Two national Republican stars are coming to Tennessee this week to stump for opposing candidates in the primary contest to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the latest GOP figure to endorse Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi in the primary, and Cruz will join Sethi for events in Jonesborough, Knoxville and Mt. Juliet on Friday. Cruz’ visit and endorsement follows an endorsement and visit by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Sethi’s behalf last week.
“There’s a reason the Establishment’s throwing everything they’ve got at Dr. Manny these final days — he’s winning,” Cruz said. “I am urging Tennessee conservatives to stand up to the attacks, join me, and stand with Manny Sethi.”
Both Paul and Cruz are bucking party leaders, including President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, by backing Sethi. Most of the national Republican establishment has backed Bill Hagerty, who served as an ambassador and fundraiser for Trump, in the race.
Hagerty is calling in reinforcements, too. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is joining the former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for a campaign event at the Clarksville Country Club on Friday. And on Wednesday, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn endorsed Hagerty to join her in Washington.
"I need a true Tennessee conservative to stand with me to protect our shared values," Blackburn said.
Even Trump, who endorsed Hagerty before he even launched his campaign, admitted that his preferred candidate faced a “real primary.” Though Sethi lacks a presidential endorsement, he has pledged to back Trump if elected, and even spoke at a Trump rally in Nashville.
The visits from Cruz and Cotton come as Hagerty is dialing up his criticism of Sethi, long viewed as the underdog in the race, in part due to lagging fundraising compared to Hagerty, a former top fundraiser for Mitt Romney and Trump. (Hagerty supported Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential primary before backing Trump.)
On Wednesday, Hagerty launched a website attacking Sethi for Healthy Tennessee, the organization the doctor founded that operates free health clinics in underserved communities. The attack focuses on the group’s early leaders, including Metro Coronavirus Task Force Chair Alex Jahangir, whom Hagerty calls a “liberal pal” of Sethi.