The Tennessee GOP sparked a firestorm Tuesday by voting to remove Morgan Ortagus, a Trump-backed candidate, and two other Republican contenders from the primary ballot in a key House race.
The state Republican Party removed Ms. Ortagus, Baxter Lee and Robby Starbuck from the ballot after official challenges to their GOP bona fides in Tennessee triggered a technical removal under party bylaws, according to the Tennesseean.
Republican officials say the candidates failed to meet certain party rules, such as voting in three of the last four GOP primaries and actively participating in state or local party activities.
Ms. Ortagus, a former State Department spokeswoman who secured a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and characterized it as a battle between party insiders and the MAGA movement.
“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,” said Ms. Ortagus, who moved to Tennessee last year. “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.”
Mr. Starbuck, a 33-year-old former director and producer from California, won over some of the MAGA crowd only to see Mr. Trump select Ms. Ortagus, who had served in his administration.
Mr. Starbuck told the Tennesseean that the “fight has only just begun.”
The fight for the ballot centers on the 5th Congressional District held by Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat.
Redrawn maps split reliably blue Nashville into three congressional districts — including the 5th — that lean red, prompting Mr. Cooper to retire.
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 contenders remaining on the GOP primary ballot.