Oof: Marsha Blackburn trails Democrat by 10 in Tennessee Senate race

God, if you’re there and willing to listen to an atheist’s prayer, please, please let dopey liberals continue to flush money on no-chancer Beto O’Rourke in Texas instead of giving it to Phil Bredesen in Tennessee.

Second look at Liddle Bob Corker? If Tennessee’s destined to have a senator who spends most of his time grousing about Trump, better it be a guy who’ll vote with Trump anyway than a Democrat who won’t.

The poll, released Thursday, found 45 percent of 600 registered Tennessee voters said they would choose Bredesen, a Democrat and former Nashville mayor, if the election were immediately held.

[Marsha] Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican, netted 35 percent, with another 17 percent of respondents saying they were not sure…

Forty-five percent of self-described independents said they would vote for Bredesen while only 33 percent of such voters said they would vote for Blackburn, the poll found.

Twenty percent of Republican respondents said they would vote for Bredesen while 5 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Blackburn.

I feel about this race the way I felt about the Virginia/UMBC March Madness game: No matter what the score is at a given moment, the team heavily favored to win will remain heavily favored to win until the buzzer sounds. (The heavily favored team in that game did not, in fact, win.) This is at least the third poll this year to show Bredesen leading Blackburn, though. The story excerpted above notes that a Democratic internal poll had him up five points last month; a different internal poll had him ahead by two in February despite a sample that was overweighted with Republicans.

The risk here is straightforward. Bredesen is the opposite of the sort of no-name liberal that Ted Cruz is facing in Beto O’Rourke. He’s a two-term governor and thus universally known among Tennesseans. He won his second term by nearly 40 points in 2006, no mean feat for a Democrat in a red state. And because Blackburn moved early towards the populist pro-Trump right in order to outmaneuver the centrist Bob Corker, just in case he decided to run for reelection again, Bredesen now has the center to himself. That may explain why he’s doing surprisingly well among Republicans in these polls. He’s running as a Blue Dog Democrat:

As an example of the kind of senator he would like to be, he cites a Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Bredesen says he would probably have voted against the recent tax cut, primarily because it added to the deficit. On guns, he has called for tighter background checks since the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., but not a ban on the kind of assault-style weapon the suspect used.

He doesn’t need to spend months introducing himself to voters and he’s not going to beat himself by embracing progressive shibboleths. He’d be a tough challenge even in a neutral political climate. With a climate favoring Democrats, as most everyone expects this fall, he’s a serious problem. Blackburn still probably (maybe?) wins but the GOP’s going to need spend money in Tennessee, something it rarely has to do and really doesn’t want to do when it’s facing a national wave elsewhere and potentially having to defend *two* seats in two different states (Arizona and Mississippi). But there’s no choice. If Democrats net two seats this fall, the Senate flips. That’s unlikely given how many red-state seats the party needs to protect but a surprise pick-up in Tennessee could be the difference.

What about Trump, though? Isn’t he super-popular in deep red Tennessee and ready to hit the stump for Blackburn? Sort of, but “super-popular” is overstating it. Today’s poll has him at 50/41 there, much better than his national job approval but significantly down from his 61/35 margin of victory over Hillary in 2016. To put that in perspective, Trump reportedly had a 52/47 job approval in Alabama a few weeks before Democrat Doug Jones nudged past Roy Moore. Mild presidential popularity is no bar to an upset. And although Blackburn is a better candidate than Moore, Bredesen is also a better candidate than Jones.

Besides, he knows how to finesse the Trump issue. Here’s one of his more recent ads addressing the subject. Same playbook as Conor Lamb used to win his House seat in Pennsylvania: Stay neutral on POTUS so as not to alienate voters on either side and insist that you’ll work with him if it would benefit your constituents to do so.