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Marsha Blackburn wins Tennessee's US Senate race: 4 takeaways on her historic victory

Republican Marsha Blackburn defeated former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in a closely watched race for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night.

Blackburn, a conservative Williamson County congressman, will succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, as the state's next junior senator. She becomes the first woman elected to the seat. 

Here are four takeaways from Blackburn's historic win. 

For much of Tennessee's U.S. Senate race — throughout the summer and into the fall — Bredesen led most of the polls. 

Then in late September, there was a seismic shift in the race, and everything came together all at once for Blackburn.

There was a barrage of ads targeting Bredesen after the Blackburn campaign and a long list of outside groups had held off from airing ads before the primary. It was the "death by 10,000 cuts" that Blackburn strategist Ward Baker famously previewed in the summer.

But more damaging for Bredesen — and advantageous for Blackburn — was the nationalization of the race on divisive wedge issues. 

For months, Bredesen was able to localize the campaign and remind voters of the centrist brand that made him a popular two-term governor. 

But then came the contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which galvanized Republicans. Later, Blackburn followed Trump's lead by campaigning on stopping the caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico and toward the United States. 

Blackburn seized control and Bredesen quickly faded. 

Heading into the election, Democrats thought they could capitalize on a revolt against President Donald Trump. But a backlash never happened, and in the final weeks, Trump's approval ratings actually soared in Tennessee to 56 percent in some polls as these issues took center stage. 

Trump made his third visit to Tennessee to back Blackburn on Sunday, just two days before the election. 

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