*This story has been updated to correct Republican Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey's and Senate Speaker Randy McNally's vote on a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver certificates, and to reflect the year state lawmakers repealed the certificate law as 2007.
NASHVILLE — All eyes will be on Tennessee Monday as President Donald Trump makes his second trip to the state to boost Republican Marsha Blackburn in the increasingly raucous U.S. Senate battle between the GOP congress member and Democratic former governor Phil Bredesen.
His visit comes following Blackburn and Bredesen's first, attack-laced debate last week in their race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga.
Tennessee has drawn national attention with the contest in a statistical dead heat, according to a Real Clear Politics summary of four polls. The two most recent surveys showed Bredesen with a two- to three-point lead but falling within the margins of error.
"President Trump so appreciates the people of Tennessee, and we look forward to welcoming him back to our state and having him on the campaign trail with us," Blackburn said of his planned trip to Johnson City.
A day later on Tuesday, the spotlight will be on Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee as they square off in their first debate in Memphis. Lee, a businessman, currently leads former Nashville mayor Dean, according to a Real Clear Politics summary of polls, by 52.8 percent to 39.5 percent. In the latest poll, Lee led by nine points.
Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the candidate "is excited to be back in the Tri-Cities and proud to have President Trump's support as he joins fellow conservatives in welcoming the President back to Tennessee."
Trump's second trip for Blackburn comes after two other visits here by Vice President Mike Pence.
Illegal immigrant driver licenses and 'pure swamp scum'
With their first fiery debate on Tuesday in the rearview mirror, Blackburn and Bredesen quickly switched into high gear as Blackburn on Friday launched a new ad attack over illegal immigration and driver licenses, spurring testy exchanges over who did what and when.
The exchange began Friday as Blackburn, a former state senator, went up on the air with a 30-second TV spot that blames Bredesen for a state law that allowed undocumented people to obtain state driver licenses.
But the legislation actually passed by state lawmakers in 2001 and was signed into law by Bredesen's predecessor, Republican Gov. Don Sundquist, who is backing Blackburn. As a then-senator, Blackburn fiercely opposed the bill and later unsuccessfully pushed measures to repeal it.
Bredesen was elected governor in 2002 and wasn't sworn in as governor until January 2003. The former governor quickly struck back with sharp counterpoint in a digital ad.
In the Bredesen spot, a female narrator says "Marsha Blackburn. Sixteen years in Washington and it shows. Her latest attack ad is pure swamp scum."
Tennessee's driver license law became a security issue following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with then-President George W. Bush's administration later urging the state to change it, citing concerns over the 9/11 hijackers using driver's licenses (not Tennessee ones) to board the planes they used to attack New York and Washington, D.C.
The law here enabled people without Social Security numbers to obtain driver's licenses, with proponents arguing undocumented immigrants were already on state highways and they needed to know how to drive properly and have insurance.
As governor, Bredesen signed into law a 2004 bill that barred giving licenses to anyone who could not demonstrate they were in the country legally. But they could get a driving certificate, which was stamped with language stating "Not Valid for Identification."
Problems continued and the law was suspended in 2006 and finally repealed in 2007 after federal investigations found applicants using fraudulent documents and in some cases bribing state workers to obtain driving privileges.
In her ad, Blackburn also hits Bredesen on other immigration issues with a male narrator charging he "opposes the Trump immigration ban."
The ad then switches to audio of Bredesen saying "I don't believe the wall is the right answer." It's a reference to President Donald Trump's proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. It ends with the congress member speaking into the camera saying, "I'm Marsha Blackburn and I approve this message because I'll fight to build the wall, end sanctuary cities and deport criminal illegal aliens. Once and for all."
Bredesen's "Pure Swamp" ad says "Marsha Blackburn. Sixteen years in Washington and it shows. Her latest attack ad is pure swamp scum. Phil Bredesen wasn't even governor when the law giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants was passed. Phil Bredesen worked across party lines and repealed it.
"And," the narrator adds, "he worked with President Bush and deployed the Tennessee National Guard to the border. Phil Bredesen for Senate. The breath of fresh air we need in Washington."
The Bredesen campaign later said in a "Fact Check" of Blackburn's ad that the former governor "believes that a border wall is more political theater than practical policy or a serious attempt to deal with the issue of illegal immigration, and he thinks we should focus on modern technology that provides better and cheaper ways to accomplish border security."
And the Bredesen campaign also notes that former Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey voted for the 2004 certificate law as did current Senate Speaker Randy McNally, also a Republican. Neither man was speaker at the time. Both support Blackburn. Ramsey plans to attend Trump's rally, according to WJHL-TV.
Asked about her ad's claim about Bredesen being responsible for the "law" by a reporter Saturday as she and gubernatorial candidate Lee attended a state GOP sponsored tailgate event at a Vanderbuilt University game, Blackburn said "but Bredesen did the certificate. Here's the point: He doubled down on giving state-issued, valid driving certificates paid for by the Tennessee taxpayer. Gave out 50,000 of them."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.