw noted, saying, "I'm not a U.S. senator saying look at my billboard and saying, hey vote for me. I'm coming into your community and asking how are federal policies affecting your daily life. The best leaders lead by listening. That's what got us here, and that's what's going to get us to the goal, winning the general."

Those discussions have helped build her "People's Platform," she said, a list that includes calls for providing health insurance to all Americans and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and tying future increases to inflation.

During the call, local educator Therese Tuley wanted to know her position on additional federal funding for K-12 education. Bradshaw said "it should be funded the same as our military."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.