The fiercest attacks in Tennessee's pivotal Senate race have centered on health care, and perhaps that's not by chance. Recent polling from NBC/WSJ puts the issue at the top of concerns for American voters.
Until now, the jabs have only been traded through news stories and video ads. The candidates share the stage for the first time in a debate format Tuesday night at Cumberland University in Lebanon. They are expected to take questions on the Affordable Care Act, the closure of rural hospitals and the opioid epidemic.
A painful piece of history particular to Tennessee has stirred up the most sniping. As governor, Phil Bredesen oversaw a drastic downsizing of TennCare that resulted in massive protests, as hundreds of thousands of people lost coverage.
Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn's campaign has posted videos from a hired tracker, lobbing accusatory questions at the Democratic nominee and former health care executive.
"Do the people that died ever cross your mind?" the young man asks as Bredesen walks into an event in Tullahoma.
The footage hasn't been used in ads yet, but the Bredesen campaign has already hit Blackburn on the issue, unearthing a highlight reel of instances in which she praises the handling of TennCare cuts — from cable news appearances to written opinion pieces.
"Even our former governor, a Democrat, Phil Bredesen, did a lot to rein in the exploding cost," she said in one congressional hearing.
Abortion and the Affordable Care Act
A campaign tracker also asked Bredesen about his views on abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, appearing in the TN GOP Youtube feed.
"I'm not making it an issue in this campaign," Bredesen said off-camera on the video, reiterating his long-held pro-choice views. "I'm not the least bit interested in defunding Planned Parenthood."
Blackburn has made abortion a key piece of her platform, funding ads about her efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
Republicans have also attacked Bredesen over Obamacare, which remains fairly unpopular in the state. They point to a policy book he wrote in 2010 called "Fresh Medicine," which they describe supporting "socialized medicine." The book does advocate for universal health coverage, but it's largely Bredesen's critique of the Affordable Care Act. He argues for marketplace reforms.
The Bredesen campaign has also gone on the offensive, accusing Blackburn of helping "de-fang" drug enforcement authorities and leading to more prescription painkiller abuse.
Blackburn has said the legislation had "unintended consequences" and promised to deal with it.