Tennessee GOP removes three House candidates from primary ballot including Trump-backed Ortagus

Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee were also removed from the ballot.

Updated: April 20, 2022 - 12:09pm

The Republican Party of Tennessee on Tuesday night voted in favor of removing three House candidates from the primary ballot in the state's newly established 5th Congressional District.

Trump-backed Morgan Ortagus, Baxter Lee and Robby Starbuck were removed from the ballot by the party's executive committee, state party Chairman Scott Golden said. 

Ortagus, who served as a State Department spokeswoman during the Trump administration, called the result of the vote "deeply disappointing."

"I'm a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric," she said in a statement. "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."

Ortagus has faced criticism for running in a state she moved to within the last year. 

Lee was removed because he had not voted in three of the last four Tennessee Republican primaries in August, campaign manager Chip Saltsman said.

"There was no good reason to kick off some someone who's been a good Republican for 20 plus years," said Saltman, who also argued Lee had voted in 10 of the last 12 Republican primaries, in addition to donating nearly $100,000 to Republican candidates in the last decade.

Starbuck posted a brief statement in video form, in which dramatic music plays and the word "war" appears on screen.

"The corruption will be exposed," he wrote on social media. "The fight has only just begun. We can’t let RINO’s destroy our party."

Last month, the state's General Assembly passed legislation to enact residency requirements for contenders in congressional primaries, a move that directly impacted candidate transplants Ortagus and Starbuck, the latter of whom moved to Tennessee in 2019. The governor allowed the bill to go into effect after the April 7 filing deadline for candidates, meaning it did not impact this round of contenders.