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Polls keep showing a Democrat leading in the 2018 Tennessee Senate race

Marsha Blackburn and Phil Bredesen are polling neck and neck in deep-red Tennessee.

Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen are set up for a tight Tennessee Senate race.
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Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

The polling evidence is piling up: The 2018 Tennessee Senate race to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker looks like it’s going to be a genuinely competitive campaign with a real opportunity for Democrats to win.

Democrats have a top-notch recruit in former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who won reelection in the state with 69 percent of the vote 12 years ago. On the Republican side, the favored candidate is Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has President Trump’s key endorsement and a relatively clear path to the nomination.

The surveys paint a tight race: The Washington Examiner reported on Wednesday that new polling showed Bredesen leading Blackburn by 3 points, 46 percent to 43 percent, in a two-way race. This is in Tennessee, a state that Trump won with 61 percent of the vote in 2016.

That poll isn’t necessarily an outlier either. A survey from late last month found Bredesen with a 10-point lead over Blackburn. Based on the polling we do have, RealClearPolitics has Bredesen with a 5-point advantage in the aggregate.

There is plenty of reason to be skeptical. Bredesen could be coasting on strong name recognition and rose-tinted memories of his time as governor, advantages that might erode as Blackburn hits the campaign trail and the Democrat faces concentrated attacks from the GOP. As of January, 50 percent of Tennessee voters approved of Trump, and the president is all in on the Blackburn candidacy.

But the Cook Political Report rates the Tennessee Senate race as a toss-up — just like these poll numbers.