District 5 candidates spar with state GOP
Candidates booted off the Republican primary ballot for Tennessee's 5th congressional district reacted forcefully, suggesting a court battle could be on the horizon.
- The state party removed Morgan Ortagus, Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee from the ballot in a Tuesday vote.
Why it matters: The newly redrawn District 5 is expected to flip to a safe Republican seat in November. The debate over the field could foreshadow a particularly intense campaign season.
Between the lines: State lawmakers tried to put their thumb on the scale with legislation setting a three-year residency requirement that would have put Ortagus, a recent transplant who secured former President Trump's endorsement, out of contention.
- Gov. Bill Lee blunted that effort last week by returning the bill after Ortagus had already qualified for the ballot.
- The state GOP's decision kept Ortagus off the ballot anyway.
The intrigue: Starbuck tweeted his campaign would fight the decision and predicted he would win in court. Baxter Lee told followers to "stay tuned."
- Ortagus said in a statement that "party insiders … do not seem to share my commitment to President Trump's America First policies." She said her team was considering its options.
Context: State parties have occasionally removed candidates from ballots.
- A federal appeals court upheld the Tennessee Democratic Party's 2008 decision to remove a state senator as the nominee in her race, per the Tennessee Journal.
State of play: Ortagus slammed the residency bill sponsor, state Sen. Frank Niceley, for "repeated anti-Semitic rhetoric" after he was quoted in an NBC article saying he didn't think Trump cared about her candidacy.
- "I think Jared Kushner — he's Jewish, she's Jewish — I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don't think Trump cares," Niceley said.
- Niceley later issued a statement saying a "fake news reporter" took his comments "out of context," and that "attempting to construe my off-hand comments about the Trump family as antisemitism is unfair and inaccurate."
What she's saying: "I will condemn anyone who traffics in this hate-mongering," Ortagus said. "Senator Niceley's repulsive words could not be more clear in disparaging the Jewish people. This racism cannot stand."
Flashback: Niceley faced criticism last week after mentioning Adolf Hitler during a debate over homelessness.
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