Live Coverage: Blackburn, Bredesen Clash In Tennessee Senate Debate

Former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump’s new Syria timetable raises concern among key anti-ISIS allies Dem lawmaker invites Parkland survivor to attend State of the Union Bipartisan senators press Trump for strategy to protect Syrian Kurds MORE> (R-Tenn.) are set to square off Wednesday night in the final debate of their Senate race.

The debate comes as the candidates find themselves locked in a competitive race to replace retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE> (R-Tenn.).  


Blackburn appears to have taken the lead in the race, according to recent polls. But Democrats are still optimistic about their chances of flipping the deep-red state.

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted earlier this month gave Blackburn, a staunch ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE>, an 8-point lead over Bredesen. 

The candidates last faced off in a debate on Sept. 25. The debate on Wednesday is set to begin at 8 p.m. EST. 

Keep up with The Hill's live coverage here.

Debate ends, but not entirely on a civil note

Updated at 9 p.m.

For the final question, the moderator asked both candidates if they believe Tennessee will be in good hands if their opponent wins in November.

Blackburn, with a laugh, said, "I think it’d be in better hands with me."

She followed up a bit later to say that she wants a senator who will take "Tennessee values to Washington, D.C."

But Bredesen answered that everyone must accept the results of an election.

"I think a part of what we have to do is accept outcomes of elections, so yes," he said.

He reiterated his call to end party tribalism and unite. 

"When it’s over, it needs to be over," Bredesen said. "If it turns out my opponent wins the election … I think it’s important for all Tennesseans to gather around and support her so she can be the best senator she can be."

Blackburn blames Democrats for partisan divisions

Updated at 8:51 p.m.

Blackburn defended her record of bipartisanship by accusing Bredesen of allying himself too closely with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Sarah Sanders says she was interviewed by Mueller's office Trump: I believe Obama would have gone to war with North Korea MORE> and blamed Democrats for inflammatory rhetoric against Republicans.

"We know Phil wanted Hillary to be president," Blackburn said. "Yesterday she said you can’t be civil with a party that opposes your ideas."

"This is the kind of rhetoric that is not helpful. It is important to keep campaigns focused on issues."

Bredesen said he wanted Congress to overcome partisan divisions by working together on a solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily shielded certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Trump rescinded that program last fall.

Corker gets an “A” from potential successors

Updated at 8:45 p.m.

Both Blackburn and Corker graded outgoing Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whom they’re vying to succeed, an “A” for his time in the Senate.

Blackburn said she’s working with Corker on the issue of combating sex and human trafficking.

When asked by the moderator about Corker’s lukewarm endorsement, Blackburn repeated that she liked working with him. Corker has said he won’t campaign against Bredesen since the two previously worked together.

“I have enjoyed working with Sen. Corker,” Blackburn said, adding that she’s running to “make sure I keep Sen. Corker’s desk on this side of the aisle.”

Bredesen recalled the time that he worked alongside Corker when the Democrat was governor. Corker worked with Bredesen in bringing a Volkswagen plant to Tennessee.

“The senator is obviously of a different party,” Bredesen said. “What I admire...he’s someone who does his homework, always went back and sat down and tried to figure out answers to things.”

Bredesen blasts Trump's immigration policy, Blackburn defends it

Updated at 8:40 p.m.

Bredesen blasted the Trump administration's controversial "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant families at the southern border, saying it would be remembered as an "inappropriate" period in American history. 

"I think it amounted to child abuse," Bredesen said. "I think it was a stain on our country’s reputation."Blackburn insisted that lawmakers needed to fund President Trump's long-touted border wall, saying that "walls work."

She also defended the zero-tolerance policy, arguing that it stymied the flow of drugs across the border.

"Tennesseans want to see that wall build, because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state," she said.

Candidates clash on guns

Updated at 8:31 p.m.

Bredesen said he supports a citizen's right to own a gun, but said he supports "reasonable restrictions" to be put in place particularly when it comes to mental health.

The former governor also said he supports enhanced background checks and  that bump stocks "ought to be banned."

"I don't think it's a partisan issue," Bredesen said.

Blackburn repeatedly hit Bredesen for going to a fundraiser in New York with former New York City Mayor and gun control activist Michael Bloomberg.

"We can protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens in public places," Blackburn said.

Blackburn accuses Bredesen of backing "government-run health care"

Updated at 8:25 p.m. 

Blackburn hit on Bredesen for his support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), accusing him of supporting government-run health care. Blackburn proposed instead opening up insurance markets across state lines and insisted the private sector was capable of expanding health care access.

"Phil said that Washington Democrats knew how to solve health care and I think the private sector knows how to solve access to health care," Blackburn said.

Bredesen acknowledged that he did not initially support the ACA, but said that he felt obligated to back it after it became "the law of the land."

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