GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn could make history by becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in Tennessee.
She is running against Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor who says he always has been very interested in seeing women get ahead.
But, he adds, that doesn't mean Blackburn deserves to automatically win their closely-watched contest to fill the seat left open by outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
"Any woman ought to have exactly the same opportunity as any man to put their ideas to work for the campaign, and certainly my opponent is doing that," Bredesen said after addressing a packed room of mostly female supporters on Saturday in the Memphis suburb of Germantown.
"I think I'm the better choice for this job," he said.
Bredesen's camp this week announced the launch of the "Women United for Bredesen" group. The campaign-within-a-campaign aims to highlight issues important to women, such has health care costs for their families. Bredesen has held discussions and lunches with women in several counties to discuss access to health care, the opioid epidemic, and high costs of prescription drugs and insurance premiums, his campaign said.
On Saturday, Bredesen brought the effort to secure the female vote to Shelby County, the state's largest by population. More than 100 people packed a meeting room in a strip mall to listen to him speak and meet him.
After his remarks, Bredesen told reporters that his accomplishments as governor from 2003 to 2011 included issues that women care about, such as his support of Tennessee's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program and expansion of CoverTN, the state's health insurance program for small businesses, individuals and the self-employed.
"What I mainly want people to remember is just that I treated everyone with the respect I think they deserve, and I never set aside or pushed aside any group in the state," Bredesen said.
As for Blackburn, she wants voters to recall that she has broken barriers for women since, at age 19, she was one of the first women to sell educational books door-to-door for the Southwestern Company. In 2002, she became the first woman elected to Congress in Tennessee who had not followed her husband into the position.
Most recently, Blackburn co-sponsored legislation to make it easier for law enforcement to take action against websites that facilitate sex trafficking, such as Backpage.com. And, she co-sponsored legislation to require Congress members who used a confidential fund to pay off victims of sexual harassment to reimburse the government.
"She will be the first woman in Tennessee elected to statewide office," Blackburn campaign spokeswoman Abbi Sigler said in a statement. "She will continue to fight for Tennessee women and families."
Voters will go to the polls in November to decide a race that Democrats hope to swing to their side, and Republicans want to protect. Turnout from women could influence the results of the race.
For Bredesen supporter and retiree Dina Tong, however, the fact that Blackburn is a woman carries zero sway in the ballot box.
"I don't think it will be historic to have the first female senator in Tennessee," Tong said. "Maybe it's because it could be Marsha Blackburn."