Memphis’ Marquita Bradshaw wins Tennessee’s Democratic US Senate primary

A political novice, Marquita Bradshaw pulled out the victory on Thursday to secure the Democratic nomination for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate, paving the way for her to take on the winner of a bitter Republican primary battle. 

The Memphis Democrat faced four challengers: Robin Kimbrough, James Mackler, Gary Davis and Mark Pickrell. As of 10:30 p.m., Bradshaw led the race with 36% of the vote. Kimbrough had 26% and Mackler had 23%.

See detailed results: A county-by-county look at the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.

“The progressive movement is undeniable,” Bradshaw tweeted to her followers. “Thank you all so much for your support and this victory. It’s time to put hardworking people first.”

The Associated Press called the race for Bradshaw at 8:53 p.m.

She now faces Republican Bill Hagerty, who won the GOP nomination, in the Nov. 3 general election. In a GOP-dominated state, she will be the underdog.  

ELECTION RESULTS: 2020 Tennessee Primary Election Results

Still, Bradshaw beat out a better-known challenger. Previously, Mackler ran briefly in 2018 for former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s seat until former Gov. Phil Bredesen joined the race. He bowed out and endorsed Bredesen. This time around, Mackler received Bredesen’s endorsement and has already been running a campaign aimed at the two leading Republican candidates.

Bradshaw’s mother, and a network of people in the environmental justice movement, prepared her for the run and inspired her to do it, she said.

“We have been campaigning since September,” Bradshaw said. “We called everyone and they called everyone they knew. It’s organizing and building a network of people working together.” 

Bradshaw is an organizer for and involved with local and statewide efforts of the environmental group Sierra Club. Through those efforts she has focused much of her attention on environmental justice, and how, she said, people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental policy. It’s something she would focus on in the Senate.

“We started this campaign by listening to voters and taking in empirical data in order to shape policy,” she said. “We included them in that process and we got feedback. Moving forward, we can do this together.”

Since she announced her campaign, Bradshaw raised $8,420, according to her most recent Federal Election Commission filing. Comparatively, Mackler raised $2.1 million to run in the race. In that time, he has spent $1.5 million. 

Bradshaw acknowledged that fundraising deficit in a news conference outside her Memphis home Thursday evening, where she stood flanked by volunteers and family.

“Let me tell you what we did with less than $25,000 … we beat out $1 million. So just imagine (what we can do) with a $3 million budget, utilizing organizing principles to bring people back into this process, so they can have faith that they will have true representation in Washington DC,” Bradshaw said.

“This is a network that has reached across Tennessee. Now it’s time to move forward to flip this U.S. Senate seat. And we can do it by working together, by staying true to the principles … by listening to voters.”

Bradshaw, when asked about the prospect of running against Hagerty in deep-red Tennessee, said: “I don’t have an opponent. We have issues to solve. And that’s the reason why we’re leading in the state right now. And that’s how we’re gonna flip this U.S. Senate seat.”

Tyler Whetstone contributed to this article. 

Emily West is a reporter with The Tennessean. Reach her on Twitter at @emwest22 or email her at erwest@tennessean.com.

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