Bill Hagerty in Memphis in 2012
The trial balloon sent up last week by 8th District Congressman David Kustoff, along with several others expected to have been launched by would-be Republican U.S. Senate candidates would appear to be grounded by word from President Donald Trump favoring Bill Hagerty, current U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
Trump’s support for Hagerty as a 2020 candidate for the Tennessee Senate seat being vacated by Lamar Alexander was announced in a presidential tweet on Friday that said: "Tennessee loving Bill Hagerty, who was my Tennessee (Victory) Chair and is now the very outstanding Ambassador to Japan, will be running for the U.S. Senate. He is strong on crime, borders & our 2nd A. Loves our Military & our Vets. Has my Complete & Total Endorsement!."
Trump’s tweet came the day after an announcement of non-candidacy from former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who had been understood to have first dibs on a race for Alexander's seat. After Haslam said that such a race was “not my calling,” Kustoff teased a candidacy of his own, saying,” I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run and I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."
Meanwhile, such other GOP Senatorial prospects as 7th District Congressman Mark Green and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett made statements taking themselves out of contention for the race.
Inasmuch as Trump’s tweeted endorsement preceded any statement by Hagerty himself, it amounted to an unusual presidential edict, and it would seem to have, temporarily at least, foreclosed any other candidate activity from state Republicans, though Manny Sethi, a Nashville physician, had already announced his Senate candidacy in early June.
As Green made a point of noting, Hagerty has good ties with both the traditional Republican establishment and its Trump wing. A private equity investor, he served as an economic advisor and White House Fellow under President George H. W. Bush and was national finance chairman for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. From 2011 to 2014, Hagerty served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under Governor Haslam.
Lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler of Nashville remains the only serious and declared Democratic candidate for the Alexander seat.