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NASHVILLE — President Donald Trump announced Monday he will hold a campaign rally and fundraiser next week for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen's campaign says the former Tennessee governor will be in Chattanooga the same day, Monday, Oct. 1, for what they're dubbing a "Choose Chattanooga Forum."

In its news release, Bredesen's campaign refers to a Senate debate the Times Free Press had previously proposed for Monday, Oct. 1. Plans for the debate fell through on Sept. 6.

A Blackburn campaign negotiator told the newspaper at the time that "we appreciate your willingness to hold a debate, but it will not be part of our debate schedule."

Bredesen's campaign said that "despite Congresswoman Blackburn's refusal to debate in Chattanooga, Governor Bredesen believes that the issues that are important to Southeast Tennessee deserve as much attention as those that are important in other areas of the state."

Trump's campaign organization said the Tennessee visit includes a "Make America Great Again" rally.

"With just 44 days from today until the midterm elections, President Trump looks forward to sharing the great news about the booming economy that's delivered new jobs and bigger paychecks to Tennessee families," said Michael Glassner, chief operating officer for Donald J. Trump for President Inc., in a statement.

Glassner said "the President will also remind Tennesseans of the critical importance to get out and vote for Marsha Blackburn for the U.S. Senate."

Tennessee has become a national battleground as Trump and Senate Republicans seek to hold or better their slender 51-49 majority in the chamber. Bredesen and U.S. Rep. Blackburn are locked in a tight contest that could determine control. Latest polling shows Bredesen 2-to-3 points ahead of the Brentwood congressman.

The candidates will hold their first debate Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Cumberland University in Lebanon, outside Nashville. A second debate is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Knoxville.

When announcing earlier this month the Chattanooga Senate debate had fallen through, Times Free Press Editor Alison Gerber said the newspaper had "extended an invitation for a debate and changed the date to accommodate a request by the Blackburn campaign, to which the Bredesen campaign agreed.

"We had hoped to host a robust conversation between the two candidates and are disappointed that the debate will not happen," Gerber said in her statement.

She also noted that Fox News had approached the newspaper about joining the debate as a partner. "But we had not made a decision on their offer," she said. "Fox News was never a confirmed partner."

In a Sept. 7 tweet, Blackburn sought to lay blame on Bredesen for the debate not coming about.

"I'm disappointed that my opponent refused to debate in Chattanooga simply because it was @FoxNews offering to cover it," she tweeted. "He clearly is not interested in reaching across the aisle to hear the concerns of all voters, regardless of party."

On Monday, Mark Brown, spokesman for Tennessee Victory 2018, Democrats' coordinated campaign, said, "Tennesseans should get the message loud and clear: nothing matters to Congresswoman Blackburn except exclusive fundraisers and D.C. campaign cash. If she can't stand before Chattanoogans and debate the issues that matter, it's time to bring her home."

In another Senate campaign development on Monday, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who had challenged Blackburn for the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination before dropping out in February, is now endorsing her in her Nov. 6 general election contest with Bredesen.

In a statement released Monday by Blackburn's campaign, Fincher said the Brentwood congressman will be a "strong leader for Tennesseans.

"We know Phil Bredesen will be a rubber stamp for Democratic leader Chuck Schumer's agenda, and we need to do everything to maintain the Republican majority Senate," Fincher added. "Marsha is the only one who will stand up for our Tennessee values in the Senate, and I am proud to do everything I can to ensure she is our next Senator."

Blackburn called Fincher "a respected voice for West Tennessee, and I enjoyed getting to know him and working together for Tennessee families in the House of Representatives. I am so grateful to have his support and advice as we work to ensure Tennessee has solid conservative representation in the Senate."

Nearly a year ago, Fincher jumped into the Senate race after incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga announced he would not seek election to a third term. But in February, Fincher announced he was abandoning his bid and urged Corker to reconsider his decision to retire.

At the time, a survey commissioned by a Tennessee business group with Republican ties indicated Bredesen led Blackburn by two points.

The latest poll released last week shows Bredesen with a 51-49 percent lead over Blackburn.

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

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