A Republican primary win by Dr. Manny Sethi might not be quite as big of a political upset in Tennessee as Bill Lee’s primary win was two years ago, but it might not be far from it.
Sethi, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who is the son of Indian-American immigrants, is trying to do the same thing Lee: campaign as an outsider and political newcomer, and upset a well-entrenched insider. Lee did it against Randy Boyd in his successful campaign for governor in 2018; Sethi is trying to do it against Bill Hagerty for the U.S. Senate.
President Donald Trump’s endorsement clout will get another test in the Aug. 6 open Republican U.S. Senate primary in Tennessee. Bill Hagerty, Trump’s former ambassador to Japan, has the president’s endorsement in a race against Manny Sethi, a Nashville trauma surgeon who doesn’t disagree with Trump on a whole lot, either — other than his preference of candidate. So far, the contest for the GOP nomination has revolved around who would be a more fitting right-hand man for Trump in Washington.
The 41-year-old Indian American Republican entered the race in June 2019 after Sen. Alexander’s late 2018 announcement that he will not seek a fourth term. He is a surgeon and associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the director of Vanderbilt Orthopedic Center for Health Policy.
More than a dozen are running for the seat’s Republican nomination: Sethi, Clifford Adkins, Matisha Brooks, Byron Bush, Roy Dale Cope, Terry Dicus, Jim Elkins, Tom Emerson, Jr., George S. Flinn, Jr., Bill Hagerty, Jon Henry, Klent A. Morrell, Glen L. Neal, Jr., John E. Osborne, Aaron L. Pettigrew, Johnny JJ Presly and David Shuster.
An internal poll shared by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi indicated that he is close to Bill Hagerty in the race for outgoing U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s seat. According the internal poll results shared from Sethi’s office, Hagerty leads the race by a 2% lead as the August primary election approaches for the state. Hagerty has been endorsed by President Donald Trump.
“We can’t let up now,” Sethi said in a press release. “We have moved over 20 points in the polls this past month. Voters are responding to our conservative message of standing up to the left wing mobs and defending America.”
Sethi, a Nashville surgeon, Sethi has run a preventative health nonprofit, Healthy Tennessee, and co-edited a book on health policy with former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also a former Vanderbilt surgeon from Tennessee.
Trump tweeted an endorsement for Hagerty on July 12, 2019. “I have had the benefit of working with President Trump for a long time,” said Hagerty, in a June interview with The Daily Herald. “I appreciate the fact that President Trump takes my input. If I have something I want to discuss with him, whether he agrees with me or not, we sit and talk about it. I do not issue a press release. I do not go on TV and complain about it. I talk with him about it. I have the ability to do that.
He was part of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign brain trust and served as his ambassador to Japan. “The grassroots momentum of this campaign is growing,” Sethi said last week when announcing the opening of additional campaign offices across the state. “This campaign is powered by conservatives all across Tennessee. With seven offices across the state, we’re going to continue to connect with activists from Mountain City to Memphis who are hungry for a conservative to represent our values in the United States Senate.”
In late June, the Associated Press reported that the Conservative Outsiders PAC, funded with $100,000 from David Ingram, Sethi’s campaign state finance chairman and president of a large distribution company, sent to more than 300,000 Republican activists a video attacking Hagerty.
The group also set up an anti-Hagerty website and shared plans for more videos, ads on multiple platforms. In response, Hagerty’s campaign didn’t mention the attack or Sethi, and instead continued to direct focus to Trump’s endorsement.
“Now more than ever, we have to support the president,” Sethi said. He added that America “is the greatest country on earth. Don’t let anybody, anywhere, ever tell you different. My family’s story, my personal story, is a testament to that.”
But, he added, America does have some pressing issues, chief among them being the rioting that is taking place across the nation in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers that have since been criminally charged and jailed.
“We have this mob that is burning, rioting, looting in the streets,” Sethi said. “If anybody says anything, they call you a racist. And these weak-kneed Republicans in Washington, they won’t take them on. If I am your U.S. Senator, we will take them on.” With less than two weeks remaining before the final votes are counted, all the indications are that momentum is shifting to Sethi.