Former Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Thursday morning that he will not seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee to replace Sen. Lamar Alexander, who announced earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election in 2020.
The news came in an exclusive letter to the USA Today Network in Tennessee, the details of which were published in The Tennessean on Thursday morning:
For the second time in 21 months , Gov. Bill Haslam has declined to run for the U.S. Senate, the Knoxville Republican said in an exclusive letter submitted to the USA TODAY Network-Tennessee.
The former governor’s decision, which came after U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in December he will not seek reelection in 2020, immediately bolsters the chances of a contested Republican primary.
“While I think serving in the United States Senate would be a great privilege and responsibility, I have come to the conclusion that it is not my calling for the next period of my life,” Haslam, 60, said in the letter.
“This is a difficult decision because I have loved my time in public service and I believe so deeply in the importance of our political process.”
Haslam’s decision breaks up the log jam keeping other major candidates out of the race.
Vanderbilt surgeon Manni Sethi has already announced his candidacy, but he is an inexperienced candidate with little public record and uncertain funding.
Two heavy hitters have been mentioned as possible candidates for the Republican nomination: Bill Hagerty, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Japan and Rep. Mark Green (R-TN-07), who succeeded Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the Congressional seat that stretches from Clarksville to Franklin.
Hagerty, who served previously as former Gov. Haslam’s Director of Economic Development, has ties to both the Tennessee Republican establishment and the Trump administration. A successful and wealthy investment banker, Hagerty was in charge of fundraising for the 2016 Trump campaign and headed up the Trump transition team.
Rep. Green has a strong base among Tennessee conservatives, and has been a very effective supporter of the Trump agenda since winning his seat in Congress in the November 2018 midterm elections.
Both Hagerty and Green are now expected to determine in the next few weeks whether they will enter the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.