Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, told a group of pastors last month he hoped President Donald Trump would tell Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the GOP’s Senate candidate in the Volunteer State, to jump off a local bridge.
Cohen was appearing at a community prayer breakfast at a Memphis church hosted by former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s campaign for Senate.
“The big orange president .... He’s going to come down here and he is going to endorse Marsha Blackburn, because Marsha Blackburn, if he says, ‘Jump off the Harahan Bridge,’ she’ll jump off the Harahan Bridge,” he said in the audio obtained by HuffPost, referring to a bridge over the Mississippi River connecting Arkansas and Tennessee. “I wish he’d say that.”
The remark was met with laughter.
Bredesen and Blackburn are in a tight race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker. The Nov. 6 election could help determine control of the U.S. Senate. Bredesen’s reputation as a moderate and his high name recognition from his two terms as governor have boosted the Democrat in a heavily Republican state where Trump took 61 percent of the vote two years ago.
The Blackburn campaign has worked to portray Bredesen ― the former CEO of a chain of for-profit hospitals and the former business-oriented mayor of Nashville ― as a liberal lackey of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who would consistently oppose the president.
Bredesen has promised to take a checks-and-balances approach to Trump, working with him on some issues and opposing him on others, while Blackburn has wholeheartedly embraced the president. Her second television ad, released earlier this week, focuses exclusively on Trump’s decision to endorse her.
“I am going to be there to stand with President Donald Trump and take your Tennesee values to Washington, D.C.,” Blackburn says in the 30-second ad.
The Bredesen campaign, in response to Cohen’s remarks, pointed to the Bredesen’s remarks at the same breakfast, which avoided criticizing the president or Blackburn.
“I really don’t want [this election] to be about my opponent and who’s best and who’s worst or who’s made most mistakes, or things like that,” Bredesen said, according to the audio provided by his campaign. “I really want this election to be about ideas, and I want you to ask everyone to vote for the person who they think got the best ideas about how to create opportunity in Tennessee, and create opportunity in the United States of America.”
In a phone interview Thursday night, Cohen made it clear he didn’t wish Blackburn physical harm.
“It was obviously humor,” he said, adding: “I wish her no harm. I hope she doesn’t get the Senate. And I wish she wasn’t a lackey for Trump. But I don’t wish her physical harm.”
After his crack about Blackburn, Cohen went on to praise Tennessee’s history of “great senators, independent senators,” citing the late Fred Thompson’s role in the Watergate hearings, former Vice President Al Gore and two Republicans who served as Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker and Bill Frist. He said Blackburn would be a break from that tradition.
“We need another senator we can be proud of, who will vote the issues, who will vote his mind … and that’s Phil Bredesen,” he said. “It’s not Marsha Blackburn. You don’t need a lackey, a lackey for a corrupt, lying president.”
The prayer breakfast was held on the last day of early voting ahead of Tennessee’s Aug. 2 primary and local elections. The major goal of the event was to increase Democratic turnout for local elections in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. The party went on to sweep the elections there, flipping the most high-profile countywide offices from Republican to Democrat.
This article has been updated with later comment from Cohen making it clear he meant his comment as humor and did not wish anyone harm.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the Memphis church, and the name has been removed.