Politics Tennessee GOP kicks Trump-backed Morgan Ortagus, 2 other candidates...

Tennessee GOP kicks Trump-backed Morgan Ortagus, 2 other candidates off House ballot


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NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Republican Party voted on Tuesday to remove three congressional hopefuls from the primary ballot in the 5th Congressional District, including a Trump-backed candidate whose campaign riled some political insiders in the state.

Morgan Ortagus, Baxter Lee and Robby Starbuck were voted off the primary ballot by the party’s executive committee, Tennessee Republican Chairman Scott Golden confirmed Tuesday.

Republican officials last week confirmed official challenges had been filed against the three, which triggered a technical removal from the ballot per party bylaws.

Ortagus, a former State Department spokesman who nabbed an early endorsement from former President Donald Trump, called the removal “deeply disappointing.”

“I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric,” Ortagus said in a statement. “I’m further disappointed that the party insiders at the Tennessee Republican Party do not seem to share my commitment to President Trump’s America First policies. As I have said all along, I believe that voters in Middle Tennessee should pick their representative – not establishment. party insiders. Our team is evaluating the options before us. “

Chip Saltsman, Lee’s campaign manager, said the decision to remove Lee was “ridiculous.”

“There was no good reason to kick off somebody who’s been a good Republican for 20 plus years,” Saltsman said.

Lee was kicked off because he hadn’t voted in the three of the last four August Republican primaries, according to Saltsman.

Saltsman said Lee had voted in 10 of the last 12 Republican primaries, and had given almost $ 100,000 to Republican candidates over the last 10 years.

When asked for comment, Starbuck sent a brief video with dramatic music and the word, “War.”

“The corruption will be exposed,” Starbuck posted on social media after the vote. “The fight has only just begun. We can’t let RINO’s destroy our party.”

The vote culls a crowded field vying for the GOP nomination in the new-look 5th District during the Aug. 4 primary.

With the removals, Nashville lawyer and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, former House Speaker Beth Harwell and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles are among the most prominent candidates.

The General Assembly last month passed legislation to enact residency requirements in congressional primaries, implicitly targeting transplant candidates mounting campaigns after recent moves to the state.

Starbuck, who moved to Tennessee in 2019, was just eligible under the bill. Ortagus, who moved to Nashville last year, would not have qualified under the three-year residency requirement. She announced her campaign earlier this year after receiving Trump’s preemptive endorsement.

But Gov. Bill Lee effectively pocket-vetoed the bill, allowing the legislation to linger unsigned on his desk past the April 7 candidate filing deadline.

The Secretary of State’s office last week confirmed the requirements cannot be applied retroactively to anyone who qualified by the filing deadline.

Lee sent the bill back last week unsigned, allowing it to become law.

Reach Melissa Brown at mabrown@tennessean.com.

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