Local Republicans roared approval Saturday as U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn asked them to elect her so she could support President Donald Trump's agenda of border security, tax cuts and getting conservative judges on the bench.
"Get it finished, get it to his desk, get it signed into law and keep draining the swamp," Blackburn said to cheers and applause at a rally in East Ridge hosted by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.
Introducing Blackburn, Fleischmann said Trump had asked him personally, during a flight on Air Force One, "to make sure that Marsha Blackburn is the next senator for the great state of Tennessee.
"My answer was, 'Yes, sir, Mr. President,'" Fleischmann said.
Early voting continues through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Blackburn, who represents Tennessee's 7th Congressional District, and Bredesen, a former Nashville mayor and two-term governor, are statistically even in what's turned out to be the most expensive Senate race in state history at more than $70 million.
Bredesen and Blackburn have shelled out a combined $27.2 million while outside groups have poured in more than $41 million on advertising, phone-banking and door-to-door canvassing.
On a day when 11 people were shot to death at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue, and the day after a Florida man was arrested on suspicion of sending a dozen pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and their supporters, Fleischmann told the crowd at East Ridge Motors that Democrats "have lost their way" regarding patriotism and love of country.
"The American people need to fix this at the ballot box this November because [Democrats] have gone off the rails," said Fleischmann.
The pipe bomb suspect has been described as a strong Trump supporter and the alleged synagogue shooter was called "virulently anti-Semitic" by authorities.
Fleischmann was present when a gunman known for opposing Trump and Republicans opened fire on GOP members of Congress practicing for a charity baseball game in June 2017. Fleischmann was slightly hurt getting away from the gunman, but Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana was shot and critically injured and four others were wounded.
Blackburn took the stage and reminded the crowd this Senate race could help decide which party will be in charge of the Senate next year. She delivered her go-to line, that Bredesen would be a key vote for Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer as majority leader and a raft of liberals in key Senate committee posts.
"That may be their plan. But when that blue wave they keep talking about gets out here to the state line, it is going to meet the great red wall," Blackburn said to cheers and applause. "I've got to tell you, I don't think Tennesseans are going to be the state that turns the U.S. Senate over to the Democrats."
Bredesen has said he would not support Schumer for majority leader and would work with the president on issues that benefit the state.
Blackburn said Tennesseans want "more constitutional judges, who are not going to legislate from the bench and who abide by the rule of law," she said, adding, "I will be a yes vote. I will get judges right every single time."
"It took Phil Bredesen 88 days to make up his mind to then say after the vote was called that he would have voted yes," Blackburn added.
"We all saw the Project Veritas video, and they said, 'Oh, we did that [Bredesen's statement of support] for political reasons, but don't worry, he'll be a good Democrat,'" Blackburn said. In that undercover video, a Tennessee Democratic Party campaign staffer said he took that stance only to woo Republicans.
Tennesseans want their senator to support tax cuts, "and I want you to have money in your pocket," she said, citing her efforts to stop a state income tax under Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and her support for allowing people to deduct state and local taxes on federal returns.
"It's worth about a billion dollars to the pocketbooks of Tennesseans," Blackburn said.
She supports Trump's border wall and scoffed at Bredesen's description of a caravan of Central American migrants heading toward the U.S. as poor people who are no threat to national security.
"They tell us they're coming as an invading force. It is imperative that we secure our border," Blackburn said.
She also got a boost at the rally from the Family Research Council, a pro-life Christian ministry founded by evangelical pastor James Dobson.
The FRC drove its Values Bus into the parking lot at East Ridge Motors, the rally site, and Kenyn Cureton, the organizations' vice president for church ministries, delivered a part-sermon, part-campaign speech urging Christians to pray, to vote and to stand for their values.
Apparently referring to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, he asked if voters would settle for a society where "a political hit squad can take you out based on an accusation without any evidence." Whether they wanted a society "where children are disposable" and government will "pay Planned Parenthood to carry out the executions and sell the body parts" or "where the LGBTQ agenda trumps your values."
"If you're a follower of Lord Jesus Christ and God, there's no such thing as an off year. Christians vote. Period," Cureton told the applauding crowd.
While the group inside were singing from the same hymnbook, a small group of protesters from Chattanooga Women's March and Occupy Chattanooga stood on the sidewalk near the properly and waved signs at passing traffic.
Candy Janish said she was there because "I believe the Nazis and the KKK shouldn't take over, and the president shouldn't say he's a nationalist." She opposes Trump's policy of deporting undocumented people who have lived in the country, worked and paid taxes.
"Everyone should have food, everyone should have a place to live, nobody should be kicked off the soil they've been living on for 3o years," Janish said.
Amanda Cagle had her 7-month-old son, Casper, with her as she stood with six other people at the curb.
"Marsha Blackburn calls herself a Christian, it's part of her platform," Cagle said. "But she's anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ, which his directly opposite the teachings of Jesus."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.