NASHVILLE - Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Gallatin, and Marquita Bradshaw, a Democrat from Memphis, will face off in November in a race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Hagerty was strongly backed by President Donald Trump and won his fiercely contested nomination battle with Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi.
Bradshaw was one of two Black women running. She was followed by Nashville attorney Robin Kimbrough, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and Iraq war combat veteran James Mackler, who is white and had been endorsed early on by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Bradshaw was not favored to win.
Bradshaw has said she has been "one job away from middle class and one job-loss away from poverty." She said she was once under-employed, riddled with student loan debt and without adequate health insurance. Then she experienced a foreclosure and bankruptcy.
"The progressive movement is undeniable!" Bradshaw tweeted after her victory. "Thank you all so much for your support and this victory. It's time to put hardworking people first. Onward."
Bradshaw spent around $5,800 through March, the last time she reported any campaign finance activity, records show. She next goes up against a candidate who spent $9.6 million through mid-July.
Speaking to cheering supporters at his victory party in Gallatin, Hagerty thanked the crowd and those who voted for him, "you've believed in me, you've believed in my vision for this state. And I can't thank you enough for sending me to be your Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. I'm looking forward to serving you well."
He said he had a "very special person to thank. I just got off the phone with him backstage. That's President Donald Trump" as audience members cheered. "You know, President Trump has had my back since before the beginning of all this."
Hagerty's main rival was Sethi and the campaign became one of the ugliest GOP primaries in recent Tennessee history as the two first-time candidates, both with relatively politically moderate backgrounds, battled as staunch conservatives for the GOP nomination in a Republican Party dominated by Trump supporters.
Both candidates charged the other was a moderate but the president appears to have been the deciding factor.
Latest unofficial results from AP showed Hagerty with 328,252 votes or 50.8% in the statewide vote. Sethi had 254,572 or 39.4%, while Memphis businessman and physician George Flinn came in third with 22,239 or 3.4%.
But it was a different story in Hamilton County, where Sethi came out on top with 16,606 votes to Hagerty's 15,907. Flinn came in third with 674. The remaining dozen other candidates split up the remainder.
Democrat Bradshaw, the first Black female Senate nominee in state history, won 111,947 votes or 36.4% of the vote statewide, while Kimbrough's second-place finish came with 80,892 votes or 26.3%. Mackler came away with 69,663 votes or 22.6%.
In Hamilton, Bradshaw came away with 7,712 votes and Mackler was second with 5,356 and Kimbrough third with 4,866 votes.
Bradshaw 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.
As for the Republican candidates, they and their supporters waged war for months over who was the "true Trump conservative" in a contest viewed by some as a test of the president's power to influence a Republican primary. Trump publicly and repeatedly endorsed Hagerty, the first time in 2019, before Hagerty had formally announced his intention to run and while he was still in Japan.
The latest endorsement came on election eve during a tele-townhall with Trump, in which the president said Hagerty was one of his "strongest supporters" in 2016 and called him a "Trump conservative. He's a friend of mine. He's a great guy."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly tweeted out its congratulations to Hagerty, stating "Congratulations to @BillHagertyTN for winning the Republican Senate nomination in Tennessee! He will always put Tennesseans first."
Hagerty, a private equity fund manager, had served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush, later becoming national finance chair for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign - something Sethi tried unsuccessfully to use against him.
After supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the GOP's 2016 presidential primaries, Hagerty later became a full-throated supporter of Trump, becoming his Tennessee campaign finance chair and later helping lead the then-president-elect's transition to the Oval Office.
Trump later named him U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Coronavirus campaign trail
After weeks of both candidates being sidelined during the initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic, they returned to the campaign trail in June and July, hitting Republican gatherings and other crowded events where most Republicans did not wear masks, including Hagerty and Sethi.
That eventually threw both candidates into a temporary tizzy on Wednesday following their attendance at the Hamilton County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner Friday night. Neither the candidates nor most attendees wore masks.
On Wednesday, Hamilton County health officials announced that someone who may have COVID-19 had been at the event. Both candidates rushed to get tested and declared negative results.
The Senate seat is currently held by Alexander, a moderate Tennessee Republican. Others in the 15-candidate GOP field included Dr. George Flinn, a Memphis businessman and physician who chastised both Hagerty and Sethi for being too supportive of Trump, saying he would be more independent.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.