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Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, takes a photo with a crowd of supporters at her Sept. 5, 2023 announcement for U.S. Senate. // John Partipilo

Tennessee Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson announces US Senate bid


By Holly McCall, Tennessee Lookout

Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson confirmed rumors that have swirled most of 2023, announcing she will run for the U.S. Senate in front of a hometown crowd outside Knoxville Central High School.

“We don’t have leadership that respects the dignity of every human being,” said Johnson.

Johnson joins Marquita Bradshaw, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020, in the Democratic primary for the opportunity to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who is running for her second term.

Johnson made clear her sights are set on Blackburn.

“Right now we have a U.S. senator — Marsha Blackburn — fighting against lowering prescription drug prices and insulin. She’s taken almost $2 million from insurance companies and big pharma,” said Johnson.

“It’s an uphill battle but (Blackburn’s) last race was about 10 points — we can get that 10 points,” she added. “A lot has changed since 2018.”

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, photographed on Sept. 5, 2023 leaving Knoxville Central High School. // John Partipilo

A retired special education teacher, Johnson taught at Central High School and referenced the 2008 day a school shooter killed one student.

After the March 27 shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds, Johnson joined Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones on the floor of the House of Representatives to join youth protestors advocating for gun safety laws. The Republican-led House made a move to expel the three; Johnson evaded expulsion by one vote. Jones and Pearson were expelled but were reappointed to their seats a week later.

Pearson and Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, will serve as campaign co-chairs.

Johnson was first elected to the House in 2012, beating incumbent Republican Eddie Smith, who in turn narrowly defeated Johnson in 2014 and 2016. In 2018, Johnson beat Smith and was re-elected in 2020 and 2022.

Blackburn, who defeated former Gov. Phil Bredesen to capture the U.S. Senate, responded by labeling Johnson a leftist.

“It’s no surprise that radical socialist Gloria Johnson decided to jump into the race at the urging of liberals in Washington,” Blackburn said in a statement moments after Johnson’s announcement, calling Johnson “as woke as they come.”

Johnson is also making announcements at noon in Nashville, at the Woman Suffrage Monument in Centennial Park and at 6:30 p.m. at Memphis’s I Am a Man Plaza.

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

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