‘Tennessee Three’ lawmaker who GOP tried to silence launches bid to unseat Republican senator

A Tennessee state representative who became nationally prominent after she and two other Democrats locked horns with Republicans in the legislature over gun violence and firearms restrictions is running for US Senate.

Gloria Johnson launched her campaign on Tuesday, with hundreds in attendance, at a high school where she used to teach special education, and which has been touched by the gun violence which has become a central issue for her and her two colleagues, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, in the so-called “Tennessee Three”.

Her story became a national talking point earlier this year when Mr Jones and Mr Pearson were both expelled for their support of a protest within the halls of the state capitol against gun violence and demanding lawmakers act to restrict the widespread availability of firearms. Ms Johnson, the only white member of the bunch, was spared expulsion by the Republican majority — a decision that drew allegations of racism.

The episode became an exercise in humiliation for Republicans in the legislature, who watched their expelled colleagues promptly retured to office by their respective communitites and ushered back into their seats with a hero’s welcome by the left. Their stars grew on the national stage, prompting donations as well as an invitation to the White House which took place in April.

On Tuesday, Ms Johnson vowed to fight against special interests as she lauched her bid to unseat Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who has represented the state in the upper chamber since 2019. Ms Blackburn is one of the Senate’s loudest culture warriors, and frequently accuses her rivals on the left of malicious agendas while maintaining a partisan conservative voting record. She has famously bragged about carrying a firearm in her purse, making the matchup between Ms Johnson and the senator all the more likely to be focused on the issue of Second Amendment rights and gun violence.

“Hardworking Tennessee families need someone who will fight for them and not just the billionaires and corporations and the wealthy and the well-connected,” Ms Johnson said on Tuesday during a campaign stop.

Her battle to unseat Ms Blackburn will be waged entirely uphill. Should Ms Johnson win the Democratic primary, the incumbent senator will still have a cash advantage, to say nothing of Tennessee’s typical status as a Republican stronghold. The state has not voted to send a Democrat to the US Senate since the 1990s, and the state’s governor has been Republican since 2011. As a result, Ms Johnson’s campaign will, from the start, be battling allegations of drawing resources from races that pundits and elections analysts view as more winnable for Democrats as Joe Biden seeks a second term and hopes to hold or expand his party’s control of the Senate.

Ms Blackburn’s campaign issued a canned statement painting her presumed opponent as a far-left radical and naming a laundry list of GOP boogeymen on Tuesday as Ms Johnson toured the state.

“It’s no surprise that radical socialist Gloria Johnson decided to jump into the race at the urging of liberals in Washington,” said campaign spokesperson Abigail Sigler. “State Rep. Johnson is as woke as they come, and she would be a puppet for Joe Biden, the Squad, and Chuck Schumer in the Senate.”