The race to be the next senator from Tennessee is deadlocked.
According to a new Vanderbilt University poll, former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn are separated by a statistically insignificant 1 percentage point among registered voters in the contentious Senate race, the latest evidence that a race Republicans once believed would be guaranteed for their side could be one of the closest on Election Night.
Among voters who say they are certain to vote, the race is tied — 45% for Bredesen and 45% for Blackburn.
“The bottom line is that Tennessee’s Senate race will be determined by which candidate is better able to turn out their base, as well as any national waves that occur—blue or otherwise,” said John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science.
After Republican Sen. Bob Corker announced his retirement, party officials in Washington believed the seat would almost certainly stay red because President Donald Trump won Tennessee by 26 percentage points. But Bredesen’s entrance into the race gave Democrats hope, given the former governor enjoys a deep well of independent support from his time in office.
That is evident in the latest poll, which found that Bredesen is significantly more popular with Republicans than Blackburn is with Democrats. Thirteen percent of Republicans told the pollsters that they planned to vote for Bredesen, while 5 percent of Democrats said they would back Blackburn.
“Our poll results show that this race is still very much a tossup,” said Josh Clinton, co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll. “Eight percent of voters are still undecided, and depending on who those voters choose, and who turns out to vote, this race could easily go either way.”
Bredesen has run as a moderate Democrat in the 2018 Senate race, pledging to break with his party when needed and back the President when he believes it is best for the state. One recent example: Bredesen announced that, if he was in the Senate, he would have voted yes for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose contentious but successful nomination was marred by sexual assault allegations and emotional fights on the left.
Blackburn, an arch conservative with deep ties to Republicans in Washington, has relied on the natural political inclinations of the state and looked to tie Bredesen to leaders in Washington like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Bredesen, however, has said he would not back Schumer for Democratic leader in the Senate if he wins.
While the Vanderbilt polls found the race tied, other recent polls have found the Republican with a slight lead.
The Vanderbilt Poll was conducted by telephone October 8-13 among a random sample of 800 Tennessee registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.