NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson raised $1.3 million to kick off a 2024 U.S. Senate bid fueled by a failed Republican attempt to expel her, but GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn more than doubled that haul and has millions more in the bank to defend her seat, the two campaigns said Wednesday.
The sparring teams announced the totals ahead of an Oct. 15 quarterly reporting deadline, offering an initial glimpse at how much cash has been funneled into the race. Johnson announced her campaign early last month after starting an exploratory committee in August, which allowed her to fundraise to support efforts like traveling and polling before becoming a candidate.
Johnson’s team said it received about 25,400 donations, at about $51 apiece, for an opening fundraising quarter unmatched by a Tennessee Democrat running for Senate in at least four decades. The cash followed the national attention-grabbing efforts in April to expel lawmakers who have since been dubbed the “ Tennessee Three, ” in which Johnson was spared and two Democratic colleagues were ousted for a gun control protest on the House floor.
Blackburn, meanwhile, built up her financial advantage in a state that has solely elected GOP candidates for nearly two decades. She entered October with more than $6.5 million cash in her campaign account after raising $2.7 million between that account and her Blackburn Tennessee Victory Fund last quarter, her campaign said. Blackburn’s campaign specifically highlighted some 77,700 donations placed online last quarter at an average of $20 each — about $1.5 million of the $2.7 million raised.
Blackburn first won the Tennessee Senate seat in 2018, defeating former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who campaigned as a moderate Democrat, by almost 11 percentage points. Johnson’s candidacy, should she advance to face Blackburn, will test how a more progressive Democrat with name recognition and funding fares in the state. In the 2018 race, the Bredesen and Blackburn campaigns alone spent more than $36 million, plus more from other groups.
Since Johnson’s entrance into the race, Blackburn has been firing off email fundraising requests, saying in one, “If I come up short of my goal and she (Johnson) posts a huge number, Liberal donors everywhere will smell blood in the water and send even more cash.” Blackburn has already endorsed former President Donald Trump in 2024.
“The conservative values and principles that define the Volunteer State are worth fighting for, and every donation helps us keep Tennessee red come next November,” Blackburn said Wednesday in a news release announcing her fundraising. “With your help, this is possible.”
Johnson has drawn national attention in the wake of the expulsion effort. She drew a visit with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office alongside fellow Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who were expelled but have since been reelected.
“We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support — we are building a true multi-generational, multi-racial coalition that puts everyday people and working families back in charge,” Johnson said in a news release announcing her totals.
In April, just days after a school shooting that killed six people, Johnson joined colleagues Pearson and Jones as they walked to the front of the state House floor with a bullhorn. The trio joined the chants and cries for gun control legislation by protesters in the public galleries and outside of the chamber.
Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled, while Johnson, who is white, was spared by one vote. Shortly after the expulsion vote, Johnson quickly noted that she avoided expulsion likely because she was white. Republicans denied that race was a factor. Instead, they said some members may have been persuaded that she wasn’t as disruptive as Jones or Pearson.
In the Democratic primary next August, Johnson will face off against community activist and organizer Marquita Bradshaw. Bradshaw won the Democratic Senate nomination in 2020, and she lost the general election to Republican Bill Hagerty by 27 percentage points.