Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty on election night 2020

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty was the featured guest at January’s “1st Tuesday” lunch, a monthly gathering for Middle Tennessee Republicans at Brentwood’s Ludlow & Prime. He appeared on Jan. 18 — the month’s third Wednesday — to field questions about restricting voting access, disappointing GOP election results and the crowd’s eroding faith in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Several members of the crowd criticized McConnell for mishandling the 2022 midterms, which were expected to bring big Senate wins for the GOP. Republican losses in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada kept the chamber in Democrats’ hands, a result of being out-organized, expanded voting access and poor stewardship of the party’s financial resources, said Hagerty.

“In some of those races, people had been voting since August,” Hagerty told the room. Nevada and Arizona both opened early voting for the Nov. 8 election in October. “In Nevada, we saw Adam Laxalt’s lead diminish. By Friday, they turned the election around and took it from us. Mail-in ballots and ballot harvesting is the cornerstone of what Democrats have been trying to execute across the country. They’ve done it on a state-by-state basis. We’ve got to be ready in 2024.”

Hagerty praised gerrymandering and Tennessee’s restrictive voting laws, saying that Democrats around the country used the pandemic to make “devastating” changes to voting rules in other states. When asked about 2024, Hagerty said he was already working on legal infrastructure that could challenge unwelcome election results.

“We’ve got to be ready in 2024,” said Hagerty. “We should fight legally every chance we get and be ready to play by the set of rules that allows us to win.” 

Multiple audience members asked Hagerty about party leadership, specifically Mitch McConnell, who they blamed for mishandling the midterm elections.

“What excuse does Mitch McConnell have, and how soon are we going to get rid of him?” asked one attendee, prompting applause from the crowd.

“I don’t think there’s anybody more frustrated than me with the results of the 2022 elections,” said Hagerty. “We’ve got to focus on operations. Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Committee raised a tremendous amount of money, but not as much as the Democrats. Where did it go? We need to be on the ground putting a team together that can actually help us win.” 

Another audience member said that McConnell would've been better off throwing GOP fundraising dollars into a hole. Hagerty said that he "couldn't agree more." 

Metro Councilmembers Jonathan Hall and Robert Swope also appeared at the event to advocate for current legislation that would halve Nashville’s Metro Council. The bill, backed by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, is seen as retaliation for the city’s opposition to hosting the Republican National Convention. Swope also introduced Hagerty and moderated the senator’s Q&A.  

“Write, text, send a homing pigeon or a sheepdog to your legislators to vote yes for this,” Swope told the room. “We’re hoping this passes in the next 30 days.”

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