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Mackler announces Dem bid for Tennessee’s open Senate seat

January 8, 2019
James Mackler poses for a portrait Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. Mackler, a Democratic Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot, is the first candidate to announce a 2020 bid for the seat Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will leave after his term. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Democratic Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler said Tuesday that he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2020, marking the first candidate to announce a bid for the seat Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will leave after his term.

In an announcement video, the 46-year-old says he’s not a politician and President Donald Trump is making life harder across Tennessee, citing health care, the tax law and the trade war.

In the video, Mackler says it’s “his duty” to tell the truth about Trump, even though “politicians say you can’t criticize Donald Trump in Tennessee.”

“Donald Trump only cares about himself, not us,” Mackler says in the video. “If you want somebody with the courage to stand up for what’s right and stand up to Donald Trump when he’s wrong, please join me.”

In April 2017, Mackler announced a 2018 Senate run before former Republican Sen. Bob Corker decided not to seek re-election that September. After raising about $981,000, Mackler dropped out of the race shortly after Democratic ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen announced his bid in December 2017.

Mackler endorsed Bredesen, who was viewed as the best Democratic statewide candidate in years but still lost to new Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn by more than 10 percentage points. Mackler’s tough tone on Trump also comes in a state the president visited multiple times to help lift Blackburn to victory last year. d

Republicans have held both Tennessee Senate seats since 1994.

Mackler said he definitely disagreed with Bredesen’s decision to express support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. But, overall, Mackler said he’s the right person to build on the progress Bredesen made.

“The brand that’s broken for underserved communities throughout Tennessee is that brand of politician,” Mackler told The Associated Press. “I’m not a politician.”

The biggest question mark in the race is whether Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will run to replace Alexander, because Haslam leaves office this month, is extremely popular and has plenty of wealth to self-fund a campaign if needed. Names of other Democrats being floated for the opening include state Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

Mackler said elected officials need to be willing to call Trump out when he’s wrong and support him when he’s right, citing the president’s support for recent criminal justice reform legislation. He criticized Trump on a variety of fronts.

“The president is creating chaos in every arena, just about,” Mackler said. “The economy, international relations really rely on stability. We have problems when we have this kind of chaos and I look at national defense, for example. We’re at a point where our allies can’t rely on us to be a stable ally.”

Mackler said he wants to strengthen the role of public schools, focus on infrastructure, and strengthen and fix the Affordable Care Act. He said Alexander’s attempt to stabilize health insurance markets under the health law was a “good start” through a bipartisan approach.

Mackler suspended his legal career in response to the 9/11 attacks, joining the Army in 2001. He spent three years as a Black Hawk pilot in the 101st Airborne Division and was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

He later transferred to the Judge Advocate General Corps, where he was an Army prosecutor focused primarily on sexual assault and harassment cases. Mackler left active duty in 2011 but continues to serve in the Tennessee Air National Guard.

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