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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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8 Southerners named to panel to hash out deal on border security

Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.

Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby

The list of Senate conferees includes Richard Shelby of Alabama and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, both Republicans. None of the four Southern Democrats who serve in the Senate were selected.

On the House side, all four of the GOP conferees are from the South — Kay Granger of Texas, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steve Palazzo of Mississippi.

Two Southern Democrats are among the six Democrats picked for the panel by House Speaker Nancy PelosiDavid Price of North Carolina and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)

All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.

Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.

Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.

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Republican Mark Harris will support new vote in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. District if fraud affected outcome

Harris, who has a 905-vote lead in unofficial results, insists he was “absolutely unaware” of wrongdoing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. House District, said he will support a new election if elections officials find proof that voter fraud affected the outcome of the November 6 vote.

Congressional candidate Mark Harris, R-North Carolina

In a video released December 7, Harris also said he was “absolutely unaware” of any wrongdoing by his campaign and pledged to cooperate with an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections into allegations of fraud in absentee ballots linked to a subcontractor paid for work by his campaign.

“I’m hopeful that this process will ultimately result in the certification of my election to Congress,” Harris said. “However, if this investigation finds proof of illegal activities on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of this election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to insure all voters have confidence in the results.”

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, holds a 905-vote lead in unofficial results. But the state board refused to certify the results after allegations of fraud in the distribution and collection of absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost that Harris carried over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.

The 9th District includes parts of eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayettteville.

Congressional candidate Dan McCready, D-North Carolina

McCready, who had conceded to Harris on election night, took to Twitter to withdraw his concession and demand that Harris answer questions about the fraud allegations.

“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back home and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy,” McCredy said. “I call on Mark Harris to tell us exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”

McCready, 34, served four years as a Marine officer, including service in the Iraq war.

The fraud allegations swirl around Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who the state board has identified as “a person of interest” in its investigation. The board has subpoenaed documents from the Harris campaign and the Red Dome Group, a Charlotte-based political consultancy that helped run Harris’s campaign and has said it hired Dowless as a subcontractor.

Voters in Bladen County have signed affidavits saying that they were approached at their homes by people offering to collect their absentee ballots for them and return them to the county elections office. That practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in North Carolina.

One of those ballot harvesters, Ginger Eason, told WSOC-TV that she was paid by Dowless to collect the ballots. Dowless has kept a low profile since the allegations surfaced but has denied any wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

Dowless, who has a previous conviction for insurance fraud, was investigated by the state elections board over voting irregularities in 2016. The board referred its findings to federal and state prosecutors.

In addition to concerns about ballot harvesting, the absentee vote totals in Bladen have also raised questions. More than 1,340 voters in Bladen requested absentee ballots, but only 684 were actually cast. And while McCready beat Harris among absentee voters in the rest of the district, Harris won by a 24-point margin in the absentee vote in Bladen.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

If the state elections board finds that fraud affected the outcome of the vote, it could order an election rerun between Harris and McCready. Republicans could not replace Harris on the ballot unless he dies or moves out of state.

However, the new Democrat-controlled House in Washington could refused to seat Harris, which would trigger an entirely new election, in which both parties would pick nominees in primaries.

The Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, has indicated that refusing to seat Harris is a possibility if the state board decides not to act.

“This is bigger than that one seat. This is about undermining the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “What was done there was so remarkable, in that that person, those entities, got away with that.”

The state elections board is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one member without a party affiliation.

The 9th District was one of four GOP-held seats in North Carolina targeted by Democrats in 2018. Republicans won the other three.

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Four Southern Democrats among rebels opposing Nancy Pelosi for U.S. House speaker

Four incoming freshmen have not taken a position on Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After an election season in which Republicans used the specter of Nancy Pelosi’s speakership as a weapon against their Democratic opponents, four Southern Democrats, including two incoming freshman, have signed on to an effort to replace her as Democratic leader.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Two incumbents — Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Filemon Vela of Texas — and one newcomer, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, are among 16 House members who signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus, which will take control of the House in January.

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-win districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter said. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intent to deliver on that promise.”

The anti-Pelosi rebels said they would oppose her as speaker both in the vote in which Democrats will select a speaker candidate on November and on the House floor, where Pelosi will need a majority of 218 votes to defeat the Republicans’ expected candidate, Kevin McCarthy, in January.

Democrats are on track to have 234 seats in the new House, which means Pelosi can lose a maximum of 16 Democratic votes.

In addition to the three Southern Democrats who signed the letter, another incoming freshman, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, has said she will oppose Pelosi.

In an interview with CNN, Spanberger said that while she has “tremendous respect” for Pelosi, “one of the things that I talked about frequently on the campaign trail was the need to have new voices in Congress, the need to turn a new page in the way we engage across the aisle, and really to be able to work on the priorities that were most important to the people in my district.”

Four other incoming members — Colin Allred of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, and Elaine Luria of Virginia — have not taken a position on Pelosi’s speakership. All four narrowly won their races over Republican incumbents who highlighted their possible support for Pelosi in their campaigns.

The six remaining Southern Democratic freshmen — Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia — have all said they will support Pelosi.

Escobar and Garcia won open Democratic seats. Fletcher, Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell and Wexton flipped Republican seats.

Pelosi, 78, has represented San Francisco in the House since 1987 and has led House Democrats since 2002. She served as speaker from 2007 until 2011, the first woman to hold the post.

Her long tenure as leader — 16 years and counting — and her usefulness as a bogeyman for Republicans are driving the opposition to her, which is generally not a fight over policy or ideology.

However, the rebellion against Pelosi within the Democratic caucus is not widespread, including among Southern members. Only Cooper and Vela are opposing her; 116 other returning Southern Democratic members are expected to support her.

Cooper’s opposition is not a surprise. The Nashville Democrat, who has opposed Pelosi five times in the past, told The Tennessean that new Democratic members “won their districts by tiny margins and are in danger of losing in 2020 unless we prove to voters that we are working hard to get America back on track.”

Vela, from Brownsville, had supported Pelosi’s bid for Democratic leader after the 2016 election. But he called for her to step down after the party lost a high-profile special election in Georgia in 2017 in which Republicans relentlessly tied the Democratic candidate to her.

Republican Karen Handel, the winner of that special election, in Georgia’s 6th District in suburban Atlanta, lost her seat to McBath.

No one has so far stepped forward to run against Pelosi for Democratic leader. Given that party members are highly unlikely to vote for McCarthy on the floor, it remains unclear for whom the anti-Pelosi rebels might cast their votes.

One option would be to vote “present” instead of for another candidate, which would not imperil Pelosi because she only has to win a majority of those members actually voting. However, in their letter, her opponents said they were “committed to voting for new leadership both in our Caucus meeting and on the House floor.”

Should Pelosi survive, the lone Southerner in the House Democratic leadership, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, is expected to become the House majority whip, the No. 3 position. He is currently the only candidate for the position.

Should Pelosi be unable to secure a majority for the speakership, the scramble to replace her could upset the entire Democratic hierarchy in the House.

Insight: Donna Shalala poised to follow Hillary playbook and lose an unloseable race

Lack of Latino connection, combined with 2018’s worst political gaffe, could keep Florida’s 27th District in GOP hands

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — Miami Democrats may be about to learn that hard way that even in a race where the odds seem decidedly in your favor, your candidate and her campaign matter. A lot.

ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor Rich Shumate

On paper, Florida’s 27th U.S. House District should have been an easy layup for Democrats. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fixture in Cuban-American politics for more than three decades, was retiring. Hillary Clinton carried the district by 20 points, giving the 27th the distinction of being the location of Donald Trump’s worst loss in a Republican-held congressional district anywhere in the country. And younger Cuban voters have been showing less fealty to the GOP in recent election than did their ferociously anti-communist elders.

Yet, despite all that, when the smoke clears on November 6, there is a very good chance that the new congresswoman from the 27th District will be a Republican, and a race Democrats thought they couldn’t lose will be lost.

So what happened? Donna Shalala happened.

After months of ambitious Miami-Dade Democrats plotting and jockeying for position in what was assumed to be a wide-open race for a sure seat in Congress, Shalala big-footed her way into the contest in March, deciding to enter elective politics at age 77 after a career spent in academia and eight years as Bill Clinton’s health secretary and two years as head of his foundation.

She instantly became the “big name” in the race and the favorite. Three Democratic rivals withdrew; another switched to a congressional race in another district.

Among the candidates who withdrew was popular State Senator José Javier Rodríguez, and his departure left Democrats with a handicap that has since turned into an albatross — he had been the only Latino Democrat running in a district in which seven out of 10 residents, and nearly six in 10 voters, are Latino.

In the end, the Democratic primary in August came down to a race between Shalala and State Rep. David Richardson, the first openly gay man to serve in the Florida legislature. She won, but with only 31 percent of the vote against a field of four rivals.

Meanwhile, in the Republican primary, Maria Elvira Salazar — running against eight rivals — was taking 40 percent of the vote, and her total vote was nearly 1,700 more than Shalala’s total, even though more people had voted in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary.

Salazar is no Trump-loving ideologue. As a journalist for 35 years, she has pushed back against the president’s characterization of the news media as the enemy of the people, and she is for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and against separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

And perhaps more significantly, Salazar has three qualities Shalala can’t match: She’s a Latina. She speaks Spanish. And she has deep roots in Miami, where she was born and has been in the living rooms of her Latino constituents as an anchor and reporter on Spanish-language television.

Shalala’s inability to speak Spanish has given Salazar the advantage of being able to speak to Latino constituents in the district in their own language. And while someone entering a race in March probably can’t be expected to be fluent in October, those constituents probably found it telling that Shalala has lived in a bilingual city for 17 years, and served as president of its namesake university, without bothering to enough Spanish to give a simple speech. (Even George W. Bush speaks enough Spanish to make do in a pinch.)

More inexplicable was the decision by Shalala’s campaign not to begin running Spanish language ads until mid-October, an egregious oversight in a district where Spanish is ubiquitous.

And then, the campaign invited Democratic U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee appear at an event with Shalala and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The same Barbara Lee who said, after Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died, “we need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.” The same Barbara Lee who wrote lobbied against placing sanctions on the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela, many of whose victims have sought refuge in Miami.

Shalala’s campaign managed to extricate themselves from Lee actually appearing, but the damage was already done. When Pelosi and Shalala arrived at a Miami restaurant for the October 18 event, they were greeted by protestors calling them “communists” and “witches” — and much worse that isn’t printable here.

After news broke of Lee’s aborted visit, Salazar and Shalala met in a Spanish-language debate, where Shalala had to rely on an interpreter for the particulars of a rather vigorous denunciation from her Republican rival — a scene that summed up all that has gone wrong for Democrats in the 27th District.

There is a curious echo here: A woman with an impeccable resume handed a Democratic nomination on the basis of her presumed invincibility, only to see it turn to ashes thanks to personal deficiency and questionable strategy.

After 2016, Democrats waxed wistful of the might-have-beens if Vice President Joe Biden or another big name Democrat had challenged Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2016. If Shalala loses, we will see the same wistfulness for a different outcome with Rodríguez, or even Richardson who, although not Latino, has won election twice to a majority-Latino Florida House seat.

Perhaps Shalala will squeak through in the end. If so, she’ll have some serious fences to mend, not to mention a new language to learn.

But if she loses, Miami Democrats will have created a new Republican political star who will be exceedingly difficult to dislodge.

Your candidate and her campaign matter. A lot.

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President Donald Trump stumps for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky

President calls  Barr’s opponent in 6th U.S. House District an “extreme liberal” chosen by “Democrat mob”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND, Kentucky (CFP) — President Donald Trump traveled to central Kentucky to excite his followers with a Make America Great Again rally in the commonwealth’s 6th U.S. House District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr is in a political dogfight with his Democratic challenger, political newcomer Amy McGrath.

At an October 13 rally at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Trump said re-electing Barr “could make the difference between unbelievable continued success and frankly failure where we fight for two more years with these people, with these obstructionists.”

He also blasted McGrath as an “extreme liberal” who was “chosen by Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters — that’s a real beauty — and the radical Democrat mob.”

“Amy supports a socialist takeover of your health care,” he said. “She supports open borders. She needs the tax hikes to cover the through-the-roof garbage that you want no part of.”

For his part, Barr lauded the president, calling him “a man of action.”

“Other people resist, but this president gets results,” he said. “Mr. President, I’m with you to fight for the American people.”

In addition to Barr, the Richmond rally drew all three of Kentucky’s top elected Republicans, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Governor Matt Bevin, who faces what is likely to be a touch battle for re-election in 2019.

In response to Trump’s characterizations of her, McGrath released a one-sentence statement to the media: “Mr. President, you clearly don’t know me. Yet.”

According to McGrath’s website, she supports reforms of the existing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, rather than its repeal, which Barr has voted for. She also supports the so-called “public option,” a government-run health insurance agency to provide an option for people who cannot get access through the ACA.

McGrath opposes Trump’s plan to build a physical wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, which Barr also supports, and has also criticized the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

A day before Trump came to Richmond, former Vice President Joe Biden came to the district to campaign with McGrath.

McGrath, 43, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs of Northern Kentucky, is a retired Marine fighter pilot making her first bid for the political office against Barr in the 6th District, which includes Lexington, Frankfort, Richmond and adjacent portions of the Kentucky Bluegrass.

Barr, 45, has represented the 6th District since 2012. Prior to being elected to Congress, he was an attorney in Lexington.

McGrath has raised more than $3 million for the campaign, more than any other Democratic challenger in the South in 2018.

The race is rated as a toss-up by political analysts, although public polling has been sparse.

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Phil Bredensen says he won’t support Chuck Schumer for Democratic leader if elected

Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat makes announcement during debate with Republican rival

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Former Governor Phil Bredesen has announced that if elected to Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, he will not support Chuck Schumer of New York to continue as his party’s Senate leader.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen, locked in a close race with Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, told the audience at a September 25 debate that he thinks Congress needs “new leadership.”

“I think a lot of the problem in Washington is with the leadership that we have there now. Whether it be (House Speaker Paul) Ryan or (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi or (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell or Schumer, they’re not doing the job,” Bredensen said.

Bredensen took specific issue with charges by Blackburn and other Republicans claiming that he would be a rubber stamp for the current Senate Democratic leader.

“You’ve heard a lot recently of this campaign about me, about these crazy ideas about if somehow I’m elected and go to Washington, suddenly I’m going to turn my back on a whole lifetime of thinking for myself and being independent and suddenly become some kind of a political lackey,” Bredesen said. “That’s not going to happen.”

But Blackburn continued to press the line of attack, saying Bredensen’s campaign had been “bought and paid for” by Schumer.

“We all know that Phil had a choice. He could have run as a Republican or independent,” she said. “He’s running as a Democrat, so he will be with Chuck Schumer if he were to go to Washington.”

Bredesen, a former two-term governor, is trying to become the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Volunteer State since 1990. The four most recent public polls have shown the race within the margin of error, indicating the closeness of the race.

The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

Bredesen’s stance on Schumer’s tenure is unlikely to threaten the New Yorker’s grip on the Democratic leadership, which requires support from a majority of the Democratic caucus in a non-public vote. Only one other Democratic Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, has come out against Schumer.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats in the Senate to take control, which would make Schumer majority leader. Four GOP-held seats being targeted include Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Watch the full Bredesen-Blackburn debate:

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