Donald Trump was elected president despite low popularity ratings in 2016. While both Hillary Clinton and Trump were viewed unfavorably by a majority of Americans polled, Trump set the record, with 61 percent viewing him in a negative light, according to Gallup.
For millions of Americans, disliking Trump was not a barrier to voting for him. In some cases people voted for him enthusiastically despite not particularly liking him.
Tennessee has a smaller version of the opposite issue. Volunteer State voters like the Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen. A popular former governor and mayor of Nashville, his entrance into the race made the open seat competitive despite the state’s Republican leanings. Cook Political report rates it as a toss-up. The Real Clear Politics average has Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn up by less than three points.
Bredesen is certainly a standard Democrat in his politics, but he’s downplaying that fact and is willing to buck his party. He opposed the manner in which Obamacare was implemented and occasionally criticizes his party for its extremism.His approach is persuasive to some, including the Washington Post opinion journalist Radley Balko:
He notes that Blackburn’s approach is more politically savvy. But it’s worth thinking about why. As the recent Kavanaugh debacle showed, at best the Senate has a grand total of one Democrat who can be labeled moderate: Joe Manchin. Even Democratic senators from all the other states that desired a Kavanaugh confirmation voted against him.
More important than the ultimate vote, though, were the Democratic leaders responsible for the debacle. Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) stage-managed the accusations against Kavanaugh for maximum political effect. After hearings were reopened, she read the outlandish Michael Avenatti gang rape cartel allegations into the record. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) kept Democratic votes in line and told them to disregard the principle of presumed innocence.
Looked at this way, Blackburn’s focus isn’t just a cynical ploy but an understanding of how the current Senate’s party control has a far greater effect on the average voter than any individual senator does. Blackburn likely emphasized it because it’s a message that resonates with voters more than the one where a politician claims he or she will be one way when they frequently abandon their commitments when in Washington.
How many times have politicians claimed they wouldn’t vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Schumer only to do just that or otherwise fail to put other Democrats in power? Bredesen claimed he wouldn’t vote for Schumer for leader, but voters likely understand that his no vote would have no effect on Schumer’s success. It is perhaps worth noting that new undercover video from James O’Keefe casts Bredesen’s moderation pledges in a questionable new light.
A new National Republican Senatorial Committee ad dealing with the race understands this issue well:
Rather than target Bredesen, who is generally liked, it points out that if he wins, bad things will happen to Tennessee. It makes the case that the majority in the Senate is razor-thin and that Tennessee voters could be responsible for turning the Senate to a Democratic majority. Featuring clips of radical senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Booker, (D-Spartacus), it notes that “If Bredesen wins, Dianne Feinstein picks your judges, Bernie Sanders runs the budget and Chuck Schumer runs everything.”
While the national media encourage the radicalization of the Democratic Party and highlight how that radicalization excites its base in liberal states, the result is the crushing of moderate Democratic senators in states where they may have had a fighting chance.
Perhaps Bredesen will be able to pull out a victory. If the media narrative of an unstoppable Blue Wave is accurate, he has a great shot. But the extremism of the Democratic Party is not helping him win what the media claim is a toss-up race.