Tennessee Republican Party bounces three candidates from 5th Congressional ballot

By: - April 19, 2022 8:55 pm
(Photo illustration: Getty Images)

(Photo illustration: Getty Images)

The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee voted Tuesday to remove three candidates for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District, including former President Donald Trump’s endorsee, Morgan Ortagus. 

Scott Golden, TNGOP chair, confirmed that Ortagus, Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee failed in their appeals to be restored to the ballot after the executive committee first removed the three at an April 9 meeting. All had their Republican bona fides—essentially, their partisan credentials—challenged. 

Morgan Ortagus. (Photo: WinRed)
Morgan Ortagus, (Photo: WinRed)

Legislation passed in 2019 requires a state party executive committee to notify candidates within seven days of a filing deadline, which was April 7, of exclusion from the ballot. The candidates whose credentials were challenged had seven days to appeal their expulsion from the ballot and the TNGOP executive committee delivered their decision just shy of Wednesday’s deadline. 

Ortagus and Starbuck, both of whom are relative newcomers to Tennessee, have been fighting off challenges to their candidacies for months. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill March 29 to require candidates for U.S. Senate of U.S. House of Representatives to be residents of the state for three years but the new law, which became law without Gov. Bill Lee’s signature, will not take effect until after the November election. Ortagus moved to Tennessee within the last year. Starbuck apparently moved to the state within the last three years. 

A group called the Tennessee Conservatives PAC filed suit days later to challenge the law’s constitutionality. 

Starbuck confirmed to a Lookout reporter he has been removed from the ballot and he posted a message on Facebook that said: “The corruption will be exposed. The fight has only just begun. We can’t let RINO’s (Republican in name only) destroy our party.”

In a statement, Ortagus said, “I am deeply disappointed in the SEC’s decision. I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric. 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.”

In an interview with NBC News, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said he did not think Trump would be upset by Ortagus’s removal, implying that only the Jewish members of Trump’s family will be. Ortagus is Jewish.

“I don’t think Trump cares one way or the other,” Niceley told NBC. “I think Jared Kushner — he’s Jewish, she’s Jewish — I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don’t think Trump cares.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.