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Knoxville News Sentinel: Democrat James Mackler hopes to ‘cancel out’ Blackburn in 2020 Senate race

Knoxville News Sentinel: Democrat James Mackler hopes to ‘cancel out’ Blackburn in 2020 Senate race

By Tyler Whetstone

Knoxville News Sentinel

July 17, 2020

For James Mackler, having Sen. Marsha Blackburn in the Senate for the past two years has been a blessing of sorts.

The leading Tennessee Democratic candidate to replace the retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander sees Blackburn’s arrival as a near-daily reminder of what he is not, and he hopes voters will see the same thing this fall, first in the Aug. 6 primary and then – if he wins the party’s nomination – as he squares off against likely Republicans Bill Hagerty or Manny Sethi.

“It’s been exhausting to hear the things Marsha Blackburn has been saying on Fox News every single day claiming to represent Tennessee,” Mackler said earlier this week on a Zoom call from his home office in Nashville. “And I’m running against someone who’s promising to be her clone, who says everything is great, that we need four more years of the same, who’s going to be a rubber stamp for an agenda that hurts Tennessee families.”

An attorney and Iraq War veteran, Mackler, 48, was the first Democrat out of the gate three years ago before then-Sen. Bob Corker announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. He later bowed out once Corker declined to run and the former governor and fundraiser extraordinaire, Phil Bredesen, decided to run.

To many, Bredesen represented Democrats’ best shot at gaining a Senate seat two years ago. Instead, Blackburn ran away with the race, defeating Bredesen by 11 percentage points.

Attitudes are different now, though, an emboldened Mackler said. Two years has changed a lot in that regard, though many of the concrete problems that plague the state are the same, including access to health care and the opioid epidemic.

“At this moment, in so many ways, Washington is failing Tennessee,” he said. “We lead the nation in closed rural hospitals per person, opioids continue to ravage our communities (and) there’s no national solution, the trade war hurt our economy more than any other state and you add in COVID-19 and you can see a perfect storm across Tennessee. People want change.”

People also miss the “moderate problem solvers” the state typically sends to the Senate – senators like Howard Baker and Corker and Alexander. Blackburn is an outlier here, he said.

“The best way we can cancel out Marsha Blackburn’s self-serving, extremist agenda is for me to be in the U.S. Senate. … Tennesseans want a senator who’s going to step up, who’s going to support the president when they’re right, but stand up to them when they’re wrong,” he said.

He has picked up endorsements along the way, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – the campaign arm for U.S. Senate Democrats – and Bredesen.