Former Gov. Phil Bredesen has officially entered the race for the U.S. Senate, a move that could have ramifications both for Tennessee politics and Democrats' chances nationwide of retaking Congress.
Like so many people these days, Bredesen introduced his candidacy through an online campaign video. Posted on his website Thursday morning, Bredesen stressed his experience as an entrepreneur and as manager of the state's finances.
During his two terms as governor in the 2000s, Bredesen turned around Tennessee's bond rating and pushed through a massive restructuring of TennCare — all, he says, without major tax hikes.
"I'm running for the Senate because I have the right kind of experience and the actual track record that it will take to start working across party lines to fix the mess in Washington and bring common sense back to our government."
Bredesen is the last Democrat to win statewide. Generally seen as a moderate, Bredesen demonstrated significant crossover appeal to Republican voters, carrying all 95 counties in 2006 and winning by nearly 40 percentage points.
But that was over a decade ago, and at 74, he's significantly older than most first-time Senate candidates. And he has competition for the nomination: James Mackler, a political newcomer.
Nonetheless, many Democrats nationwide see Bredesen as their best bet to win Tennessee's Senate seat, as they try to flip Congress next year. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer personally worked to convince Bredesen to get into the race, viewing him as one of a handful of Democrats who could win over suburban GOP voters dissatisfied with President Donald Trump.
That's one reason the GOP is already hitting him. As word of Bredesen's plans to enter the race spread, the National Republican Senate Committee issued a statement calling him an "Obama-loving liberal."
Congressman Marsha Blackburn, a Republican in the race, also issued a statement. She said Bredesen is "out-of-touch with Tennessee values" and would block President Trump's agenda.
Win or lose, Bredesen could help Democrats regain their footing in the Tennessee State Capitol.
One reason they've slipped deep into the minority has been weak candidates at the top of the ballot. Having a big name running for Senate, as well as governor, could generate a lot of enthusiasm for them in 2018.