Democratic state Representative Gloria Johnson, a member of the Tennessee Three, announced Tuesday that she will run to unseat Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn in 2024.
Johnson, alongside Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, gained national attention in March when she joined thousands of pro–gun control protesters in the state Capitol in the wake of a school shooting in Nashville. Republicans accused all three lawmakers of violating House decorum rules and voted to expel Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black. The GOP fell one vote short of expelling Johnson, who is white.
Johnson used that same sense of activism when she launched her Senate campaign Tuesday near Knoxville’s Central High School, where she worked for years as a special education teacher and survived another school shooting in 2008. Johnson referred to the recent Tennessee legislature’s special session, which ended abruptly last week with no resolutions on gun control.
“I’m tired of Tennessee families being betrayed by those that represent them, over and over and over,” she said.
Several hundred people attended the launch event. Johnson will make stops in Nashville, which Jones represents, and Memphis (Pearson’s district) throughout the rest of the day. Pearson is also co-chairing the campaign.
In addition to gun control, Johnson has made abortion rights a central part of her campaign. Supporting abortion rights has proved massively beneficial to other Democratic campaigns, even in traditionally Republican strongholds.
“Republicans and Marsha Blackburn specifically … have taken away equality for women,” Johnson said at her launch event. “When you take someone’s bodily autonomy away, you have taken away equality.”
It won’t be an easy fight. Tennessee hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1995, and the last Democrat who won a statewide race was Governor Phil Bredesen, who was in office from 2003 to 2011. Blackburn beat Bredesen for her Senate seat in 2018 by nearly 11 percent.
But Johnson is confident she can mobilize enough grassroots support. She pointed to how the political landscape has changed dramatically, particularly with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and said that people who have historically voted Republican are telling her they plan to support her instead.
“I have never seen people so excited in my life as they are right now for 2024 to happen,” Johnson told Knox News.