Bill Hagerty’s meet-and-greet was already packed as soon as the doors opened.
Inside Old Town Hall Café, dozens of Republicans were being introduced to, and having photos taken with, the former ambassador to Japan who hopes to succeed Lamar Alexander.
“He’s going to be the next senator from the State of Tennessee,” local attorney Jeff Ward said confidently.
Hagerty officially launched his campaign in September and, by the end of 2019, had reportedly raised more than $3 million.
He wants Tipton Countians to know he’d represent them well because he’s a Christian, a conservative and he’s a businessperson. Additionally, like the president prior to his 2016 election, Hagerty wants you to know he is not a politician.
“I’m a fourth generation Tennessean … never run for office in my life, I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “I’ve served before, I just left serving in the administration in an appointed position, but this is the first time I’ve ever run for anything.”
Who is Bill Hagerty?
In December 2019, a Vanderbilt study reported 41 percent of Tennesseans recognized Bill Hagerty by name.
The son of a veteran-turned-farmer and a teacher, Hagerty attended public schools in Sumner County, earned his B.A. and his Juris Doctorate at Vanderbilt and went on to work for a consulting firm prior to becoming an economic advisor and White House fellow under George H.W. Bush.
From 2011-14, he was the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, when Bridgestone and Nissan came to Tennessee.
He has also worked on Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and was set to serve as a delegate for Jeb Bush in 2016 before Bush dropped out. Hagerty then went on to serve as Trump Victory Chair for Tennessee before succeeding Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to Japan.
“Like the president, I bring in an outsider’s perspective to everything I do. I think the other thing people would want to know is I’m the only person that the president has endorsed from his administration to be in any race in 2020. I’m going to be on the ballot with him in 2020. He reminds me of this every time I talk to him … ‘You remember, you’re the only person I’ve endorsed like this …’”
Hagerty said the reason he’s backed by Trump is because he was loyal to him.
“He knows I’ve stood with him, I’ve been there when time were tough, I volunteered for six months in the 2016 campaign, I went in and helped with the transition, again, full-time doing that, and then the last position I had was serving as his representative, our ambassador, to one of our most strategic allies in the world.”
Serving as ambassador
Hagerty was appointed ambassador in 2017 and served in that capacity until last June, when he resigned in order to run for office.
“The job in Japan really opened a lot of interesting opportunities for our nation and I was so privileged to serve there,” he said.
He said Japan is located in “a very bad neighborhood” – because of its proximity North Korea, China and Russia – and it was his job to let the Japanese know the United States would stand firm in its support of them.
Hagerty said he also worked on a trade deal that will be very important to West Tennessee.
“That trade deal means that 90 percent of the agricultural commodities that we sell from the United States to Japan go in with either zero tariff or the most preferential tariff available. Japan is the third largest market in the world, after the United States and China, so our farmers are really gonna benefit from that. We’re really pushing hard for the American farmer because our farmers are suffering a ton under the retaliatory tariffs to China after the president decided to stand up for them.”
Legacies and the issues
Though he’s hoping to succeed Alexander, another Vanderbilt alum who’s held the U.S. Senate seat since 2003, Hagerty isn’t interested in holding up anyone’s legacy.
“I’m coming in to get things done,” he said. “My goal is to make things happen for the people of Tennessee.”
Sitting at a small table in the crowded café, where it’s difficult to hear the person next to you speaking, he stays focused on his message.
First and foremost, Hagerty is a Trump loyalist. Before any other issues are discussed in his print or digital literature, even in interviews, he makes sure that much is known.
And that loyalty to Trump means he sides with the president when it comes to immigration, economic policies and, yes, even the Democrats.
Hagerty said he wants to stand up to those whom he calls “radical liberals” in Washington because he believes they “seek to derail our American First agenda.”
On his website he said, “When I saw the threat to Tennessee and our country from the Democrats’ socialist agenda, I felt called to act. We must stand up to Democrats’ liberal socialist agenda that would deeply damage the America we know and love.”
Hagerty vows to stop illegal immigration to “keep Americans safe,” he said. He supports the banning of sanctuary cities, deportation of undocumented immigrants, securing of the Southern border through the construction of a wall and giving immigration agents the resources they need.
Hagerty said he also wants to support the confirmation of constitutionalist judges, cut bureaucratic regulations for economic growth, stand up for Israel, stand against Sharia Law and China, defend the Second Amendment, oppose the use of taxpayer funding for abortion and abortion providers, protect the constitution, balance the federal budget and cut taxes.
He wants to be clear that he understands the existential threat China poses, he said, and, should he be elected, will be the only freshman member of Congress who has previously worked with the Trump administration.
“I know how to effectively work with the president to get things done and I think that will differentiate me versus anybody coming in the freshman class.”
Though nearly two dozen people have pulled petitions, Hagerty, orthopedic trauma surgeon Manny Sethi (R- Nashville) and attorney and military veteran James Mackler (D-Nashville) are considered the frontrunners.
Hagerty and Sethi will face off in the state primary on Aug. 6.
“My aim over the rest of this year is to spend time from one end of the state to the other. We’ve been out for four or five months already and I’ve learned a great deal. In fact, I was talking to the president about this; I told him if I had no competition in the general election or primary I’d still be doing exactly what I’m doing because I need to be talking to and understanding the people of Tennessee and the issues. That will make me far more effective if I’m lucky enough to be elected to the senate, to work on the issues that are important to all of us right now. So that’s my goal, to begin with that.”
For more on Hagerty, see teamhagerty.com.