A new Fox News poll of likely Tennessee voters indicates that Republican Marsha Blackburn is leading Democrat Phil Bredesen in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat by a three point margin, 47-44, with eight percent remaining undecided. The Blackburn lead is within the poll’s margin of error.
In the Governor’s race, Republican Bill Lee enjoys a significant twenty point lead, 55-35%, over Democrat Karl Dean. Ten percent remain undecided.
Backburn’s television ads in the campaign have relied heavily on tying her to President Donald Trump. With the Fox News poll revealing that the President has a 58-38% approval/disapproval rating among Tennessee likely voters her strategy seems to be on track. Blackburn and Bredesen enjoy similar approval/disapproval numbers, which may indicate that the Trump factor is the difference in the race at this point. Blackburn has a 51-39 approval/disapproval gap while Bredesen’s is slightly better at 54-36.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill cautions that the Fox News poll seems a bit more heavily weighted to the Republicans than Democrats so the results should be viewed with that in mind. “The poll construction has 35% Democrats and 53% Republicans with 12% described as Independent,” Gill notes. “I think the GOP number is about 5 points too high and the Independent number about 5 points short. A better distribution would narrow the Lee lead a bit, probably to the low teens, and keep the Senate race in a dead heat.”
One red flag for Blackburn in the poll is the fact that a significant number of those who approve of Trump are backing Bredesen. Among self-described Trump approvers, 76 percent are for Blackburn with 16 percent for Bredesen.
White Christian Evangelicals are strongly in the Blackburn camp, with Blackburn leading Bredesen by 35 points among those voters. Bredesen leads by 61 points among non-white voters, so a Barack Obama visit to Memphis before election day to motivate black voters is certainly a possibility.
“I think Blackburn has three keys to winning,” Gill adds. “She has to win over those who approve of President Trump but are currently planning to vote for Bredesen — who will immediately empower the anti-Trump Democrats in the Senate if he wins — and energize the pro-Trump base to show up and vote! Second she needs to ensure that the white Evangelical voters who overwhelmingly support her actually turn out and vote. And finally she must make the case to the subset of Republican voters who have a positive impression of Bredesen and are leaning towards voting for him that the election is not really about him but instead the liberal extremist Democrats that he puts into power if he is in the Senate, people like Chuck Shumer, Elizabeth Warren and Corey ‘Spartacus’ Booker.”
Gill said he expects to see at least one or two Trump visits to the state before November 6, along with Vice President Pence’s visit to Knoxville on September 21. “Nationally, the Democrats are making this election about Donald Trump,” Gill notes, “And that is not good for Bredesen who would prefer this to be a localized election where Trump is not a factor.”