Hagerty takes Tennessee Senate seat over Bradshaw

By , Daily Memphian Updated: November 03, 2020 7:50 PM CT | Published: November 03, 2020 7:31 PM CT

Republican Bill Hagerty handily defeated Democratic Memphis environmental activist Marquita Bradshaw Tuesday, Nov. 3, for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Lamar Alexander, bringing to an end the surprise run for the seat that Bradshaw began with a primary upset of Nashville attorney James Mackler.

The Associated Press called the race for Hagerty about 7:15 p.m. He claims the seat Alexander held for almost two decades.

The former U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Donald Trump rode the president’s endorsement to a win over Bradshaw.

Republicans have held both Senate seats in Tennessee since 1994. Trump remained popular enough in the state that Hagerty mentioned the president at every turn in his contested primary and the general election campaign.

Bradshaw, Hagerty duel over canceled debate

Hagerty, 61, is a Nashville businessman who sits on the board of a private investment firm. He served as the economic development commissioner for former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

A past Tennessee Economic Community and Development Commissioner, Hagerty was a heavy favorite after beating Vanderbilt trauma surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi in the Republican primary.

The contest was decided amid the COVID-19 pandemic without a debate between the two nominees.

Trump let Tennessee voters know he would back Hagerty for the seat months before Hagerty declared himself a candidate.

Marquita Bradshaw: ‘Not a fringe campaign’

Hagerty founded his own private equity and investment firm and served in several executive positions in business, including chief financial officer and chairman and chief executive officer.

He also served as an adviser to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but on the campaign trail he criticized the current U.S. senator from Utah, who has drawn the ire of Trump supporters for voting to convict the president during his Senate impeachment trial.

Additionally, Hagerty 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.

Bradshaw won the Democratic primary despite spending just $24,000. She spent more than 10 times that amount on the general election campaign, but her funding was still far short of the $1 million generally considered to be the minimum needed to run a successful statewide race.

Bradshaw upsets political world with U.S. Senate primary win

“This is not a fringe campaign,” Bradshaw told The Daily Memphian after her primary victory, as she geared up to try and stage an even bigger surprise.

A community organizer with 25 years of experience, much of it in the Defense Depot area of South Memphis, Bradshaw built up a statewide network. In the primary, she even beat Mackler on his home turf in Nashville and defeated him 3-to-1 among Shelby County Democrats.

But in a state that went decisively red for President Trump, as it did in 2016, Bradshaw could not stay with Hagerty, who in August reported $2.6 million in campaign funds. Hagerty used the Nashville-based Baker Group to run his campaign; in 2018, the firm ran U.S. Senator Republican Marsha Blackburn’s winning campaign.

Alexander, 80, has been in public life for more than 40 years. He served as governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987. From 1988 to 1991, he was President of the University of Tennessee. From 1991 to 1993, he held the position of U.S. secretary of Education in the George Bush administration.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, re-elected in 2008 and 2014. He was the principal sponsor of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, and in 2018 he authored the Opioid Crisis Response Act.

Although Bradshaw failed to win Alexander’s seat, she noted the historical significance of being the first Black woman in Tennessee to be a major-party candidate in a statewide general election during one of her last rallies, saying, “We have broken through a concrete barrier.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


2020 Elections Bill Hagerty Marquita Bradshaw
Don Wade

Don Wade

Don Wade has been a Memphis journalist since 1998 and he has won awards for both his sports and news/feature writing. He is originally from Kansas City and is married with three sons.


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