Can Marquita Bradshaw Beat the Odds?

6 mins read
Marquita Bradshaw
Tennessee Senatorial candidate Marquita Bradshaw

On Nov. 30, 2019, Marquita Bradshaw held a small press conference to announce her primary campaign to become the Democratic nominee for the open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee. Almost nine months later, on Aug. 6, Bradshaw won the nomination and began running to be Tennessee’s next senator.

The win shocked the Tennessee political landscape — the Associated Press described it as “an astonishing upset victory over the Democratic establishment’s choice.” Other candidates had raised millions of dollars for their campaign, while Marquita Bradshaw had only raised less than $25,000 and employed a completely volunteer staff. 

Based on the money gap, Bradshaw’s win seems like a surprise but a closer look reveals that she is the perfect candidate for this moment and the people of Tennessee. 

Bradshaw is the first Black woman to ever win a statewide primary in Tennessee, but she is more than just a token candidate. She is an active environmentalist and the Environmental Justice Chair of the Sierra Club’s Tennessee chapter. Bradshaw’s platform based on environmental racism helped her win a tough primary, and it may help her win in the statewide election. 

Environmental Racism Is Personal

Bradshaw was born in Memphis, Tennessee, a city where the majority of the residents are Black. She grew up near an Army depot that also served as a military landfill, and the depot released harmful toxins into the soil, air and water. Bradshaw’s parents formed a concerned citizen committee to address the issue, and Bradshaw and her sisters joined the fight. “There are over 1,100 Superfund sites … across Tennessee,” she stated in an interview. “How do 220 of those end up in one city, like Memphis? So that’s what environmental racism looks like.”

Unfortunately, the situation in Bradshaw’s neighborhood is not unique. While the media generally examines racism through instances of police brutality, Black people in the U.S. are more likely to experience and suffer from the detrimental effects of pollution due to weakened government regulation. For a long time, the environmental movement mainly focused on protecting our physical environment — pristine forests and rivers — while overlooking the protection of average working people from hazardous materials. Activists who concentrate on environmental racism fill this gap in their attention to how environmental pollutants and hazards disproportionately affect people of color. 

The Environment Under Attack 

Right now, climate change dominates the headlines. President Donald Trump continues to claim that massive forest fires on the West Coast are caused by bad forest management and denies the science of climate change. Pollution has also been rampant under Trump. He has been relentless in ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back environmental regulations.

Currently the Trump administration doesn’t even recognize the existence of environmental racism. The EPA recently cancelled events to discuss how pollution disprortionately affects the Black community and even claimed such discussions were “un-American.” 

Environmentalism is poised to be a major issue in the upcoming election, and Bradshaw is the perfect candidate to address it. 

A Tough Road Ahead

Even though Bradshaw is the ideal candidate for this moment, the voters of Tennessee are going to be tough to win over. Tennessee is a deep red state. Of the nine congressional representatives from Tennessee, only two are Democrats and both current senators are Republican. 

The last Democratic senator to be elected from Tennessee was Al Gore in 1990. In fact, during the senate race in 2018, the Repulican candidate won with 55% of the vote. Even in the 2008 election, which saw President Barack Obama’s historic victory and 60 Democrats in the Senate, Tennessee’s Republican Senate candidate still won with 65% of the vote.

Racing Against the Clock

Bradshaw was able to win the primary with few resources, and now that she has the nomination, more resources are flowing to her campaign team. 

She has a winning message and the charisma to match, so talking to as many people as possible is the key to victory. She has pledged to visit all 95 counties in Tennessee throughout this campaign. According to Bradshaw, her real opponent is not the Republican running against her, but apathy. Tennessee has some of the lowest voter turnout in the U.S. In 2014, just under 30 percent of eligible voters went to the polls and Tennessee ranked 48th in terms of turnout. 

But Bradshaw is planning to inject a ray of hope into Tennessee. She told reporters, “Tennessee is a people power state, and it’s neither Republican or Democrat, We have a lot of apathy and people who have lost faith in the process…Viability looks different when hardworking people pull together and put forth a platform that represents the issues and the truth of what people are experiencing in the state of Tennessee.”

Photo credit: Walker Kinsler / CC BY-SA (

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