A Republican Senate candidate blamed his wife and sleepwalking for a past donation to a far-left Democrat as he woos conservative voters in Tennessee.
Orthopedic surgeon Manny Sethi, who is running to replace retiring senator Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), faced criticism in July for a campaign contribution he made to former Democratic congressman Tom Perriello. Sethi gave $50 to Perriello's campaign in April 2008, prompting an advertisement from primary opponent and former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty. While Sethi has dismissed the attack as "baseless," his campaign has offered contradictory explanations behind the donation, going so far as to scapegoat his wife and a lack of sleep.
In an advertisement released July 25, Sethi's wife took responsibility for the contribution, saying she sent the money after "some friends called me for political donations." But in a July 1 email obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, Sethi claimed he made the donation himself, attributing the decision to sleep deprivation.
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"When I was a sleep-deprived resident, I had a friend pestering me to make a donation to one of his friends who was running for office," Sethi wrote in the email. "It was dumb, and I shouldn't have done it." Sethi added that he did not know the money was going to Perriello, saying it "never would have happened" had he known.
Sethi undermined his claim of ignorance, however, during a Thursday town hall. He called Perriello "a friend's brother-in-law who was running for Congress," claiming he purchased two t-shirts with the $50 contribution. In addition, Sethi's campaign previously called the former Virginia congressman a "family friend" in a July comment made to the Tennessee Star.
Reached for comment, Sethi campaign chairman Chris Devaney told the Free Beacon that Sethi's wife "used a joint credit card that had both her name and Dr. Manny's name on it, and because of that, when the credit card processor itemized the donation, it was reported as a donation to Dr. Manny." Devaney said Sethi "didn't remember the specifics" of the donation because it was made "while he was working 100 hours a week as a resident." Devaney accused Hagerty of highlighting the donation "in hopes that voters would ignore the $100,000 he gave to Romney and Al Gore." Hagerty contributed $1,000 to Gore's presidential campaign in 1999, records show.
Following Sethi's donation, Perriello went on to unseat former six-term incumbent Republican Virgil Goode by fewer than 800 votes in 2008. He was ousted from Congress just two years later, losing to former GOP representative Robert Hurt.
Perriello now works as executive director of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a liberal organization funded by billionaire George Soros. OSF has sent millions to anti-Israel groups, including several that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who the Trump administration sanctioned in 2019 for implementing the "reckless agenda of Iran's Supreme Leader," has touted his positive relationship with OSF.
Trump endorsed Hagerty's Senate campaign in a July tweet, calling him "strong on crime, borders & our 2nd A" before offering his "Complete & Total" support. Hagerty previously served in the Trump administration as U.S. ambassador to Japan from August 2017 to July 2019. In addition to Trump's endorsement, Hagerty is backed by Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), as well as former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Sethi is endorsed by Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.).
Sethi, Hagerty, and 13 other Republican candidates will face off in the state's primary election on Thursday. Hagerty boasts a strong financial advantage, raising $12.3 million with $2.7 million on hand as of July 17. Sethi, meanwhile, has raised $4.6 million and holds $386,000 on hand.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race "solid Republican."