Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is the projected winner in the race to fill the seat left open by retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker. The conservative lawmaker faced a tough election campaign against Democrat Phil Bredesen, the state's former popular governor who served for two terms from 2003 to 2011.
All but one survey released in the final weeks before Election Day showed Blackburn with a sizable lead over Bredesen. The Republican lawmaker's victory may be a hint of political reality for Democrats running in red states like Tennessee, where President Donald Trump won by 26 points in 2016.
Republicans also outpaced Democrats in early voting in Tennessee. While the Volunteer State saw a record number of early votes — at least 281,000 people submitted ballots in the first three days, a major increase from midterm voting numbers in 2010 and 2014 — Republicans also saw a surge in voter enthusiasm. Registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 63 to 30 percent in early voting. This was unusual as the party which controls the White House during a midterm election generally expects to suffer from dampened voter enthusiasm and a consequent decline in turnout.
Bredesen, for his part, tried to cast himself as a different kind of Democrat in order to appeal to Tennessee's traditionally conservative voting base. He recently praised Trump's skills as a negotiator and said he would like to meet with the president to discuss an idea for lowering American prescription drug costs. He argued that America should pay whatever price drug manufacturers determine so long as it is line with the price paid by other countries. Bredesen also pointed to cheaper drug costs in nations like Australia, Germany and the U.K. as proof that American consumers were being overcharged.
Bredesen got a boost from pop star Taylor Swift, who earlier this month ended her traditionally apolitical stance to endorse him the Senate election. Swift cited her support for LGBTQ issues and her concern about Blackburn's socially conservative voting record, writing, "In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now."
Apparently it was not enough, Blackburn has served in Congress since 2003, winning a reputation as a staunch conservative while representing Tennessee's 7th congressional district.