Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen announced Friday that he would support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court, a key choice in a tight Tennessee race that he says became a “much closer call” after the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school came forward.
The decision caps weeks of questions about whether the former governor, who has been running on a message of political independence, would back President Donald Trump’s high court pick, despite Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations and the divide over how they should affect Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Bredesen’s announcement Friday came just moments before Senate votes were tallied on a favorable motion to bring Kavanaugh’s nomination to a final vote Saturday.
The statement of support for Kavanaugh is the latest move by Bredesen to attract independent and moderate Republican votes and insulate himself from criticisms by Republicans who say he’ll align with Democrats in Washington.
But the decision could contain pitfalls since he still needs enthusiasm at the polls from Democrats and hopes to maintain his current polling edge among women over his opponent, Republican U.S. Marsha Blackburn.
Bredesen said Friday that Ford is a “heroine” who “has brought forcefully into the national conversation the many barriers women face in reporting and dealing with sexual harassment and assault.” He said he was “disgusted” by how the Senate treated her and is “determined to help bring about a fairer and far more respectful treatment of these issues.”
He also said presidents have the right to appoint justices who share their values and elections have consequences. He added that a senator’s responsibility should be to focus on the qualifications of the nominee, their ethics and their temperament.
“I believed that Judge Kavanaugh initially met this test, and I was prepared to say ‘yes’ to his nomination prior to Dr. Ford’s coming forward,” Bredesen said in the statement. “While the subsequent events make it a much closer call, and I am missing key pieces of information that a sitting Senator has, I’m still a ‘yes.'”
Bredesen is ensnared in a tough contest with Blackburn, a Trump-aligned conservative Republican who has chided Bredesen for holding out until now on saying how he would vote. Blackburn quickly came out in support of Kavanaugh when he was nominated and has not wavered.
“His campaign is bought and paid for by (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and national Democrats, including (former New York Mayor) Michael Bloomberg,” Blackburn said in a statement Friday, referring to an upcoming Bloomberg fundraiser for Bredesen. “He put off an answer on Judge Kavanaugh for 88 days, under Chuck Schumer’s direction to stay neutral as long as you can.”
At a debate last month, Bredesen said he would not vote for Schumer for majority leader if he’s elected. The Tennessee contest is key for Democrats, who are hoping to overturn a 51-49 Republican Senate majority.
Hours after Bredesen announced his decision Friday, the progressive group MoveOn tweeted that it will cancel a planned six-figure video ad buy for him because of his Kavanaugh stance.
A major Democratic-aiding super PAC, Priorities USA Action, hasn’t been spending to help Bredesen in Tennessee, “and any option to is now off the table,” group spokesman Josh Schwerin said.
He will still have the help of the main outside group boosting him with millions in spending, Schumer-aligned Majority Forward.
“Phil Bredesen is the only candidate who has an independent record of results for Tennessee families,” Majority Forward spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said Friday.
Local faith leaders and others gathered outside the Nashville offices of GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker on Friday to urge them to reconsider their support for Kavanaugh. Asked afterward, some demonstrators were exasperated with Bredesen’s backing of Kavanaugh.
Nettie Kraft, a small business owner, actor and sexual assault survivor from Nashville, said Bredesen is catering to rural populations in the state by supporting Kavanaugh, and the ends don’t justify the means. But she still plans to vote for Bredesen, citing how Trump won in 2016 when some voters shied from Hillary Clinton.
“I’m ashamed of Bredesen,” Kraft said. “And I’m ashamed that I’m going to have to swallow my pride and I’m still going to have to vote for him because I guess he’s at least better than Blackburn.”