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U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, of Tennessee, attends a news conference by President Donald Trump, in Osaka, Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019.

This story was updated Friday, July 12, 2019, at 8:55 p.m. with more information.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's U.S. Senate race took a dramatic turn Friday as President Donald Trump officially launched U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty's candidacy for the Republican nomination and immediately endorsed him.

"Tennessee loving Bill Hagerty, who was my Tennessee Victoy [sic] Chair and is now the very outstanding Ambassador to Japan, will be running for the U.S. Senate," the president stated in a tweet Friday afternoon.

"He is strong on crime, borders & our 2nd A. Loves our Military & our Vets. Has my Complete & Total Endorsement!" the president added.

A Hagerty spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request to confirm Trump's announcement.

But the 59-year-old former state economic development commissioner, co-founder and managing director of a private equity firm is said to have already begun the bureaucratic federal process of departing from his post as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Friday's development came a day after Hagerty's one-time boss, former Republican governor Bill Haslam, finally ended six months of weighing a bid and announced he would not seek the seat now held by retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee.

Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi announced his bid for the Republican Senate nomination last month. There was no immediate reaction from his campaign.

The day of Haslam's announcement, freshman U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Clarksville Republican and former state senator who long had his eye on statewide office and had weighed running for U.S. Senate, quickly announced he was staying put.

Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney, said he was getting encouragement to run but had made no decision.

Democrat James Mackler, an attorney and Iraq War veteran who declared his candidacy earlier this year, quickly took to Twitter Friday in apparent response to Trump's endorsement of Hagerty. He stated that Tennessee leads the nation in closed rural hospitals per person, opioids are "ravaging the state" and Trump's "trade war" impacts the state "2x as much as others.

"If you want a senator to standup for what's right, & the courage to stand up to Trump when he's wrong, join my #TNSen team," Mackler added in the tweet.

A Tennessee native and Vanderbilt Law School graduate, Hagerty later became the co-founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Company, a private equity investment firm.

He combines that business, state political background and knowledge of the state with what observers say are excellent relations with Trump — the president's tweet on Friday a prime example — and the president's daughter, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well.

Hagerty served in Trump's 2016 campaign as his Tennessee Victory chairman. After Trump's formal August 2016 GOP nomination, Hagerty became director of appointments for Trump's presidential transition team. Trump subsequently named him ambassador to Japan.

Hagerty also played a key role in this year's meeting of the Group of 20 (G20), the international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 19 countries, including the U.S., and the European Union which took place in Osaka, Japan.

The conference wound up business June 29. Some Tennessee Republicans speculate that Haslam may have delayed his announcement in order to effectively freeze the field and give his former economic chief time to begin preparing to leave the State Department.

While known in Tennessee business, local government and political circles, Hagerty has not previously run for public office. But while he may not have high name identification among the general public, Trump's unusual Twitter endorsement may have helped in a Republican state that staunchly supports the president.

Less than four hours after Trump's tweet, it already had 22,000 likes.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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