Hagerty rides Trump support to Senate GOP win in Tennessee

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty speaks at a polling place Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Brentwood, Tenn. Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi are competing to become the GOP nominee in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty rode the endorsement of President Donald Trump to victory Thursday in a contested Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

The Nashville businessman emerged from a tough challenge from trauma surgeon Manny Sethi to clinch his party’s nomination for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Hagerty will face the still undetermined winner of the Democratic primary in the November election.

Last July, Trump let Tennessee voters know he would back Hagerty for the seat, months before Hagerty declared himself a candidate. Sethi had already been running for about a month when Trump’s tweet turned the contest upside down.

Hagerty proceeded to ignore Sethi for most of the campaign, until back-and-forth attacks opened up a few weeks ago and never slowed down. Hagerty leveraged Trump’s endorsement to brush back attacks on his previous business and political ties to Mitt Romney, who was once the GOP presidential nominee and now, according to Hagerty, is a “weak-kneed” Republican senator who voted to convict Trump during the impeachment trial.

Hagerty had other big political names on his side beyond Trump. He had endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, while others backed him with campaign cash, including Sen. Alexander through his PAC and former Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom Hagerty served as state economic development commissioner.

Hagerty spent more than $9.6 million on the race through mid-July, compared to the $4.2 million spent by Sethi. Several million more dollars combined have been spent by outside groups on both sides.

The coronavirus pandemic took in-person campaign events off the table for a couple months, and the continued outbreak kept Trump from showing up for what initially seemed like a guaranteed visit on Hagerty’s behalf.