Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

How The Issue Of Immigration Could Impact Tennessee's U.S. Senate Race


One day and counting - all over the country today, candidates and their supporters are making their closing arguments to voters.


BETO O'ROURKE: Houston, how are you doing?


O'ROURKE: Good to be with you. Thank you for being here.


RICK SCOTT: We need more workers in D.C. We need less talkers in D.C.


CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I mean, I guarantee you this. I've stepped foot in a hell of a lot more counties in Missouri than Josh Hawley has.


CHANG: Those are Senate candidates Democrat Beto O'Rourke in Texas, Republican Rick Scott in Florida and Democrat Claire McCaskill trying to keep her seat in Missouri.


We will hear from many parts of the country this election eve. And we begin in Tennessee with its tight Senate race - Republican Marsha Blackburn versus Democrat Phil Bredesen. Well, Scott Golden chairs the state Republican Party. We caught up with him in Knoxville. Golden has spent today driving across the state to turn out the vote.

SCOTT GOLDEN: It's somewhat of a tradition in Tennessee that everybody goes from upper east Tennessee all the way down to Memphis by the evening. So some parts of it are flying, some parts of it are driving, but everybody's making their way across the beautiful state of Tennessee.

KELLY: OK, so you're coffeed (ph) up. You're on the road, and you're making this traditional trek. Let me ask you how you're feeling as you hit the road today. This - the Senate race in Tennessee is a toss-up. This is a seat, as you well know, that has been held by Republicans for 25 years. How confident are you that tomorrow you'll be able to add another six years to that tally?

GOLDEN: I feel very good about the prospects of that. We - you know, we had - President Trump and Vice President Pence were both in Chattanooga last night. The energy in the building was incredible. And so - and as we do the stops across the state, the crowds are getting bigger and bigger. We're very optimistic about what's happening tomorrow. And we look forward to celebrating with our candidates.

KELLY: You mentioned President Trump's stop in Chattanooga, where he once again put the focus on immigration. This has been his big closing argument, his focus on immigration and the border. Is that an issue, in your view, that will turn voters out in Tennessee tomorrow?

GOLDEN: Well, I think he - I mean, he talked about all kinds of things last night, one of which being the economy and the great jobs numbers as well. But immigration was certainly a part of it. And, you know, this is - you know, I've had this question before in the past when people asked about, well, Tennessee isn't a border state; why is it such a big issue? But, you know, we are a major - Tennessee is a very long state, as we all are experiencing today. It's over 500 miles long. But it is the major corridor for commerce and, unfortunately, drugs and crime moving from the southwestern border to the New England corridor. So it does hit home.

KELLY: The president has picked a very specific focus, though, on the so-called caravan, a few thousand people that is still a thousand miles from the U.S. border. And I wonder how you respond to the voices of those who say, this is about the politics of fear; this is about scaring voters, about an emergency when there in fact is no emergency.

GOLDEN: Well, I don't know. I mean, ultimately the media's chosen to cover it, so it's certainly become an issue of the day. There is a lot of uncertainty about who is in the caravan.

KELLY: You're referring to the president's comments about Middle Easterners being in the caravan. Is that what you're talking about there?

GOLDEN: Well, I'm talking about drug dealers or people that are smuggling or potential child molesters that are using these people to get into the United States.

KELLY: What are you referring to, and what evidence is there that anybody who fits that description is moving toward the border?

GOLDEN: Well, I think that certainly - I don't know that anybody's denying that human trafficking is - I don't think that's your position, that you're denying that human trafficking takes place or that drugs are coming from the southwestern border, moving across Tennessee up to the New England corridor. I mean, that is happening. And we don't know what's in the caravan. That's the concern, quite frankly, from the voters, is, what is the unknown?

KELLY: Whoever wins tomorrow, this has been a bitter midterm election season nationally and a very closely fought race there where you are in Tennessee. What is going to be your message going forward?

GOLDEN: Well, I mean, look; I think that's up to the country to kind of deliver that. And we expect that Marsha Blackburn will be the first woman elected in the history of the state of Tennessee, which is a gigantic milestone. And then - and she will also be a conservative that is fighting to make sure that the Republican conservative Trump agenda is - moves in the right direction in Washington.

KELLY: Scott Golden, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, thanks very much for your time today.

GOLDEN: Thank you - appreciate it.

KELLY: And elsewhere on the program, we will hear from a Democratic Party chair, John Zody of Indiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.