Can Phil Bredesen win in 2018?

Hank Hayes • Dec 20, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Phil Bredesen isn’t your garden-variety Democrat.

Bredesen, a two-term former Tennessee governor and ex-mayor of Nashville, has announced that at age 74 he’s running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Bob Corker, who says he’s not running for a third term.

I am surprised Bredesen is running because, if elected, he would be over 80 years old at the end of one term. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer must have gotten down on his hands and knees to convince Bredesen to run. Republicans are already attacking him, and he’ll be campaigning in a state that is way more red than when he was in the governor’s office.

Bredesen does have a proven track record of competing in Northeast Tennessee. I think he gets that from his great mentor, the late Gov. Ned McWherter, another Democrat who also courted our region and stayed in office for two terms.

I can’t say Bredesen is a liberal. Maybe he is on social issues, but he’s not on spending. If you recall, Bredesen was the governor who, with the stroke of a pen, cut thousands of people from TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program for more than one million Tennesseans. I recall his administration discovered TennCare was paying for things like tattoo removal. TennCare’s checkered history is one reason state Republicans have resisted Medicaid expansion.

Bredesen was also about education reform. His administration’s efforts to ratchet up academic standards in public schools — including requiring four years of math in high school — began in 2007 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the state an “F” for lack of high standards and assessments in the classroom.

Bredesen has proven he can reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. If you don’t believe that, ask former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican. Yeah, they probably didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time, but they did work together.

Bredesen made his fortune in health care and could also be a self-funder. Still, it will be a challenge for anyone to stand out in the 2018 elections featuring a competitive governor’s race, plus Congressional, state and local campaigns. Statewide candidates have to do TV ads in five markets, including the Tri-Cities.

Also remember Bredesen ran against Republican Don Sundquist for governor in the 1990s, and GOP voters have some buyer’s remorse about electing Sundquist because of the 2002 state income tax proposal he unsuccessfully advocated.

So the questions are: Can Bredesen pull it off? What kind of U.S. Senate campaign will he run? Is it time for Tennessee Democrats to make a comeback? What will the President Trump factor be?

I can’t wait to find out.

Hank Hayes covers politics and business for the Times News. You can reach him at: hhayes@timesnews.net.