Tennessee Republicans Pick Bill Hagerty for Lamar Alexander’s Senate Seat

August 9, 2020by Chris Cioffi, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 1, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump pumping up supporters ahead of Thursday’s primary, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty fended off a late surge by orthopedic surgeon Manny Sethi to win the Republican nomination to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Trump, who first endorsed Hagerty last year, reminded voters in a July 31 tweet of his “Complete and Total Endorsement!” and called Hagerty an “outstanding man and one of the best Ambassadors ever (Japan).”

Trump also did a phone call for Hagerty supporters Wednesday in which he praised the candidate’s work as ambassador and his commitment to conservative values.

“Go out and vote for Bill Hagerty,” Trump said toward the end of the call. “He’s going to do an exceptional job.”

Hagerty was leading Sethi 52% to 38% Thursday when The Associated Press called the race at 8:09 p.m. Central time.

About 10 minutes after the race was called, Trump walked over to reporters on the tarmac where he had just landed in New Jersey to relay the news. “Hagerty won the race in Tennessee. They just announced,” the president said, according to a White House pool report.

The Tennessee Senate primary drew millions of dollars, high-profile endorsements and, in recent weeks, attack ads.

Hagerty was backed by the state’s junior senator, Republican Marsha Blackburn, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Sethi picked up support from GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.

The open race attracted 15 candidates, but polls in early July showed Hagerty and Sethi at the top of the heap.

Hagerty raised $12.3 million (including $6.5 million in personal loans) and spent $9.7 million through July 15. Sethi raised $4.6 million, including $1.9 million in personal loans, and had spent $4.2 million through mid-July.

A third candidate, former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, self-funded his campaign to the tune of $4.9 million. He was at 3% when the race was called.

The primary also saw another $4.2 million spent by outside groups, with $1.7 million going to support Hagerty and $2.5 million on Sethi’s behalf.

The Democratic primary had not been called at press time. But with 43% of precincts tallied, Iraq veteran James Mackler, who had been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was trailing in third place, with environmental activist Marquita Bradshaw in the lead.

Hagerty will be the solid favorite in November in a state Trump carried by 26 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race “solid Republican.”

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©2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Tennessee Republicans Pick Bill Hagerty for Lamar Alexander’s Senate Seat
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