Former State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus and two other candidates were removed from the August primary ballot in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District by the Tennessee Republican Party on Tuesday.
Because Ortagus had only just arrived in the state, the vote resulted from months of work by both GOP politicians and activists to remove her. Former President Donald Trump backed her.
The state GOP’s executive committee can remove candidates off the primary ballot if they do not follow the party’s bylaws. The bylaws stipulate that a candidate must have voted in three of the previous four GOP primaries and be a member of the state or local Republican parties.
Ortegas believed that she is a bona fide Republican by their criteria and thinks Middle Tennessee citizens should choose their representative, not establishment party officials.
The committee chose to remove Ortagus and fellow candidates Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee, whose candidacies were also challenged, according to state GOP Chairman Scott Golden.
Ortegus said that President Donald Trump thinks she is the best person in Congress to fight for his America First agenda for Middle Tennessee, and she is working hard to make sure her fellow Tennesseans, especially TNGOP SEC members, understand why,
The primary is just one of several where Trump’s clout is being tested.
Even though Ortagus entered the difficult primary for the newly formed 5th District in February with President Trump’s complete and entire backing, her campaign irritated several state and local Republicans because she had only relocated to Tennessee last year. Ortagus resided slightly outside the newly defined district she wished to represent when she first moved to the state before moving inside its limits in mid-March.
Her detractors have also pointed to her years of criticism of Trump and support for Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary. Her wedding was performed by liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
In recent weeks, state legislators enacted a bill that would have barred her from the primary ballot if it had gone into force before the April 7 deadline. The bill, which requires congressional candidates to live in the state for three years to be eligible for primary ballots, was overwhelmingly passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature before Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
According to a representative for the Tennessee secretary of state’s office, the measure would not apply retroactively to candidates who qualified for the ballot by the deadline earlier this month.
For weeks, whispers circulated in local Republican circles that Trump would be unconcerned if Ortagus’ campaign were blocked before voters had an opportunity to weigh in.
State Sen. Frank Niceley suggested in an earlier interview that only Jewish members of Trump’s family cared about Ortagus’ candidacy because of her Jewish faith. Niceley supports former state House Speaker Beth Harwell in the primary, who recently came under fire for invoking Adolf Hitler in a state Senate floor speech about homelessness.
Ortagus said that Niceley should be embarrassed by his recurrent anti-Semitic remarks, adding that she is very happy to be a part of the Jewish people. She said that anyone who engages in this hate-mongering would face her wrath.
Niceley said in a statement released Wednesday morning that the outcry over his words was only an attempt to divert attention away from Ortagus’ removal from the primary ballot.
In an email acquired by The Tennessean, Republican National Committee member Beth Campbell stated that “RNC sources” advised her that Trump is OK with the state GOP’s decision to remove Morgan Ortagus off the ballot.
Campbell’s assertion was rejected by a Trump spokeswoman, who called it “a nasty falsehood” and “unfair and untrue.” Robby Starbuck, a right-wing candidate, has criticized the state party procedure, claiming he did not reach the primary vote criteria due to a simple mixup.
Starbuck, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, tweeted a video Tuesday evening of the late Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart saying one word: “War.”
He pledged in a Tuesday morning tweet to fight this with every ounce of fight we have.
The primary features about a dozen candidates in the district, mainly south of Nashville. The existing 5th District is held by longtime Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who announced his retirement after the Republican-held Legislature’s new voting maps were released. The district swung significantly to the right.