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Gloria Johnson, One of the “Tennessee Three,” Announces US Senate Run

A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in Tennessee since 1990.

Tennessee Democrats Justin Jones (R) and Justin Pearson (L), as well as Tennessee Democrat Gloria Johnson (C), speak at the the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden discussing their efforts to ban assault weapons, on April 24, 2023.

A Tennessee state lawmaker — one of three who were targeted for punishment by Republicans in the state House of Representatives for leading a protest in favor of gun reform — has announced that she is running for the U.S. Senate seat that is up for election next year.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D) made the announcement by sharing a campaign video on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. The beginning of the ad features audio of news reports of mass shootings.

Johnson then asks, “When will enough be enough? When will we elect leaders with the courage to stand up for us instead of a bunch of bullies and cowards who only do what their party says?”

Johnson notes in the ad that she and “her friends” — a reference to Reps. Justin Jones (D) and Justin Pearson (D) — fought for gun legislation in the state legislature earlier this year following a mass shooting that killed three people, including six children, at Covenant School in Nashville. The three led a protest on the floor of the state House of Representatives, which resulted in them being subjected to an expulsion vote by the Republican-led chamber.

Johnson was the only member of the trio who wasn’t expelled, which she attributed to the fact that she is white and Jones and Pearson are Black. (“I think it’s pretty clear. I’m a 60-year-old white woman and they are two young Black men,” Johnson said in April.)

Johnson has continued to press for gun reform alongside Jones and Pearson, who have since been reinstated and reelected to their positions.

Beyond the issue of gun violence, Johnson’s announcement discussed her support for making health care more affordable, as well as her desire to protect reproductive rights. In the video, Johnson said that Tennessee deserves a leader “with the courage to stand up to extremists and billionaires that have taken over our system.”

“That person ain’t Marsha Blackburn,” Johnson went on, referencing the incumbent Republican U.S. senator whom Johnson will likely face off against in the 2024 general election if she wins the Democratic primary.

Johnson has a difficult road ahead of her, as Tennessee is considered a “red” state and generally supports Republicans in statewide races. Indeed, former President Donald Trump — whom Blackburn is an ardent supporter of — won the state in the 2020 race against President Joe Biden by more than 23 points. Blackburn herself won the state by almost 11 points in her 2018 senatorial election.

A win by Johnson would be historical — the last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate election in Tennessee was former Vice President Al Gore in 1990.

Although Johnson faces difficult odds, polling indicates that most Tennesseeans support the views she’s campaigning on. A Vanderbilt University poll published in May found that 82 percent of residents in the state said they approve of measures to strengthen background checks, for example, while 75 percent said they support “red flag” laws to prevent certain people from buying guns. Fifty percent said they approve of banning assault weapons, while 42 percent said they were opposed to such a policy.

That same poll found that most in the state are opposed to Tennessee’s current abortion ban, which forbids the procedure at all stages of pregnancy. The language of the ban is ambiguous regarding exceptions, including in cases when the life of a pregnant person is at risk.

The poll also suggests that a majority of Tennessee voters support abortion at some stages of pregnancy. While a majority said they are fine with a 15-week abortion ban, 59 percent of respondents said that access to abortion medication should be kept in place.

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