Strong campaign fundraising, Trump’s endorsement and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s backing led many in Tennessee to conclude that Hagerty would easily win the Republican nomination.
But 42-year-old orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi has proven to be a tough competitor and has gained some high-profile endorsements from conservative Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
The winner likely will face Democrat James Mackler, a lawyer and Army veteran. Four other Democrats are also vying for their party’s nomination.
In recent elections, Democrats have found success in fielding moderate candidates with military backgrounds. But in Tennessee, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, Mackler would have an uphill battle.
Hagerty has touted his fealty to Trump with campaign promises focused on stopping illegal immigration, building a southern border wall and confirming “constitutionalist” judges.
As Sethi’s campaign revved up, Hagerty has gone on the attack, branding the Indian-American as too liberal for Tennessee, labeling him “Massachusetts Manny” for his years as a medical student and hospital intern in that state.
Sethi, who is trying to follow in the footsteps of Tennessee surgeon and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, introduces himself on his campaign website as a Christian and proclaiming, “I’m pro-life and I’m pro-gun.”
A campaign contribution from moderate Republican Senator Mitt Romney to Hagerty gave Sethi an opening for questioning his opponent’s conservative credentials.
Whoever wins Thursday’s contest, one thing is clear: Barring a Democratic tidal wave in November that sweeps through Tennessee, the Senate is likely to have a far more conservative senator from that state following Alexander’s retirement. (Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)