KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The battle to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker in Tennessee has seen a surge in outside groups trying to influence the hotly contested election. And voters are sick of it.
"I hate that they ran everything so negative" said one voter, Brent Larson.
"Vicious," said another, Barbara Tallent. "One of the ugliest ones in my lifetime."
In a ride-along Saturday with Americans for Prosperity, an outside group funded primarily by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and one of the organizations spending millions in the state, CNBC spoke with almost a dozen voters in Knoxville, the third most populated city in Tennessee.
Every voter who spoke on the record said they normally vote for Republican candidates. That should be a good sign for GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, one of the candidates vying to replace Corker. But rival Phil Bredesen, a Democratic former governor, has been making inroads with Republicans.
The Koch network as a whole has endorsed Blackburn in the race. Yet the Americans for Prosperity efforts Saturday were focused not on directly pushing the GOP candidate, but more on people who have been inconsistent in turning out to vote. In 2016, the state was ranked 48th among the 50 states that year in voter turnout, according to the nonpartisan data website FairVote.org.
Meanwhile, the group's affiliated super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action, has been pushing some of the same ads that voters appear to despise. The committee has spent $2.1 million in support of Blackburn and $433,000 against Bredesen, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.