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These Democrats Are Hoping To Be The Long-Shot Winners Of Tennessee’s Senate Seat


Democrats in Tennessee are starting to choose their nominee for the U.S. Senate.

This time around, three relatively inexperienced candidates are the top contenders for the seat, even when it will be an uphill battle.

James Mackler

The first candidate to throw his hat in the ring was James Mackler.

The Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran says he is running because he wants to help in a time of crisis.

“I’m an outsider. A veteran. A man of faith,” Mackler recently said. “I’m a different kind of candidate, and I know we are not going to solve our nation’s problems with our leaders tweeting insults.”

Mackler declined multiple requests for interview. But, in a virtual debate hosted by Indivisible Tennessee and the Tennessee Holler website last month, he explained part of his platform. Among his promises — fixing the Affordable Care Act.

“Tennesseans have a choice in this election between someone stepping forward to serve in time of crisis who will work to improve health care or a rubber stamp for the same people trying to take it away,” Mackler said.

This is actually the second time Mackler has run for Senate. In 2017, he announced his candidacy, but then dropped out after Phil Bredesen joined the race.

Back then, Democrats rallied behind the idea that the key to winning a statewide race was with a moderate. In Bredesen, they had a person who won all 95 counties when he was reelected in 2006.

But in the 2018 Senate race, Bredesen ended up winning only Davidson, Haywood and Shelby counties. He lost to Republican Marsha Blackburn by 10 percentage points. That’s even after the Bredesen campaign spent nearly $20 million.

This time around, national Democrats don’t have such a strong presence in the race. Bredesen is now endorsing Mackler.

But, that hasn’t stopped other Democrats from running.

Robin Kimbrough Hayes

Robin Kimbrough Hayes has never run for office until now.

“I open up my stump speech by saying I’m a lawyer and I’m a chaplain and I can handle the job,” she told WPLN News.

Kimbrough Hayes said her main priorities would be tackling police brutality and addressing the health disparities that exist in the country. This is something that hits close to home.

“I grew up in a trailer park in Lexington, Kentucky. My mother and I were the only African American family,” Kimbrough Hayes said. “Even though I grew up in a community of racism and bullying, I still found community because all of us were poor in the trailer park.”

Kimbrough Hayes eventually became an attorney. She said she represents the Tennesseans who are fighting every day to have a better life.

Marquita Bradshaw

There is a third major candidate who said she has been doing that for most of her career — especially when it comes to the environment.

“People of color, Black people, brown people, indigenous people and poor white people are not experiencing the same set of laws as everybody else when it comes to the environment,” Bradshaw told WPLN News.

The Memphis native is known for her community organizing on environmental justice. Bradshaw said she wants people to connect the dots and realize that the economy, health and the environment are all interconnected.

“We are carrying the pollution burden of society,” Bradshaw said.

Now, whoever is elected as the Democratic nominee will face a Republican in November, likely physician Manny Sethi or former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. Neither of them has held elected office either.

But beating either candidate will be a long shot. In a state that has leaned heavily Republican in recent years, they don’t have the money or the name recognition as other Democrats who previously tried to flip the Tennessee Senate seat and failed.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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