Trump joins Hagerty in tele-town hall as early voting begins

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks to supporters on Friday, July 17, 2020, after casting an early voting ballot at the Nashville Public Library Bellevue Branch in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday once again threw support behind his former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, a Republican running in the primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hagerty, 59, has frequently touted Trump’s endorsement ever since the president broke the news the former ambassador was running for political office nearly a year ago.

“I’ll never forget I went to Japan and he knew every person over there, he knew the businessmen, he could pronounce those names I had a hard time with,” Trump said in a tele-town hall with Hagerty. “I had a very hard time pronouncing those names.”

Trump encouraged Tennesseans to vote early, warning that it was critical to elect senators in office who would vote in favor of the judges he appoints.

“Your Second Amendment is under siege. If I weren’t here I don’t think you would have a Second Amendment,” Trump added while praising Hagerty’s support of law enforcement. “You would certainly have a very weak one.”

Hagerty’s main opponent in the Senate primary is trauma surgeon Manny Sethi, who is also seeking the position being vacated by outgoing Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. The two candidates have recently increased attacks on one another as early voting kicked off Friday.

In a recent ad, Sethi attacked Hagerty’s past political donations to Republican Mitt Romney — the only Republican to vote to convict the president during his impeachment trial.

“Why is the establishment attacking a nice guy like me?” Sethi asks. “Well, folks are finding out that Bill Hagerty’s endorsed by Mitt Romney.”

Romney has not publicly endorsed Hagerty since the former ambassador joined the race, but Romney had previously supported the idea, according to the Wall Street Journal in mid-2019.

Meanwhile, Hagerty criticized Sethi in an ad as a “liberal elitist.”

“I volunteered full-time for six months when nobody else was supporting President Trump, certainly not Manny Sethi – didn’t lift a finger, didn’t donate a dime back in 2016 to help President Trump get elected,” Hagerty told The Associated Press on Friday.

Early voting ahead of the Aug. 6 primary will be open Monday through Saturday until Aug. 1.

For those who do not want to vote in person, a judge is giving all eligible voters the option to vote absentee during the pandemic. Absentee ballots can be requested until July 30. First-time voters can only vote absentee if they have shown ID at a county election office.

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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