NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat who shot to national fame after surviving a Republican-led expulsion effort for participating in a pro-gun control demonstration, on Tuesday formally announced that she’s running for U.S. Senate.
Johnson, 61, is running for a seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, 71, who is seeking reelection in a state that has solely elected GOP statewide candidates for nearly two decades.
“Gloria has dedicated her life to fighting for justice and standing tall for Tennesseans who have been left out, left behind, or left without a voice,” a press release announcing her Senate bid stated.
In April, just days after a school shooting that killed 6 people, Johnson joined fellow Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones as they walked to the front of the state House floor with a bullhorn. The trio joined the chants and cries for gun control legislation by protesters in the public galleries and outside of the chamber.
The violation of House protocols quickly sparked outrage among Republican lawmakers, who demanded they be expelled for violating House rules — a punishment that had only been used a handful of times since Reconstruction.
The showdown between the Democratic lawmakers and the Republican supermajority attracted national attention as many pointed to the situation as the latest front in the battle for the future of American democracy, while also amplifying the political profiles of the group that was quickly dubbed the “Tennessee Three.”
Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled, while Johnson, who is white, was spared by one vote. Shortly after the expulsion vote, Johnson quickly noted that likely she avoided expulsion because she was white. Republicans denied that race was a factor. Instead, they said some members may been persuaded that she wasn’t disruptive as Jones or Pearson. Both men have since been reelected to their positions.
Blackburn first won the Tennessee Senate seat in 2018, defeating Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen by almost 11 percentage points.
Blackburn was the first female Senator elected by Tennessee voters. The race also marked a noticeable rightward shift in the state’s political landscape in a state previously known for electing centrist politicians.
Blackburn launched her senate campaign by touting that she was a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative” and aligned herself closely to former President Donald Trump. She is currently endorsing Trump in the 2024 presidential race.
In the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, Johnson will face off against community activist and organizer Marquita Bradshaw. Bradshaw won the Democratic Senate nomination in 2020, and lost the general election to Republican Bill Hagerty by 27 percentage points.
“It’s no surprise that radical socialist Gloria Johnson decided to jump into the race at the urging of liberals in Washington, joining Marquita Bradshaw and others in the race for the Democratic nomination,” said Blackburn’s campaign spokesperson, Abigail Sigler. “State Rep. Johnson is as woke as they come, and she would be a puppet for Joe Biden, the Squad, and Chuck Schumer in the Senate.”
Blackburn later released a campaign video criticizing Johnson, saying that the Democrat was a “threat to our way of life” in Tennessee.