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Live coverage: Blackburn, Bredesen clash in Tennessee Senate debate

Live coverage: Blackburn, Bredesen clash in Tennessee Senate debate

Former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift makes push for early voting in midterms Poll: GOP's Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November MORE (R-Tenn.) are set to square off Wednesday night in the final debate of their Senate race.

The debate comes as the candidates find themselves locked in a competitive race to replace retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Poll: GOP's Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race MORE (R-Tenn.).  

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Blackburn appears to have taken the lead in the race, according to recent polls. But Democrats are still optimistic about their chances of flipping the deep-red state.

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted earlier this month gave Blackburn, a staunch ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE, an 8-point lead over Bredesen. 

The candidates last faced off in a debate on Sept. 25. The debate on Wednesday is set to begin at 8 p.m. EST. 

Keep up with The Hill's live coverage here.

Debate ends, but not entirely on a civil note

Updated at 9 p.m.

For the final question, the moderator asked both candidates if they believe Tennessee will be in good hands if their opponent wins in November.

Blackburn, with a laugh, said, "I think it’d be in better hands with me."

She followed up a bit later to say that she wants a senator who will take "Tennessee values to Washington, D.C."

But Bredesen answered that everyone must accept the results of an election.

"I think a part of what we have to do is accept outcomes of elections, so yes," he said.

He reiterated his call to end party tribalism and unite. 

"When it’s over, it needs to be over," Bredesen said. "If it turns out my opponent wins the election … I think it’s important for all Tennesseans to gather around and support her so she can be the best senator she can be."

Blackburn blames Democrats for partisan divisions

Updated at 8:51 p.m.

Blackburn defended her record of bipartisanship by accusing Bredesen of allying himself too closely with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate GOP pollster says polls didn't pick up on movement in week before 2016 election MORE and blamed Democrats for inflammatory rhetoric against Republicans.

"We know Phil wanted Hillary to be president," Blackburn said. "Yesterday she said you can’t be civil with a party that opposes your ideas."

"This is the kind of rhetoric that is not helpful. It is important to keep campaigns focused on issues."

Bredesen said he wanted Congress to overcome partisan divisions by working together on a solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily shielded certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Trump rescinded that program last fall.

Corker gets an “A” from potential successors

Updated at 8:45 p.m.

Both Blackburn and Corker graded outgoing Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whom they’re vying to succeed, an “A” for his time in the Senate.

Blackburn said she’s working with Corker on the issue of combating sex and human trafficking.

When asked by the moderator about Corker’s lukewarm endorsement, Blackburn repeated that she liked working with him. Corker has said he won’t campaign against Bredesen since the two previously worked together.

“I have enjoyed working with Sen. Corker,” Blackburn said, adding that she’s running to “make sure I keep Sen. Corker’s desk on this side of the aisle.”

Bredesen recalled the time that he worked alongside Corker when the Democrat was governor. Corker worked with Bredesen in bringing a Volkswagen plant to Tennessee.

“The senator is obviously of a different party,” Bredesen said. “What I admire...he’s someone who does his homework, always went back and sat down and tried to figure out answers to things.”

Bredesen blasts Trump's immigration policy, Blackburn defends it

Updated at 8:40 p.m.

Bredesen blasted the Trump administration's controversial "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant families at the southern border, saying it would be remembered as an "inappropriate" period in American history. 

"I think it amounted to child abuse," Bredesen said. "I think it was a stain on our country’s reputation."Blackburn insisted that lawmakers needed to fund President Trump's long-touted border wall, saying that "walls work."

She also defended the zero-tolerance policy, arguing that it stymied the flow of drugs across the border.

"Tennesseans want to see that wall build, because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state," she said.

Candidates clash on guns

Updated at 8:31 p.m.

Bredesen said he supports a citizen's right to own a gun, but said he supports "reasonable restrictions" to be put in place particularly when it comes to mental health.

The former governor also said he supports enhanced background checks and  that bump stocks "ought to be banned."

"I don't think it's a partisan issue," Bredesen said.

Blackburn repeatedly hit Bredesen for going to a fundraiser in New York with former New York City Mayor and gun control activist Michael Bloomberg.

"We can protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens in public places," Blackburn said.

Blackburn accuses Bredesen of backing "government-run health care"

Updated at 8:25 p.m. 

Blackburn hit on Bredesen for his support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), accusing him of supporting government-run health care. Blackburn proposed instead opening up insurance markets across state lines and insisted the private sector was capable of expanding health care access.

"Phil said that Washington Democrats knew how to solve health care and I think the private sector knows how to solve access to health care," Blackburn said.

Bredesen acknowledged that he did not initially support the ACA, but said that he felt obligated to back it after it became "the law of the land."
 
He said that any health care law would need to ensure protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions and said that lawmakers needed to reexamine how to pay for the cost of the ACA. 

Blackburn hits Bredesen on gov. tenure

Updated at 8:23 p.m.

In a follow-up question surrounding Kavanaugh and the sexual assault allegations, Blackburn took aim at Bredesen's time as governor by bringing up an Associated Press investigation that found there was a significant uptick in sexual and workplace harassment in state government in 2005.

According to The Tennessean, state investigators' notes were shredded in at least two cases surrounding political appointees.

Blackburn slammed Bredesen over this report, saying, "The voices of those women were shredded, they died in that shredder."

Bredesen pushed back, arguing that Blackburn is "flat wrong." 

"The individuals who performed these acts were gone the next day from the governor's office," Bredesen said. "The women who been assaulted had all the resources possible. What you’re saying is just flat wrong."

Candidates spar over Kavanaugh confirmation

Updated at 8:13 p.m.

Bredesen defended his decision to back Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughProtesters confront Cruz at airport over Kavanaugh vote Trump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE's confirmation to the Supreme Court, despite sexual assault allegations against the then-nominee, saying he did not think the accusations should have disqualified the judge.

"I watched it very closely and I just came to the conclusion that all things being equal I did not think those allegations rose to the level of disqualification from the Supreme Court," Bredesen said.

Blackburn fired back, suggesting that Bredesen backed Kavanaugh because of sexual misconduct allegations in his administration during his tenure as governor.

She said that she believes "something" happened to the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, but said that it was not related to the judge. 

"I’m certain something happened to Dr. Ford at some point in her life," she said.