NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is very upset with her colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for an ad Paul cut for an outside group backing the candidate against President Donald Trump’s pick in her state’s U.S. Senate race.
In an interview with Breitbart News last week, Blackburn said she is upset with Paul over the ad in which Paul says, “Tennessee is too conservative a state to keep sending Democrats in Republican clothing” to Washington. She said the ad from Paul is backfiring on his choice of a candidate, Dr. Manny Sethi, and instead actually helping Blackburn’s and President Trump’s pick, former U.S. ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty.
“I will tell you it may be an ad that ends up helping Bill Hagerty because what Rand did was he ended up saying he doesn’t think Tennesseans can pick candidates,” Blackburn said. “He kind of insulted every Republican voter in the state. I don’t know if he meant to do it or thought it was funny or what. What he did was say they continue to send Democrats dressed like Republicans to Washington.”
The Senate primary in Tennessee has been particularly heated, with the Trump-backed Hagerty facing a hard challenge from Sethi—who has won support from Paul as well as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Paul and Cruz have both campaigned with Sethi, who has portrayed himself as “the true conservative” in the race, but a Breitbart News investigation last week uncovered that Sethi’s entire senior campaign team are Never Trump political consultants, and now more is coming out about how Sethi backed things like Obamacare, gun control, and Democrat candidates, while Hagerty has always had the president’s endorsement. As the race intensified last week, Blackburn made the bold and risky move of endorsing in a primary in her home state—drawn in because she said does not trust Sethi.
If anything, while Sethi would like to frame the race as him versus the establishment—“Manny versus the machine” is a frequent catchphrase he and his allies push—the race is much more similar to the battle between Trump and Cruz for the GOP nomination for president in 2016. That fight, like this one, was more a battle between old guard conservatives behind Cruz or Sethi versus insurgent anti-establishment populist nationalists behind Trump or Hagerty. Hagerty, who has made his time as Trump’s ambassador to Japan and his experience in standing up to the Chinese Communist Party central to his campaign theme, also has the backing of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who campaigned here in Tennessee with him last week along with Blackburn.
But this saga, including how the ad wars in this internecine intra-GOP fight are carrying beyond the borders of Tennessee, is particularly interesting. While it is unclear if Paul intended to call out Blackburn specifically, she feels, because she—as hardcore a conservative as any other senator—was the most recently-elected statewide Republican, that Paul’s attack was an attack on her – not just against Hagerty. She even said she considers Paul’s ad a “broadsided slap” against her.
“So, to insult the voters and then to insult me—I have heard from a lot of people about this ad, and they felt like it was just a broadsided slap at me, that he would say that I am a Democrat dressed in Republican clothing,” Blackburn said in her interview with Breitbart News. “I just can’t imagine saying that about one of my colleagues, and especially I can’t imagine saying it about one of my colleagues who is more conservative with me. So, I guess what he was saying in his ad is he wants somebody who is going to come be a part of Rand Paul’s team and support Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate. When I go to work every day, I say, ‘We have a great president of the United States who has a great agenda’ and ‘how am I going to do the best for Tennesseans and help this president be successful for everybody in this country.’ I think that’s the way people should express themselves. That is the job that individuals should do when they go to the U.S. Senate. Count me up to be on team Trump and on team Republican conference and especially on team Tennessee. Don’t count me to be there to be on team Rand Paul because he thinks everybody in Tennessee doesn’t know how to pick a U.S. Senate candidate.”