What Now For Trump-Backed Ortagus, Others Kicked Off Tennessee Primary Ballot?

What Now For Trump-Backed Ortagus, Others Kicked Off Tennessee Primary Ballot? Morgan Ortagus Former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus looks on as former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks. in 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

John Gizzi By John Gizzi Thursday, 21 April 2022 02:31 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Two days after the Tennessee Republican Party kicked former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and two other candidates off the primary ballot in the Volunteer State's 5th District, supporters of the three displaced candidates began to fight back.

There is already speculation that the move to deny the candidates ballot access over whether they voted in past primaries was being orchestrated by another contender, former state House Speaker Beth Harwell.

But particular attention was being paid to Ortagus, who has raised more than $500,000 and has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

13 out of 16 members of the state GOP's executive committee voted to remove Ortagus and fellow contender Robby Starbuck on the grounds that they violated a recently-passed state law requiring congressional candidates to have lived in "this state and the district" in which they are running for at least 3 years.

Ortagus, Starbuck and businessman Baxter Lee (who had 11 committee members vote to bar him from the primary) also failed to meet the legislation's requirement of having voted in 3 of the last four statewide primaries.

Supporters of Ortagus (who moved to the state in early 2021) told reporters that the residency law didn't take effect in time to disqualify her from the ballot. It is now widely expected that the former Trump Administration official will go to court in an attempt to get back in the Aug. 4 primary.

Chip Saltsman, Lee's campaign quarterback and onetime campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential bid, told Newsmax that "what the Republican Party has done is a real head-scratcher — we've spent years growing the party to a point where we have a governor and 'super majorities' in both houses of the legislature. Now the party is saying 'we're full — we don't want any more people.' "

Saltsman signaled that Lee, who has donated $100,000 to various Republican candidates over the past six years, would most likely not join any legal battle to get on the ballot. He noted that "Baxter is 42 and has a great future ahead of him."

Filmmaker and political newcomer Starbuck has not said what he would do in the wake of the party's decision. Some sources among Nashville-area Republicans have speculated he might run as an independent.

"This is all about paving the way for former state House Speaker Beth Harwell to win the primary," said one Ortagus supporter who requested anonymity, "Beth and her cronies don't want her to have to compete for the nomination. The party insiders who took this action are crossing Donald Trump and our Governor Bill Lee, who will be reelected in a landslide this year."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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