National conservative voices such as South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump Jr., along with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, have voiced concerns with how the state’s Republican leadership has handled the party’s primary race for the 5th Congressional District.
A ruling from the Tennessee GOP Executive Committee officially removed Robby Starbuck, Morgan Ortagus and Baxter Lee from the Aug. 4 primary ballot, though pending lawsuits could challenge the status of the three Republicans.
“What (the Tennessee Republican Party) is doing here is wrong,” Trump Jr. tweeted. “Robby (Starbuck) and Morgan (Ortagua) are Republicans and voters should decide elections, NOT politicians making backroom deals.”
Graham tweeted, “What happened in Tennessee to kick Morgan Ortagus, Robby Starbuck, and Baxter Lee off the ballot is shady politics at its worse (sic).”
A state law, which Gov. Lee allowed to become law without his signature earlier this month, would not allow for any candidate who has not been a resident of Tennessee for more than three years to appear in a party primary. The law went into effect after the April 7 filing deadline, but before the April 18 qualifying deadline, giving the GOP the ability to remove candidates from the ballot on the basis of the state law.
Starbuck has contended he is unaffected by the state law and was removed from the ballot due to having not voted in three of the last four Republican primaries in Tennessee. The party rules allow for a “vouching” process to be utilized in lieu of the primary requirement, and the Franklin resident says he has more vouching letters than any candidate in the history party.
He went as far as to specifically call current Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles a “spineless coward” saying he was “the most crooked of all the candidates.”
Ogles, who announced his candidacy for the position in March and officially withdrew from the county mayor’s race on April 14, told Main Street Maury he did not believe any candidate who has not lived in the state for more than three years should be eligible to represent the state in Congress.
Meanwhile, many of those still in the race, which includes Ogles, former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, have released campaign finance numbers for the first quarter of 2022.
Harwell netted more than $350,000 since announcing her candidacy in late February, 98% of which she says came from Tennesseans.
“I am proud to have the support of so many Tennesseans as we campaign to bring some common sense to Washington,” Harwell said in a release. “We need someone in Congress who knows the needs of Tennessee and will fight to bring back American greatness. I intend to do just that.”
Winstead reported he has raised close to $520,000 but has loaned his campaign $480,000.
For those no longer on the ballot currently, fundraising was no issue before the announcement of their removal.
Baxter Lee announced in a release he has raised $633,000, which includes donations he matched with personal funds, while Starbuck reported nearly $360,000 in funds raised. Ortagus’ funds were not available, but she has reportedly raised more than $600,000.
The remaining Republican primary candidates include Geni Batchelor, Jeff Beierlein, Natisha Brooks, Timothy Lee, Stewart Parks and Tres Wittum. The winner of the Republican primary is set to face Democrat Heidi Campbell and Independents Rick Shannon, Daniel Cooper and Derrick Brantley.