NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Black activist Marquita Bradshaw will face off in November to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander after their respective victories in primary elections on Thursday.
Hagerty defeated Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi in the Republican primary, while Bradshaw scored an upset win over former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler in the Democratic primary, despite being far outraised by Mackler, who was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and others. Bradshaw will have an uphill battle: Republicans have held both Senate seats in Tennessee since 1994.
Hagerty, a Nashville businessman, emerged from a tough challenge from Sethi to clinch his party’s nomination. Last July, President Donald 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.
Bradshaw is a single mother who grew up in south Memphis and attended the University of Memphis. She has worked with community advocacy groups, environmental organizations and unions, including the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and Tennesseans for Fair Taxation. She has not held public office.
Bradshaw supports the Green New Deal, expanding Medicare, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and universal background checks for guns, according to her website.
Bradshaw raised only about $8,400 and spent around $5,800 through March, the last time she reported any campaign finance activity, records show.
Mackler raised $2.1 million through mid-July, more than 250 times as much as Bradshaw.
Associated Press reporter Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.