Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed all-star panelist Clint Brewer in studio to weigh in on recent Nashville transplant and potential GOP candidate Morgan Ortagus and others for Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District.
Leahy: It’s time for political junkies to hit the record button right now because this is just fascinating. It is what’s happening now in the newly drawn map for the Fifth Congressional District.
And this is going to be, I think, a bellwether GOP primary to see who wins that nomination. Of course, just the backstory. Jim Cooper, who’s represented the Fifth Congressional District since I think, what, 1993 or 95, something like that.
A long time. Has announced he’s not going to run for reelection. The Tennessee General Assembly has redrawn the map that the governor is likely to sign that we think is going to survive court challenges.
That’s going to change the Fifth Congressional District. Right now, 90 percent of it’s Davidson County that’s going to change. The new district, a third of the lower part of Davidson County is in it Western Wilson County, Eastern Williamson County, all of Maury, all of Marshall, all of Lewis counties are in this new district. In 2020, the old district, plus 22 for Biden.
The new district, plus eleven for Trump. This is a huge opportunity for Tennessee Republicans to take that district and make the delegation, which is now seven Republicans, two Democrats to eight Republicans, one Democrat.
That’s the background now. Boom! (Chuckles) Oh, this is just fascinating. Literally, less than 48 hours ago, Donald Trump just blew the whole thing up, I suppose or changed the dynamics of it.
He announced that if a woman by the name of Morgan Ortagus, who nobody in Tennessee had heard of before the former president endorsed her, if she decides to run, he will endorse her for the GOP nomination.
She served in his State Department from 2019 to 2021 as a spokesperson. She has an impressive resume. She was Miss Florida Citrus as a kid and then went on to get an MBA from Johns Hopkins, has worked for investment banks, and worked for the Department of Treasury.
She has not been a resident of Tennessee until this past year. Hasn’t been a resident here for a year. She got a gig with national-based Rubicon Founders in February 2021.
We see that she registered to vote, apparently, according to our sources, less than two months ago in the Germantown area of Nashville. My question to you is what’s going to happen in this race? The primary is in August.
One other person has announced. Another newcomer, Robby Starbuck. The legal name is Robert Starbuck-Newsom. Robby Starbuck, a video producer from Hollywood. Moved here in 2019. In June of last year, announced his candidacy.
He’s got a lot of national people who have endorsed him. Morgan Ortegas has not announced. Andy Ogles, mayor, Maury County, considering a bid. Former Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell, former Tennessee National Guard Brigadier General Kurt Winstead, considering. Oh, my goodness. What’s going to happen here? Clint, give us your assessment of this race.
Brewer: Let’s start with Ms. Ortagus. First of all, we should be flattered. I live in the new Fifth District. She is a remarkably well-qualified candidate absent the lack of time she spent here. But other than that…
Leahy: Small detail. Let me just add, legally, and I checked the Constitution. The only qualification to run for the House of Representatives, you have to be over 25 years of age. She qualifies. You have to be a resident of the state in which that congressional district is located. She’s qualified legally.
Brewer: She is absolutely legally capable of running. And she is a really qualified candidate. I mean, if you look at her resume, you look at her public service during the Trump administration, she is a very presentable, very legitimate candidate if she decides to run if she announces. Now that being said, the Republicans in the Middle Tennessee area have been clamoring for the Fifth District change for a long time.
Brewer: Yes. And you’ve had some folks, some of whom you’ve mentioned, like former House Speaker Beth Harwell, who have long wanted to run for a new congressional seat that included part of Nashville, but not all of Nashville. You have Mayor Ogles in Maury County. And if I remember this new district map correctly, it includes all of Maury County.
Leahy: All of Maury County.
Brewer: And he is a very popular public office holder. You just mentioned him in an economic development story. He has a long track record of activism for conservative causes in this state.
I think the newly constituted Fifth Congressional District is going to have a very interesting Republican primary. I think that we will be blessed to have a number of super qualified people run.
What’s going to happen? It depends on who actually gets in. Running for Congress is not cheap. Each legitimate candidate will have to have, bare minimum couple of million dollars to run raised or given.
Leahy: Bare minimum couple of million of dollars.
Brewer: Yes. That’s the floor.
Leahy: I’ve heard $5 million to $10 million just to get the primary.
Brewer: That’s what I’m saying. It’s two to play, maybe three.
Leahy: And then beyond that, who can raise that kind of money?
Brewer: I think Ms. Ortagus can definitely raise that kind of money.
Leahy: How much of it will come from people in Tennessee?
Brewer: Hard to say.
Leahy: Very little is my guess. But we’ll see.
Brewer: We’ll see. I think she’s a legitimate candidate. That being said, you’ve got another recently transplanted folk here with Mr. Starbuck, who I understand has his own decent connections to the Trump apparatus machine world.
Leahy: He’s been endorsed by former ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell who knows an awful lot about Middle Tennessee. Not! He’s been endorsed by Sebastian Gorka.
Brewer: But he has his own sort of national network.
Leahy: He does. Rand Paul endorsed him who knows Tennessee, neighboring.
Brewer: You’ve got former Speaker Harwell. She self-funded part of her last campaign, which was unsuccessful.
Leahy: For governor in 2018. She didn’t really do that well. She was like fourth place.
Brewer: Yes. It was a pretty deep field. But she certainly has got connections in this area. Davidson County, Wilson County, Williamson County, Maury County. She knows people in all those places.
It’s going to be a very competitive race. As a long-time resident of the new Fifth District, I feel kind of lucky to have all these people wanting to serve our area now. It’s nice.
Leahy: What’s interesting about this is this new district, there are about 750,000 residents in that district. We know anecdotally that a lot of them are relatively new. How many of them have only lived here for two years or less?
Brewer: That’s a great question, Mike. Let me give you a couple of things anecdotally. One, I’ve lived in the same place in Wilson County. I live in an unincorporated area of the county out in the country.
I’ve lived there since 1999 and the constant theme, whether you’re at the local general store, whether you’re at your kids’ school, high school football game, getting your hair cut, whatever you’re doing at the gas station, the locals are all talking about all the folks moving in.
That is a constant theme of conversation. Now, that’s not necessarily a negative thing. For many people it is, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing. It’s just something that is noted on a day-to-day basis.
I know personally several local public office holders think county commissioners, city council members who say I run every four years, and every time I run, I run to a different set of people because there are people coming and going all the time from these high growth suburban counties.
What the Fifth District in particular has the opportunity to be is a bit of a Rorschach test on how Tennesseeans feel about transplants. I think that the two that have been associated with this race certainly can present well.
They have conservative credentials that they can present. And so we’ll have to see because a congressional race is not as big as it sounds. There is an aspect of retail politicking that you cannot escape.
You are going to have to go meet people. You’re going to have to talk to the Rotary. You’re going to have to go to high school football games. You’re going to have to go to the county fair if you can do all that because it’s not as big as it sounds.
We think House seat, Congress. It sounds August, and it is, but it’s also very down-home, particularly in a place like this. The slice of Davidson County that is in the Fifth District represents some of the older, more traditional areas.
If I’m reading the map correctly, it looks like parts of Old Hickory, Hermitage, and Donelson. It’s going to be a grassroots thing too.
Leahy: Last question on this topic. Let’s say 10 percent of the 750,000 people there have been there two years or less. I don’t think any of them are really going to care that Morgan Ortagus has only lived here for several months.
Brewer: No, they’re not going to go oh, there’s the transplant. I’m voting for her.
Leahy: What about the other 90 percent, though?
Brewer: I think Tennesseans tend to make pretty honest choices when they vote. I don’t think they’re easily fooled and I think they’re going to go with the candidate that resonates with them the most, regardless of where they’re from.
Leahy: I think it’ll be a bit of an uphill battle with that 90 percent for not only Morgan Ortagus but for Robby Starbuck. But we’ll see.
Brewer: I would agree with that. But it’s not undoable.
Leahy: Good point.
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Morgan Ortagus” by Morgan Ortagus. Photo “Robby Starbuck” by Robby Starbuck.