The Tennessee Republican Party voted late Tuesday to remove Morgan Ortagus, a congressional candidate backed by Donald Trump, from the state’s primary ballot, underscoring the tensions this cycle across the country between GOP factions that are beholden to the former president and those who are not.
Ortagus, a former State Department spokeswoman, was one of three 5th Congressional District candidates removed because they did not meet eligibility requirements, Tennessee Republican Party chairman Scott Golden told the Tennessean.
The state Republican Party’s by laws require a candidate to have voted in three of the past four GOP primaries, as well as to actively participate in the state or local Republican parties. Moreover, the state legislature passed a bill last month that required the candidates to have lived in the state and district they want to represent for at least three years before the election.
Ortagus moved to Nashville last year, when she joined a health-care investment firm, and announced her bid for Congress in February. Even before Ortagus launched her campaign, Trump said in January that she would have his “Complete and Total Endorsement” and praised her for being “an absolute warrior for America First and MAGA!”
In a statement Tuesday night, Ortagus defended her qualifications — noting she was a “3/4 primary voter” and had previously contributed to the Tennessee GOP — and said her team was evaluating its options.
“I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric,“ Ortagus 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.”
Golden and a representative for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning.
The state GOP’s executive committee also voted to remove Republican congressional candidates Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee from the primary ballot.
Lee’s campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, called the decision a “head-scratcher” and noted Lee has voted in 10 out of the last 12 Republican primaries, though not three of the last four.
“They took a guy who’s been involved in the Tennessee Republican Party for 20 years… and they told him he wasn’t a real Republican,” Saltsman told The Washington Post. “As you can imagine, that’s kind of a shock.“
Saltsman said Lee has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Tennessee GOP candidates since the 1990s, and worked with the party long before it had anything close to a majority in the state. He added there was no recourse to reverse the state GOP executive committee’s decision, except through legal action, which he said Lee did not plan to take.