Candidate for U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District Robby Starbuck admits that he’s never voted in Tennessee Republican primaries.
Starbuck also acknowledges that he will need to be vouched for as a bona fide Republican as part of the Tennessee GOP’s candidate qualification process.
The political newcomer appeared on Nashville’s Morning News with Dan Mandis on 99.7 WTN Thursday morning to discuss, among other things, the controversy surrounding his voting history. Starbuck had previously claimed more than once to have voted in two 2020 GOP primaries in Tennessee, but he recently started backing off that claim in a Facebook comment.
Mandis: Recently, issues have arisen that need some attention, so I want to plough through this because I got a lot that I want to talk to you about . It centers, though, about whether or not you voted in Tennessee primaries. Because if you – and I’ve explained this to folks, but just setting it up – because if you haven’t, you have to jump through some other hoops to prove your Republican bona fides.
Now the law states that you must have voted in three of the last four primaries to be eligible to run.
The Tennessee Star reported that while you had said during an interview that you had, yes, voted in those primaries, it really seems that you have not. So can you walk us through, Robby, the discrepancy?
So, I would vote “nontroversy” on this and here’s why: the primaries they are talking about, first of all – the question I was asked, I was confused about the question. I thought they were referring to, am I fitting the primary requirement and them asking about at least two primaries or more.
And so I answered that I had voted in the previous primaries and I was actually counting, what would count – is it one or two – and I ended up saying two. So you could hear me confused during the answer, and the reason I was confused was because what we had been told recently, up to that day, was that because I was registered to vote in Tennessee, I should have voted in these primaries. But the problem is, I wasn’t a full-time resident. I had gotten my license when we had gotten a rental house here and we were sort of transitioning our kids here and transitioning – I was still closing down my business in California.
So because I was technically registered when I got my license, they count those as two missing primaries but the reality and the facts are that in California, where it’s a closed primary state, you know, I was always registered Republican. It was the only Party I’ve ever been registered with and I voted consistently in California.
So for us, we see this as a “nontroversy.” Every voter I’ve talked to has said, you know, this seems very strange. The Star seems to have an issue here that goes beyond the voting record, that this does not seem like a serious concern.
So here’s the other question, no other candidate or potential candidate in this race has been asked about this and there are multiple who are going to fall into the category of potentially needing to be vouched for.
Now, that poses a further question, who is seriously making an argument that I wouldn’t be vouched for as a Republican? I’m one of the loudest Republicans in the country and have been – only donated to Republican causes, candidates, and you know, thrown rallies in our state for candidates. So who would seriously make an argument that I’m not a Republican, because the vouching side of this should be very clear – this is the people’s choice.
Do we live in America still where the people get to choose who they want to represent them or are we gonna say no, you know what, we’re going to have the Party elite now decide who the people get to choose.
Mandis: When you decided to run, had you looked at the bylaws to actually figure out if you could run? Was there, like, paperwork that you had to fill out? Had you been asked if you’d voted in these primaries? What was the process like?
Starbuck: So, I was never asked any of that. In fact, I decided of my own volition to hand over my voting record in California and my registration, all that stuff, to the Party chairs in Davidson County and Williamson County and to the State Party Chair and nobody raised any issues with me. Nobody raised any concerns that I would not be – you know, let’s say in the worst case scenario – be able to be vouched for as a Republican. Nobody’s raised any concerns about that.
The question seems to be what semantics can we attack this guy on because we’re having trouble being able to attack him on anything else. So, you know, I think it speaks to a positive, which there’s no policy thing they can go after here, I mean, my record on all that stuff is sterling. So I think that’s really what the story is here.
Mandis: Final question on this, here, I guess – at what point did you realize, ‘Oh crap, this is one of the things that I have not satisfied as far as this condition to run?’ At what point did you realize that you may have had an issue?
Starbuck: Really only recently because it never even occurred to us that there would be anybody making a serious argument that I am not a Republican. That is essentially what the argument is about.
Starbuck also told Mandis that he is confident that he will make it through the vouching process, and that if a committee decided he was not a bona fide Republican, you’d have to say that Senator Rand Paul, Turning Point’s Charlie Kirk, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens, Trump lawyers and multiple members of U.S. Congress were hoodwinked.
Listen to the full interview here.
The Tennessee Star Report host Michael Patrick Leahy asked Starbuck about his Tennessee voting history, in a live radio broadcast on January 21, and Starbuck repeatedly claimed to have voted in Tennessee Republican primaries. Starbuck claimed in his interview with Dan Mandis, that he was confused by the questions. You can see the questions asked by Michael Patrick Leahy below.
Leahy: There’s another question about the standards of eligibility to run for the Republican primary. I’m sure you’ve looked at this quite a bit. And we had a story on it and talked to the party chair, Scott Golden, about this. I think the standard is you have to have voted in three of the past four Republican primaries wherever you live.
So here in Tennessee, that would be the August  primary, August 2018 primary, as well as the March presidential primary in 2020 and the August 2016 primary. That’s the standard. Three out of the past four. Have you met those standards?
Starbuck: Yes. One thing that’s important to understand, I have. Everybody’s got my voting record because I did live out of state for some of those elections. And they’ve got my California voting record. They have my registration. The purpose of it really is to make sure you’re a Republican in Tennessee because it is not a closed primary state.
In California, where I was, it was a closed primary state, and I was always registered as a Republican and always voted Republican. That’s something that’s out there. All the party chairs have it. And I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.
Leahy: So if you could the last four primaries that existed, how many did you vote for in Tennessee’s Republican primary and how many in California? Do you remember?
Starbuck: If I go back, it would be one primary here and then the rest in California were primaries because it would have been the last primary. It’d be two primaries here and then the rest in California.
Leahy: The primary here would have been August of 2020 and March of 2020. So you voted here in those GOP primaries and then the previous two were in California, is that right?
Robby Starbuck also previously told The Star “I don’t feel it’s necessary” to explain why he claimed that he voted in two Tennessee GOP primaries in 2020, when voting records provided to The Star by Williamson County officials show that he did not vote in either 2020 Tennessee GOP primary.
Tennessee Republican Party bylaws require active Republicans to have either voted in three of the last four statewide GOP primaries or to have their status as a bona fide Republican vouched for in writing by Republican officials in the district. The TNGOP Executive Committee must then approve a vouched for candidate by majority vote in order to qualify to be on the August 2022 GOP primary ballot.
Several other Republicans are also reportedly considering entering the TN-5 race, including former Tennessee State House Speaker Beth Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, former Tennessee National Guard Brigadier General Kurt Winstead, former State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus, and Nashville businessman Baxter Lee.
Ortagus was endorsed last month by former President Donald Trump for the TN-5 seat, should she choose to enter the race. Davidson County election records indicate she registered to vote in Tennessee for the first time in November 2021.
In November 2020, three months after he missed voting in the August 2020 Tennessee GOP primary because he “wasn’t a full time resident” of Tennessee, Starbuck publicly announced that he was a candidate for the TN-5 seat. His formal declaration of candidacy with the FEC came in June 2021.
Robby Starbuck has provided The Star with a document from California election officials dated in August 2016 which shows he was a registered Republican in California at the time of an apparent change of address and was also previously registered as a Republican.
Sources have provided The Star with additional documentation which purport to come from California election officials which show that Robby Starbuck voted in the Direct Statewide Primary in that state in 2018, as well as the Presidential Primary in that state in 2016. That same document showed Starbuck terminated his registered voter status in 2019.
Notably, California does not conduct Statewide Republican primaries any more. Instead, primaries involve candidates of both parties.
The Star has not yet verified either document, but will do so in an upcoming story on Starbuck’s voting history in California.
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