GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. hit the campaign trail Tuesday in Tennessee to help hammer home Republican Bill Hagerty’s prevailing message in his campaign for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — that he’s already scored President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
The visit by the president’s oldest son marked the first big headliner to fly in for Hagerty, a Nashville businessman who previously served as Trump’s ambassador to Japan and has rejoined the board of a private investment firm. Other notable names within Trump’s circle are likely to visit Tennessee for him in the months leading up to the August primary election.
Hagerty’s top primary opponent is another Trump backer, Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi. They are among the candidates vying for the seat of Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is retiring at the end of his term.
“I’d say it’s safe to say that in a Republican primary today, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for about four or five years, my father’s endorsement is a pretty big deal,” Trump Jr. said at the luncheon in Gallatin.
In a state where Republicans have held both U.S. Senate seats since 1994, Hagerty said the ongoing impeachment proceedings are actually helping his campaign, due to the outcry against them. He said he would stand against “Republicans that at times are weak and want to side with the Democrats and impeach our president.”
Trump announced Hagerty’s bid for Senate in July and endorsed him while he was still an ambassador. Hagerty didn’t announce his own campaign until September.
The endorsement has since been the focus of Hagerty’s first TV ad this week, as well as in each speech at Tuesday’s fundraiser and in the campaign signs and T-shirts worn by attendees.
Another headliner at the luncheon, former Fox News personality and Trump Victory 2020 national chairwoman Kimberly Guilfoyle, said, “If I could every day make a clone, a carbon copy of President Trump to serve in every single state, it would be somebody just like Bill Hagerty.”
The event drew some notable Republican state lawmakers, including Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Majority Leader William Lamberth.
Sethi, meanwhile, has billed himself as a “conservative outsider.” His campaign on Tuesday announced that he raised more than $500,000 last quarter, ending with almost $2 million cash remaining, of which more than $1.7 million is eligible to be used for the August primary election.
Previously, Hagerty’s campaign said he raised more than $1.5 million last quarter, entering 2020 with more than $3 million cash on hand.
Hagerty was Trump’s Tennessee Victory chairman and a senior leader of the Trump transition team.
A longtime friend and adviser to former presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Hagerty also worked on the White House domestic policy staff during the George H.W. Bush administration as a member of the President’s Council on Competitiveness. He donated to the 2016 presidential campaigns of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio before Trump surprised many by clinching the GOP nomination.
Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler is one of the top Democrats to enter the Senate race.
Mackler’s campaign has been using the Trump Jr. visit as a call for campaign checks, saying in one fundraising email pitch that Hagerty “is swimming in cash thanks to his connections to President Trump, his family, and the Republican establishment,” while Mackler is not accepting money from corporate political action committees.