Tennessee may be the next-best opportunity for Democrats, but that’s not saying much. Even with Bredesen in the race, Tennessee is inhospitable territory for Democrats. The state gave Trump nearly the same share of the vote as ruby-red Alabama (61 percent). It refused to vote for home-state senator Al Gore in 2000, it was home to the only contested Senate race that didn’t flip to Democrats in 2006, and it has become even more Republican since Barack Obama’s election. Most importantly, Republicans are likely to avoid nominating a fringe candidate, with experienced officeholders like Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher vying for the nomination.
Bredesen is more likely to face the fate that bedeviled other high-profile, red-state Democrats in recent years. Democrats cheered—and many pundits overreacted—when moderate former Sen. Evan Bayh decided to run for his old seat in Indiana last year. He lost by a double-digit margin despite beginning the race with sky-high favorable ratings. An otherwise strong year for Democrats didn’t come close to pushing the well-known former Nebraska senator, Bob Kerrey, to victory in his 2012 comeback attempt. (He lost by 16 points.) Bredesen hasn’t been on a ballot in over 11 years, a lifetime in politics.