This story was updated Thursday, July 11, 2019, at 8:45 p.m. with more information.
A Middle Tennessee Republican congressman said Thursday he won't be a candidate to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2020, while a West Tennessee counterpart said he is hearing encouragement to run and plans to listen more.
After former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's announcement earlier in the day that he won't run to succeed Alexander — he said he has "wrestled" with it since Alexander announced in January he wouldn't seek a third term and it effectively froze much of the field — attention quickly focused on who will, won't or might run.
By Thursday's end, the one previously announced GOP hopeful, Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi who announced last month, still remained the only major candidate officially in the race.
Another Republican who had been eyeing the race, U.S. Rep. Mark Green, of Clarksville, ruled out a bid to succeed the retiring Alexander, saying he is focused on running for a second term in the House as well as on President Donald Trump's re-election.
"Over the next two years, the most important fight for the future of our country is helping our President win re-election," reads a statement from Green to supporters. "The second most important fight will be winning back Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives."
A former state senator, Green said "I will be doing everything I can to help win these fights, and look forward to serving in a new Republican majority in 2021 with President Trump in his second term."
Democrats currently control the House.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, a Memphis Republican, said he is getting encouragement to run and will continue listening.
First praising Haslam's service and career, Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney, went on to say in his tweet that "I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run."
He added "And I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."
Another Tennessean viewed among some state Republicans as a strong possibility to run is Bill Hagerty, the current U.S. Ambassador to Japan who earlier worked as Haslam's state economic development chief.
Prior to working for Haslam, Hagerty was the managing director and co-founder of Hagerty Peterson & Company, a private equity investment firm.
He combines a business and state political background with what observers say are good relations with his boss, Trump.
After leaving the Haslam administration, Hagerty later served as Trump's Tennessee Victory chair. Following Trump's formal August 2016 GOP nomination, Hagerty became director of appointments for Trump's presidential transition team, with the new president later appointing him ambassador to Japan.
In a statement, Hagerty focused entirely on Haslam. As an ambassador, he has to be wary of violating Hatch Act restrictions on federal employee participation in certain partisan political activities.
"Tennesseans have benefited greatly from the leadership, passion and service of Gov. Bill Haslam," Hagerty said in his statement. "Our state has thrived under his thoughtful and determined leadership and we are all fortunate that he has dedicated so much of his time to public service.
Sethi, meanwhile, tweeted praise for Haslam following the former governor's announcement.
He said Haslam, a billionaire businessman who served as Knoxville's mayor prior to his 2010 election to serving two terms as governor, "taught us something today: the Founders never wanted to have a permanent political class.
"They wanted patriots who would serve for a time, then return to private life," Sethi added. "He chose to serve faithfully for 16 years because he loves TN. I want to thank him for that."
In a second tweet following Green's announcement, Sethi praised the congressman for his military service and his "conservative leadership."
Chris Devaney, of Lookout Mountain, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman, is serving as Sethi's campaign chairman, leaving a top post in the administration of Republican Gov. Bill Lee, having previously managed Lee's 2018 campaign.
Devaney is heading up overall operations of the Sethi campaign and providing strategic advice.
Already running for the 2020 Democratic nomination is Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler. He started running in the 2018 Senate race but ultimately bowed out to make way for former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who lost to Republican Marsha Blackburn in the race to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga.
As of March 30, Mackler had raised more than $270,000 for his effort. He spent $187,700, leaving him with about a $92,300 cash balance. His second quarter filings are due with the Federal Election Commission on July 15.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke recently said he would not seek the 2020 Democratic nomination, leaving Mackler a clearer shot at this juncture.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.