Trump-endorsed candidate removed from ballot by her own party after being dubbed a carpetbagger

‘I believe that voters in Middle Tennessee should pick their representative - not establishment party insiders’

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The Tennessee Republican Party has kicked three candidates off the ballot in the race for the new Fifth Congressional District, including a candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Morgan Ortagus, Baxter Lee, and Robby Starbuck were removed from the ballot after a vote by the GOP’s executive committee, Tennessee Republican Chairman Scott Golden said on Tuesday, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

Last week, Republican officials said that challenges had been filed against the three candidates, leading to a technical removal from the ballot in accordance with party bylaws.

Ms Ortagus, who has Mr Trump’s backing after serving as the State Department spokesperson in his administration from 2019 until 2021, said in a statement that her removal was “deeply disappointing”.

“I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric,” Ms Ortagus said in a statement, according to the Tennessean. “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.”

The campaign manager for Mr Lee, Chip Saltsman, said the move was “ridiculous”.

“There was no good reason to kick off someone who’s been a good Republican for 20 plus years,” Mr Saltsman said. He added that Mr Lee had been removed from the ballot because he hadn’t voted in three of the four of the most recent GOP primaries. Mr Saltsman said that his candidate had voted in 10 out of the 12 most recent primaries and that he had donated almost $100,000 to GOP candidates over the course of the last decade.

“The corruption will be exposed,” Mr Starbuck wrote on social media. “The fight has only just begun. We can’t let RINOs destroy our party.”

The vote has shrunk a crowded primary field ahead of the vote on 4 August.

Following the removals, the top candidates now include Nashville lawyer and retired National Guard Brigadier General Kurt Winstead, former statehouse Speaker Beth Harwell and the mayor of Maury County Andy Ogles.

Last month, the General Assembly passed a bill putting in place residency requirements in congressional primaries, making things difficult for candidates who have recently moved to the state.

Mr Starbuck moved to the state in 2019 and was only just eligible. Ms Ortagus moved to Nashville last year and wouldn’t have qualified as the rule requires three years of residency. She launched her campaign earlier this year after getting the backing of Mr Trump.

But Governor Bill Lee in essence vetoed the bill as he didn’t sign it and allowed the 7 April candidate filing deadline to pass.

The Secretary of State’s office said last week that the rule can’t be applied retroactively to anyone who qualified to run ahead of the filing deadline. Mr Lee later returned the bill unsigned, allowing it to pass into law.

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