Republican senate primary in Tennessee turns nasty as Manny Sethi comes within striking distance of opponent.
An Indian American doctor who claims to love Donald Trump is giving a run for his money to a former diplomat endorsed by the President in a no holds barred Republican Senate primary in Tennessee.
“I love the president,” orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Manish ‘Manny’ Kumar Sethi, 42, told an India media outlet recently. “If he had 10 minutes with me, I believe he would reconsider his endorsement of my opponent.”
His opponent Bill Hagerty, 60, endorsed by Trump even before he left his post as ambassador to Japan “was on a glide path” before the race tightened in the run-up to the Aug. 6 election, according to Politico.
Sethi, the political news website said, “has found traction by claiming to be the true, unapologetic Trumpian conservative in the race — while blasting Hagerty as a squishy, Mitt Romney-loving phony.”
Hagerty largely ignored Sethi most of the race with a 17 points lead shown by his internal poll until earlier this month, when he abruptly went on the offensive after Sethi’s own internal poll put the race within two points, Politico said.
Many ambitious Republicans eager to position themselves as future leaders of the party have picked sides, it said.
Even Trump’s former Indian American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley eyeing the 2024 presidential election has endorsed Hagerty along with senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
But two other 2024 presidential prospects senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky are backing Sethi.
The brawl between the two candidates escalated, the Politico said, when Sethi went after Hagerty over his support of Trump’s bite noire Romney in 2008 and 2012, branding him as a “Mitt Romney Republican”
Since then, the race has devolved into a gnarly thicket of misleading attacks on each other, it noted.
Sethi, the Politico said has used $1.9 million of his own wealth to amplify his message bashing the economic lockdowns and racial justice protests.
“Church with too many people is a crime. Thousands of people protesting is not,” went one viral ad. “You got a problem with any of that? You’re a racist, and you want to kill Grandma.”
Another Sethi ad accused liberals of not really caring about Black lives because Planned Parenthood places clinics near minority communities, and asking voters if they are sick of liberals saying “watching American cities get ripped apart is a chance for you to examine your privilege.
Yet another ad claims Hagerty is endorsed by Mitt Romney, even though the Utah senator hasn’t endorsed and Hagerty has denounced him aggressively on the trail.
Hagerty has fought back with his own barrage of ads, taking loans of at least $6.5 million to fund his campaign, according to FEC records cited by Politico.
His team has accused Sethi of donating money to a group supporting the rioters, a distortion of a $50 contribution in 2008 Sethi made to a Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia that was processed by ActBlue, a party-aligned payment platform that has been used recently by Black Lives Matter-linked groups and other protestors.
They have both continued in-person campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic even as many campaigns have retreated.
Masks are provided and encouraged but not required at Sethi’s events, many of which were packed indoors this past weekend.
“We try to encourage social distancing — but when your crowds are growing and growing, it becomes more challenging,” Sethi told Politico.
While Hagerty has brandished his Trump endorsement, Sethi has pounded him for his links to Romney. Hagerty worked with Romney in private equity and served on both of his presidential campaigns, including as national finance chair in 2008.
He defends his 2012 work as an effort to defeat Barack Obama, whom he calls the “worst president” of his lifetime, but condemns the Utah senator’s recent politics.
“I just think someone like that really has no place in the Republican Party anymore, and Bill Hagerty represents that,” said an unconvinced Sethi. “Now he’s trying to hide it.”
The winner of the primary will likely face Democrat James Mackler, an Army veteran and attorney, in the general election.