President Donald Trump traveled to Nashville Tuesday to support Congressman Marsha Blackburn in her bid for the U.S. Senate, but Republican hopefuls up and down the ballot sought to tie themselves to Trump in the hope that his popularity will rub off this fall.
With a rally organized by his re-election campaign, Trump attempted to shore up his party in what should be a solidly Republican state. He came out swinging against Blackburn's Democratic opponent, former governor Phil Bredesen, variously mocking him and trying to link him to Democratic leaders in Congress.
"Phil Bredesen, I've never heard of this guy," Trump claimed to jeers and boos. "Who is he? Who is he? He's an absolute total tool of Chuck — it's true — of (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer."
In a statement issued shortly after the event, Bredesen largely ignored the attacks and said he’s willing to work with the president.
The rally, Trump's third appearance in Nashville since taking office last year, capped a whirlwind run through the city by the president. He touched down on an airstrip next to Nashville International Airport around 4:30, and departed less than five hours later. In that time, he headlined a fundraiser for Blackburn and spoke for an hour before several thousands fans inside Municipal Auditorium.
The president thanked Blackburn as an early supporter of his and called her a "wonderful woman," even ceding the mic to her for about 2 minutes.
"I am going to be there to stand with Donald Trump and to take Tennessee values to Washington D.C. to stand to fight with him," she said.
Trump did name-drop a few Tennessee subjects, in a nod to his audience. He praised country music, Memphis blues, Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett.
But a bulk of the night was spent on Trump recounting his policies, including calling again for construction of a wall along the southern border paid for by Mexico. That prompted a quick response from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who again said his country will not do so.
President @realDonaldTrump: NO. Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever.
Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) May 30, 2018
Blackburn, however, wasn't the only Republican eager to tie herself to Trump. Long before the rally opened, candidates for governor made the rounds outside.
'Give Me A Little Name Recognition'
Randy Boyd, a Republican candidate for governor, stopped to shake hands. Meanwhile, another the gray-and-orange campaign bus of another candidate, Bill Lee, was circling while Lee himself handed out stickers.
"Give me a little name recognition today," Lee urged. "Look me up!"
Lee touted himself as a cattle farmer and businessman to Buddy and Cathy Dufau, and as someone who’s never run for office.
"Good! We like those kind," Cathy responded.
"That’s why we put Trump in," added Buddy.
The president chose a third gubernatorial candidate Congressman Diane Black to mention on stage, and wished her good luck.
But the president’s express mission was to raise money for Blackburn, who faces against Bredesen. Polls show that voters view him more favorably than her, and as a millionaire businessman before going into politics, Bredesen is expected to be well-funded.
Yet Blackburn's red "Marsha Marsha Marsha" T-shirts were visible throughout the crowd, where many are already on her side.
"She actually comes out and says what she's all about," Sondra Hamilton, of Clarksville, said, likening her style to Trump’s, "and that's why we have a lot of respect for her."
Blackburn needs to convince voters like Hamilton to come out to vote in November. With the U.S. Senate — and possibly also his legacy — on the line, Trump was not hesitant to come down and lend Blackburn a hand doing so.
WPLN's Jay Shah contributed to this report.