Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty made his first appearance at a Tennessee political event in the Nashville suburb of Franklin on Friday.
Hagerty joined an all-star cast of Republican political notables, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), at Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson’s (R-Franklin) annual Boots and Jeans, BBQ and Beans event at a retail center known as The Factory in the Williamson County community.
President Trump made news last month when he tweeted his endorsement of Hagerty for the Tennessee U.S. Senate seat being vacated in the 2020 election by retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on July 12:
Tennessee loving Bill Hagerty, who was my Tennessee Victoy 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2019
Hagerty, who has not yet announced his candidacy for that U.S. Senate seat, was still serving as U.S. Ambassador to Japan when Trump tweeted his endorsement. A former commissioner of economic and community development under former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Hagerty is a Nashville native and Vanderbilt Law School graduate who became a wealthy investment banker. He subsequently served on the finance committees for both Mitt Romney in 2012 and Trump in 2016.
The now-former ambassador tweeted his farewell to Japan on July 21, and is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee some time later this month.
Farewell Japan, and thank you for the incredible hospitality you have shown me and my family. These past two years have been the greatest of our lives. またお会いしましょう ! ✨ https://t.co/j53xf4zODO
— ジョセフ・M・ヤング 駐日米国臨時代理大使 (@USAmbJapan) July 22, 2019
Though President Trump’s endorsement is expected to carry great weight among Tennessee’s Republican primary voters, who consistently have given the president an 89 percent approval rating throughout his time in office, Hagerty is not without opposition for the Republican nomination.
Dr. Manny Sethi, a Vanderbilt University emergency room physician, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in June. During the quarter ending on June 30, Sethi raised $1.5 million, according to reports filed by the campaign with the Federal Election Commission. The majority of those funds, $ 1 million, came in the form of a personal loan from Sethi to his campaign.
Sethi has been campaigning energetically across the state since his announcement.
Last month Dr. Josh Gapp, a pathologist from Knoxville, also announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
Neither Sethi nor Gapp is well known. Hagerty’s name recognition, though slightly higher than either of the announced candidates, is not high statewide. However, Hagerty has the personal wealth and fundraising ability needed to mount a campaign in excess of $10 million and is expected to launch an ad campaign to introduce himself to voters shortly after he announces.
In a state that Donald Trump won by 26 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, the winner of the Republican nomination is expected to be the heavy favorite in the November 2020 general election.
The Republican primary will be held on August 6, 2020.