MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tennessee’s candidates for U.S. Senate faced off in their first televised debate on Tuesday night.
Congressman Marsha Blackburn and former governor Phil Bredesen squared off during a forum at Cumberland University in Middle Tennessee.
Bredesen presented himself as the calm voice of reason, representing change in Washington.
Blackburn took pride in being a strong conservative, in-step with President Trump.
"As I talk to Tennesseans around the state," said Blackburn, "the number one thing they talk about is making certain we keep jobs and the economy growing. The tax cuts are working."
"The number one issue for Tennesseans," said Bredesen, "has to be how dysfunctional Washington has become, the hyper partisanship. I think a lot of the problem we have in Washington is the leadership."
WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson thought each candidate delivered a solid performance.
"Well, I think both candidates executed their strategies well,” Nelson said.
Bredesen emphasized his record as a popular and successful two term governor who cut spending and brought new business to Tennessee.
"Even though he's been out of politics for a while," said Nelson. "I think Bredesen showed he's ready for prime time."
Blackburn repeatedly stressed Bredesen's connection to the democrats in Washington, particularly U.S. Senate minority leader, Chuck Shumer, referencing Shumer more than a dozen times.
"He will be with Chuck Shumer," she said of Bredesen, "he will vote with Chuck Shumer. His campaign is bought and paid for by Chuck Shumer."
"She did go on the attack," said Nelson, "but I think she did it without being obnoxious or personal."
Bredesen, early on in the debate, said he would not vote for Chuck Shumer if he does go to Washington. It was the largest break he's made from the democratic party so far in this race.
The candidates were asked about healthcare.
"The Affordable Care Act does not work," said Blackburn.
"There are 250,000 Tennesseans who depend on the Affordable Care Act for their insurance," Bredesen said.
The moderators asked them about gun control.
"I'm endorsed by the NRA," Blackburn told the audience. "I have an A-rating from the NRA, my opponent was given a D-rating."
"I'm a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment," said Bredesen, "I've been a gun owner all of my life. But one of the ways you prevent (school shootings) is to put reasonable rules in place."
Other topics included the opioid crisis, with Bredesen accusing Blackburn of being complicit by getting cozy with Big Pharma and writing laws that weaken law enforcement's ability to combat the nation's problem.
Blackburn responded by saying the opioid crisis was fueled by fentanyl and heroine.
"Much of this is coming in from Mexico," she said and then went on to discuss the importance of building the wall between Mexico and the U.S., as President Trump has promised voters.
They both agreed President Trump’s tariffs are bad for Tennessee businesses and workers. But Blackburn said it’s a necessary evil.
"We're in a trade war with China," she said, "and for goodness sake, let's win this war."
This debate is one of two that will take place before election day. The candidates were invited to four, but Congressman Blackburn only accepted invitations to two, citing schedule conflicts.
“What we saw in this debate gives us an authentic view of who these candidates are,” Nelson said. “We should be able to make a choice on what we value more.”