NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump is turning his attention to Tennessee, where he will raise money and rally supporters Tuesday in a crucial race for control of the U.S. Senate.
Trump hopes to boost Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn in the open contest to replace GOP Sen. Bob Corker, who is retiring.
Popular former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen has also entered the race, putting the firmly red state in in play for his party as Republicans cling to a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
Aiming to maintain Republican control of Congress, Trump is planning a series of political rallies and events in the coming months to promote GOP candidates on the ballot and brand Democrats as obstructionists to his agenda. The president held a similar rally in Indiana earlier this month, casting Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, a top Republican target, as a “swamp person” who refused to help him overhaul the nation’s tax system.
Corker has called Bredesen a “friend” and said he won’t actively campaign against him, giving the former governor some cross-party appeal. Trump, meanwhile, is expected to use the rally to warn Republicans that Bredesen would serve as a proxy for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and scuttle his agenda.
While the Tennessee primary isn’t until early August, Trump offered an early endorsement of Blackburn in April, calling her on Twitter “a wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her. Great on the Military, Border Security and Crime.”
Trump will raise cash for Blackburn at a Nashville fundraiser, then country star Trace Adkins will perform before Trump’s public rally at Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
The event marks the fifth rally Trump has held in Tennessee and the third in the Nashville area since he began running for president in June 2015.
Trump won Tennessee decidedly in 2016 and remains popular there. Blackburn, who served on Trump’s transition team, has been counting down the days on Twitter until Trump shows up. She has dubbed herself a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative.”
Bredesen, who needs to win over independents and some Republicans to claim victory, has aired TV ads in which he says he’s “not running against Donald Trump,” and that he learned long ago to “separate the message from the messenger.”
In Tennessee, Al Gore was the Democrats’ last victorious Senate candidate in 1990. Democrats have fallen short ever since Gore left the Senate to become Bill Clinton’s vice president.
Bredesen has drawn help from former Vice President Joe Biden, who attended a fundraiser for him in April.
Trump’s visit will also set off a scramble for Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor to get face time and presidential shout outs.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black, former state economic development chief Randy Boyd, businessman Bill Lee and state House Speaker Beth Harwell have all voiced their support of Trump on the campaign trail.
Out of the four leading GOP candidates, Black has been the most frequent namedropper of the president, including in TV ads that show Trump offering glowing compliments for her.
Boyd has recently likened himself to Trump in a TV spot, saying they’re both conservative businessman looking to disrupt government.