Tennessee Democrats need a win. Some of them think their best shot to take the U.S. Senate seat Bob Corker’s giving up next year would be to draft former Governor Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide election.
They’ve been mortally embarrassed by their last two statewide candidates – a goofball named Charlie Brown, who carried the Democrats’ banner against Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014 and said he’d like to put the incumbent in the electric chair, and anti-gay activist Mark Clayton, who won the Democratic nomination to run against Corker in 2012. These candidates caused the state party to be ridiculed across America and doubtless benefited from favorable positioning on alphabetized ballots and the inattention of the state party.
In early 2017, Democrats were showing little interest in trying to unseat Corker, who was up for re-election in 2018. On April 17, James Mackler quit his job with a big Nashville law firm, announced his candidacy, hit the ground running and is campaigning on a platform of providing economic opportunity, bipartisan healthcare reform, effective K-12 education and affordable college.
For some establishment Democrats, the picture changed when Corker, who is feuding with President Donald Trump, said he’s had enough, opening the door for Trump supporter Marsha Blackburn, whose gerrymandered Seventh Congressional District cuts a bright red wide swath through suburban and rural Middle Tennessee counties.
But not for Mackler, who says it doesn’t matter who his opponent is. He’s showing some fundraising prowess, raising $750,000 by Oct. 1, and is calling for Blackburn to drop out of the race in the wake of an explosive 60 Minutes/Washington Post report of legislation she co-sponsored that hobbles drug enforcement investigators seeking to crack down on opioid distribution.
April 17 wasn’t the first time Mackler gave up a good job to take on public service. Inspired by the example of his grandfather, a World War II veteran who had a 40-year career as a New York City cop, Mackler shut down his law practice after the 9-11 attacks and enlisted in the United States Army, even though he was over 30 and had to seek an age waiver. He became a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for five years, then joined the Judge Advocate General Corps because he wanted to prosecute sex abusers. He’s still a member of the Tennessee National Guard and is a member of the Federal Public Defender panel in Nashville.
Mackler, who is Jewish, decided to reconnect with his faith when he returned to Nashville in 2006. That’s where he met his wife, Shana, who is a rabbi. They have two daughters who are 7 and 6 years old. He says they’re the reason he’s soldiering on.
Bredesen is accomplished and smart. He is 74. Mackler is accomplished and smart. He is 45 and boundlessly energetic.
Earth to Tennessee Democrats: Bernie Sanders wasn’t popular because he’s old. He was popular because of his ideas. And he didn’t win the Tennessee Democratic primary anyhow.