By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
The battle for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate spot took center stage Tuesday as Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn and Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen met for the campaign’s first debate in Lebanon, Tennessee.
The result was a hotly-contested evening with far more disagreement than common ground at Cumberland University’s Baird Chapel.
Blackburn, a Brentwood resident, spoke against the Affordable Care Act and said she believes President Donald Trump is creating too large of a budget deficit.
The current U.S. Rep. for Tennessee’s 7th Congressional district repeatedly claimed that Bredesen’s campaign has been “bought and paid for” by Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer.
However, Bredesen denied the claim and said that people generally are not “terribly persuaded by endorsements.”
“We need to get new leadership,” Bredesen said. “I can tell you right now that if I’m elected, and when I’m elected and go to Washington, I am not going to vote for Chuck Schumer.”
Bredesen called Blackburn out for her support of a 2016 bill that some believe limited the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to freeze shipments of drugs contributing to the opioid crisis. Bredesen promised to try to immediately undo the bill if he were to win.
Blackburn and Bredesen both emphasized their support of the second amendment and the need for more mental health vetting in regard to gun control. They also agreed that rural Tennessee communities need better access to healthcare, as several hospitals in outlying areas have recently closed their doors.
Both candidates acknowledged the current “dysfunction” on Capitol Hill and their desires to make change.
“Just as in the business world, sometimes you have to change the makeup around a little bit to get something to happen,” Bredesen said. “I think we need to do that in the Senate, and certainly throughout Congress.”
Blackburn continued Trump’s “drain the swamp” mentality and said she wants to keep Tennessee’s economic growth on the upswing by looking out for state residents.
“I’m running to take your Tennessee values to Washington,” she said. “D.C . needs to listen more to voters.”
The race between Blackburn and Bredesen has been deemed a close one by several national outlets. As of September 17, CNN reported that Bredesen held a five-point lead, while Fox News gave Blackburn a three-point advantage.
Supporters from both sides came out in full force, donning campaign apparel and signs at Cumberland. The Lebanon High School marching band performed a pre-debate show on the lawn outside Baird Chapel, which only holds about 150 people.
The debate was sponsored by News Channel 5, USA Today Network – Tennessee, League of Women Voters of Tennessee, and Nashville Public Television, while The Tennessean’s David Plazas and News Channel 5’s Rhori Johnston served as moderators.
The two candidates will square off for a second debate on Oct. 10 at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy in Knoxville.