When Lamar Alexander, a genteel Tennessean who has served as United States Senator since 2003, retires at the end of this year, he will not be succeeded by another moderate Republican. The choices for Tennessee voters this November are Bill Hagerty, a Donald Trump loyalist who has divorced himself from any previous stance resembling moderate, and Marquita Bradshaw, a working class Democrat with a very progressive platform.
Hagerty, who has spent most of his career as a financial consultant, most recently served two years as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan. Like his fellow Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville, he has flouted COVID-19 guidelines while campaigning, much to the chagrin of local officials. He insists that recovery from the nation’s current economic crisis will come from deregulation, but it’s worth noting that our last economic collapse was largely due to an underregulated economy. He supports expanding American dependence on fossil fuels. And he is a vocal supporter of continuing construction of the ineffective Mexico-United States barrier, which costs American taxpayers nearly twenty million dollars per mile. Hagerty makes no qualms about who he is: a millionaire who believes that what is best for corporations and for Donald Trump is necessarily what is best for the people of Tennessee.
Marquita Bradshaw, Tennessee’s first ever Black female nominee for the United States Senate, offers a stark contrast to Hagerty. A Memphis native, Bradshaw juggles her campaign with a full-time job providing care for a special needs adult. She clearly sees herself as someone who understands the realities for working class Tennesseans, as someone who has experienced student loan debt, inadequate health insurance, and foreclosure: “I’ve been both one job away from middle class and one job loss away from poverty.” That’s why she supports raising the federal minimum wage, which has remained stagnant for more than a decade. (Since then, costs of housing, education, and food have all seen considerable increases.) Bradshaw is also an advocate for universal background checks for firearm purchases, and funding for universal pre-K education (something that presidential candidate Joe Biden has indicated will be on his agenda if he is elected). Above all, though, Bradshaw is focused on combating climate change, primarily through a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Bradshaw has demonstrated a clear-eyed understanding of what Hagerty fundamentally misses: investing in renewable energy is about more than just environmental justice (although that is critical). It’s also about creating jobs for people of all education levels. Despite deregulation under President Trump, fossil fuel industries like coal mining are dying due to lack of international demand, and the jobs are slowly disappearing. Bradshaw knows that a heavy investment in renewable energy can revitalize the economy both for Tennessee and for the country as a whole.
Still, Bradshaw is the longest of longshots to win the race, thanks to a dramatic difference in funding: Bradshaw’s campaign spending is in the low thousands, while Hagerty’s is in the low millions. A win for Marquita Bradshaw is a major win for the New South, but she will need a record turnout to pull it off.