Political Notebook: Poll shows Marsha Blackburn with big lead over Gloria Johnson in Tennessee US Senate race

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaks during an event in Chattanooga on Aug. 15.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaks during an event in Chattanooga on Aug. 15.

A new poll shows incumbent Tennessee U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, with a 24-point lead over Democratic challenger Gloria Johnson, of Knoxville.

According to the Emerson College Polling survey, 50% of the 410 registered voters said they favored Blackburn, a former congresswoman first elected in 2018 and now seeking a second term in 2024. Johnson was backed by 26%. Another 25% said they backed someone else or were undecided.

The survey has a plus-or-minus 4.8 percentage point margin of error. Emerson has an A-minus rating from experts at the polling information website FiveThirtyEight.

Johnson, a state representative, gained national attention after becoming one of three Tennessee House members the GOP-led chamber sought to expel for conducting an impromptu floor protest on the House floor over gun laws following the March school shooting in Nashville. The trio became known as 'The Tennessee Three."

(READ MORE: 'Stay on the bill, sir.' What led to the ouster votes of the Tennessee Three)

A retired Knoxville teacher, Johnson faces Memphis Democratic environmental activist Marquita Bradshaw in the 2024 Democratic primary. In 2020, Bradshaw won the U.S. Senate Democratic primary and went on to lose the general election to Republican Bill Hagerty.

In 2018, Blackburn won the seat held by retiring Republican Bob Corker, of Chattanooga, defeating former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a moderate pro-business Democrat. Bredesen's stances and his statement that he supported the Senate confirmation of Republican U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh put the former governor at odds with a number of his fellow Democrats.

But beyond that, Tennessee has become a staunchly Republican state. Voters here haven't elected a Democrat to the Senate since Al Gore's 1990 victory for a second term. Gore later famously lost Tennessee in the 2000 presidential election. Bredesen won gubernatorial contests in 2002 and 2006, the last Democrat to win a statewide contest.

(READ MORE: Bredesen says he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, calls Ford a 'heroine')

"Rep. Johnson's support is highest among Black Tennessee voters, at 56%, while 11% support Sen. Blackburn among this group," said Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling. "Among white voters, 60% support Blackburn and 19% Johnson."

Blackburn had support among all education demographics except for postgraduate, Kimball said. They split with 46% backing Johnson and 45% supporting Blackburn.

Lee approval

Republican Gov. Bill Lee, meanwhile, didn't fare well in the Emerson poll. Now nine months into his second and final term, Lee has a 35% approval rating among registered voters. Twenty-five percent said they disapprove of the job Lee is doing. Nearly half of those surveyed — 41% of residents — are neutral on Lee.

So what does Tennessee's 50th governor, Lee, have to say about that?

He laughed.

"I don't spend a lot of time looking at polls right now," Lee said. "I just spend a lot of time trying to make this state a better place to live every day."

Asked if the 35% support was a concern, the governor stayed on message:

"I don't know anything about that poll," he said.

Lee coasted to a second term in November's election.

The governor's comments came following a ceremony in Nashville celebrating the opening of the new $56.39 million Broadway bridge leading into downtown Nashville.

Greene book

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican firebrand who represents Northwest Georgia, said she has a forthcoming tell-all book coming out Nov. 21 about herself, her rise to fame from activist to hard-right lawmaker and experiences in Washinton with perhaps some settling.

"I wanted people to hear my side of the story," Greene told The Washington Examiner in an interview. "Some of it is setting the record straight."

The book, titled "MTG" —which virtually the entire political world knows her by — is just over 300 pages. Greene said she's been working on it for more than a year.

"I'm always controversial, but I think this book might be a little controversial with some of the stories," she told the Examiner, adding that the book allows her to introduce her real self to America "not the character that the mainstream media created and has sold to America over the past few years."

"I talk about COVID and my personal experience going through that when my dad died," she said. "I talk about fights I've had with people. I talk about the speaker's race. I talk about the House Freedom Caucus. So I'm pretty much running the gamut, and I even talked about Jewish space lasers."

The reference to "Jewish space lasers" was an allusion to a 2018 Facebook post by Greene in which she suggested California wildfires were not caused by climate change but by lasers in space tied to former California Gov. Jerry Brown, Pacific Gas & Electric and Rothschild Inc., an investment firm. The fact-checking site Snopes noted that the investment firm is a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. Snopes noted Greene "did not explicitly state" that "Jewish space lasers" caused the fires.

(READ MORE: Here's a closer look at the Marjorie Taylor Greene social media activity that caused controversy this week)

Greene has become a staunch defender of Israel in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The Examiner says Greene acknowledged her book has a higher purpose of laying groundwork for a bid for higher office.

"I have options," she told the newspaper. "Anything from a governor's race to a Senate seat."

(READ MORE: MTG for VP? Greene suggests Senate run against Kemp, unless Trump taps her for running mate)

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, is up for re-election in 2026. Republicans mulling potential bids include Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman who lost the other Senate seat in a 2021 runoff with Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Asked whether it's possible that former President Donald Trump might add her to a 2024 ticket, Greene said, "I'm not sure who Trump will pick for a VP. I haven't closed the door on anything."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / State Rep. Gloria Johnson speaks during a rally in Chattanooga on Aug. 16.
 
 

Upcoming Events