Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen on Sunday denounced the current atmosphere of hyperpartisanship and harsh rhetoric in Washington, D.C., saying he'll have no part of that if elected as he made his last Chattanooga campaign appearance before Tuesday's election.
Hours later, President Donald Trump appeared at McKenzie Arena with Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn and Vice President Mike Pence where Bredesen was repeatedly attacked.
Speaking earlier at an interfaith lunch at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center before nearly 500 supporters, Bredesen warned that "politics today is a blood sport. But I've come here to show that there are other ways to campaign and to present your case to the people of Tennessee."
He said one of the values imparted to him by family and civics classes was "that you respected everyone. The heat of a political campaign doesn't change that. We should vote people in and out, not shout them in and out."
As he decried "new levels of incivility" in public discourse, Bredesen said, "I hate to see [America] lose its way." And he added that "for those who are pleased with what our government is becoming, who believe in hard-edged partisanship, that people with different views from their own are the enemy, no compromise, I'm not their guy.
"They have another choice, someone who has helped build that world for the past 16 years," he added, alluding to Blackburn, a GOP hardliner and staunch Trump supporter from Bentwood who has spent 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Still, Bredesen said, "I want to emphasize this: that whatever is said in the heat of the campaign won't affect my willingness, eagerness even, to work with the president. When this election is over, it's over."
"I'm not running against the president; if he is for something that is good for Tennessee, I need to support him in that," Bredesen said. "If it's bad for Tennessee, I need to oppose him. I'll feel the same if there is a Democratic president."
Bredesen, who served two terms as Tennessee governor from 2003 to 2011 and earlier as Nashville mayor, has cast himself in the campaign as a political moderate and pragmatist, saying he will work with Republicans as well as Democrats to get things done in Washington just as he did while governor.
His bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker — a long-time friend; the two worked together to help bring Volkswagen's auto assembly plant to Chattanooga — comes with the Senate almost evenly divided and bitterly split. Republicans have 51 seats to Democrats' 49.
Corker gave money to Blackburn's campaign, but he said early that he wouldn't campaign against Bredesen, whom he says he considers a friend. Corker cast his ballot last week but wouldn't say which candidate got his vote.
And Corker, who has famously feuded with Trump and was booed at the president's Nashville rally earlier this year, which the senator laughed off, didn't go to Sunday's rally at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
National Republicans, meanwhile, were having none of Bredesen's talk about playing a role as someone who would work across the aisle to get things done.
"Phil Bredesen's entire campaign has been premised on the notion that he could actually work with President Trump," said Garren Shipley, a Republican National Committee spokesman. "But time and time again Bredesen has shown his true colors: he opposed the tax cuts that have supercharged our economy, he mocked concerns about the caravan of migrants headed to the southern border, and he's raised money with one of the loudest and most active opponents of the Second Amendment."
Asked later why he came to Chattanooga on the same day as the Trump rally for Blackburn, Bredesen replied: "I decided to come because President Trump is campaigning for my opponent today. And I felt like I wanted to come right here and be here as well and not go hide off in some other corner of the state. I have something to say. It's different from what he has to say."
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent in the Tennessee race with the tally at $84 million last week and more than $50 million of that coming from GOP and Democratic outside groups and allies.
Trump carried Tennessee, a red state, by 26 percentage points in 2016. But Bredesen has made it a serious campaign, leading in early polls. Last week, five polls, including surveys from Fox News, CNN and NBC/Marist indicated Blackburn had taken the lead.
But two latter surveys from East Tennessee State University and Targoz Strategic Research had the race tied.
Before Bredesen spoke, Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, thanked Bredesen for putting the interfaith event together and then conducted a remembrance of the 11 eleven Jews gunned down by an alleged anti-Semite at a Pittsburgh synagogue more than a week ago.
Among attendees was Chattanoogan Franklin McCallie, who said that as a Democrat he has disagreed at times with some of Bredesen's positions.
But McCallie said he believes Bredesen will be able to work with both sides "and come up with the best policy to follow through for the people of Tennessee."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.