All-Star Panelist Clint Brewer Gives His Take on Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District GOP Race


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 give his take on the candidates announced and speculated to run in Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District GOP primary.

Leahy: We’re broadcasting live from our Studios on Music Row. This is The Tennessee Star Report. I’m Michael Patrick Leahy, and it is Thursday, February 10, 2022. Now the fun begins. In-studio with us, our very good friend, all-star panelist, recovering journalist, public affairs specialist, and native Tennessean, Clint Brewer. He knows this district.

Brewer: Yes.

Leahy: I want to get your current handicapping of what it looks like in the Tennessee 5th Congressional District GOP primary in August of 2022. And there are all sorts of “can they run?” questions.

Will they pass muster? Will they be allowed on the ballot and the GOP primary? We can deal with that at another time, but let’s assume they can all get in, for a moment.

Brewer: This has the air of an irresponsible, preseason college football poll.

Leahy: Exactly.

Brewer: This feels like it.

Leahy: That’s exactly what it’s like.

Brewer: I’m being asked to pick a national championship in April.

Leahy: That’s exactly what I’m going for right now. (Laughter) But let’s say that there are at least eight candidates, maybe a dozen, maybe 20. But of those, six or seven have serious money: Baxter Lee, who was on our program yesterday, and we confirmed Chip Saltsman is doing his campaign, we confirmed that he’s going to spend at least $3 million, and he’s probably going to have to get vouched for, I guess. But we’ll see that based on his voting record. But Baxter Lee’s got money and he’s going to spend it. Kurt Winstead is in; the former Brigadier General.

Robby Starbucks would be in. Morgan Ortagus has the Trump endorsement. Oh, my goodness. Money coming in, money flowing in. Of course, got the carpetbagger problem, got the doesn’t-live-in-the district problem. But money makes up for a lot.

Brewer: It’s a modern primary. We’ve got a general, we’ve got a former Trump administration person, and we’ve got a film producer. (Leahy laughs) So the modern Republican primary has hit Middle Tennessee.

Leahy: Omar Hamada just got in, and possibly Beth Harwell, former Speaker of the House, possibly Andy Ogles, mayor of Maury County. What percentage of the vote are you going to need to win this primary? Because we don’t have run-offs here.

Brewer: No, we don’t. If you’re looking at a primary with somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 10 people, let’s just say for argument’s sake. Or even 10 people with five of them being credible.

Leahy: I think that’s probably where we are at.

Brewer: You could win the district by 20 percent.

Leahy: I think you’re right. The primary in 2020 in the first district, way up in East Tennessee, Diane Harshberger, I think she won that primary with like 19.6 percent.

Brewer: And what they all have to realize is everybody can’t win Williamson County, and that’s where they’re going to start fishing first because there’s a lot of money in Williamson County.

Leahy: A lot of money.

Brewer: A lot of donors in Williamson County. But it’s not the entire county.

Leahy: It’s only the eastern part of Williamson County in this district. You’ve got the southern part of Davidson County, the southern third of Davidson County. You’ve got the western part of Wilson, you’ve got the eastern part of Williamson.

All of Maury, all of Marshall, and all of Lewis. What does each candidate do? Morgan Ortagus, if she can qualify for the ballot, will probably have an awful lot of money. I would guess.

Brewer: She will. And I would think she would run a pretty holistic race. Well, dipping into all the counties, when she’s got a Trump brand, she can climb it. That’s got broad appeal across all those counties. For her, I don’t think it’s a fish-in-one-or-two-holes-for-votes kind of race.

I think she’s got to be everywhere. If you look at somebody like Mayor Ogles, he’s got a pretty interesting tactical advantage having already won in Maury County which is one of the only counties that’s entirely in the district, and it’s the largest county that’s entirely in the district.

So he runs up the score in Maury County and picks up some favorable spots and some others, and that looks pretty attractive.

Leahy: He runs up the score in Maury County, likely. And then Marshall and Lewis, you gotta think …

Brewer: A little resonance there, he’s the home team, sort of.

Leahy: So he has a geographic advantage in those areas.

Brewer: I think he’s got a sort of an advantage with his tone. He has campaigned to this kind of rural voter before. Maury County is a county in transition. Huge growth.

Leahy: As we call it, the bastion of freedom, that turbocharged engine of economic growth.

Brewer: It’s kind of like Montgomery County, where Clarksville is. It’s not adjacent to Davidson County, but it is starting to experience the growth boom that the collar counties have.

Leahy: So let’s talk about Robby Starbuck. What does he do? Who does he appeal to? He’s probably not going to have the money because we saw his filing and he’s raised like 200 and some odd thousands. He’s got like $130,000 left. That’s not a lot of money in this race.

Brewer: I think he appeals to some of the same people that Morgan Ortagus might appeal to, but without the Trump brand, and without the organization, based on what I can tell so far.

Leahy: He doesn’t really have an organization yet. He doesn’t have a communications team. He is his communications team. Morgan’s got the full array. She’s got a first-rate campaign team.

Brewer: Yes. The folks working for her are some of the best in the country. Let’s just be real about it.

Leahy: Some of the best in the country.

Brewer: I mean, it’s not like she’s got the best in the state. She’s got people working for her that move the needle all over the place.

Leahy: And her message is very guarded, and I call it sort of a bubble wrap. She’s not been on our program yet.

Brewer: It’s a little early. I don’t blame her for that. Again, I have defended the idea of her candidacy on the show.

Leahy: Yes, you have.

Brewer: Because she is an extremely qualified candidate.

Leahy: Except she’s only lived here for three months.

Brewer: No, that’s fine.

Leahy: (Laughs) And doesn’t live in the district.

Brewer: I think her life experience is … there are a lot of congressional districts that would like to have people disqualified.

Leahy: What does Robby do?

Brewer: I mean, he’s got to be organized. I would stop fighting with The Tennessee Star. (Leahy chuckles) Let’s start there. But I think showing a little game would be good.

Leahy: What he’s really good at is speaking to crowds. He’s a good speaker. And he’s also good at getting mega-type endorsements from people who are out there.

Brewer: If 20 percent is the theoretical threshold, then the mandate to all of them is to do what you’re good at.  You don’t really have to modify your act a whole lot, you just have to maximize it.

Leahy: Exactly. What about Baxter Lee? He’s got $3 million bucks, he says. He says he’s got Chip Saltsman. What does he do?

Brewer: There’s another one who’s got very serious, best-in-class political help right there. The teams behind Ortagus and behind Lee are very serious political teams.

Leahy: It’s our friend Ward Baker who’s running that team. We have a friendly relationship with Ward, but he is a formidable opponent.

Brewer: Yes, he is.

Leahy: If you’re on the other side.

Brewer: And he’s one of the best in the country. Chip Saltsman is one of the best in the country. In Tennessee, we have been blessed with a number of political operatives on the Republican side that are extremely good.

Leahy: But what does Chip Saltsman advise Baxter Lee to do? Because he’s got this cease-and-desist problem and nobody knows what his Win Save Club is.

Brewer: I think Mr. Lee is probably going to be able to carve out a nice niche as the business candidate. I think that he’ll appeal to the grassroots, but, you know, he’s going to be able to talk about his business experience.

He’s going to be able to talk about his ability to understand the budget, and his ability to understand public policy. He’s going to be able to make an argument that appeals to donors. I think he’s got a nice résumé. Getting in regulatory trouble with the government isn’t necessarily a negative in a Republican primary.

Leahy: Let’s ask about a couple of others, too. Retired Brigadier General Kurt Winstead: What’s he do? What’s his plan?

Brewer: I really don’t know. I mean, he’s a general. People just go, oh, he’s a general. But I think that means less these days than it used to.

Leahy: I don’t know what his path is. Omar Hamada just got in.

Brewer: That’s the Williamson County path. Williamson County, the slice of it there, is going to be important. The donor base in Williamson County is as important as the votes.

Leahy: You just made a hugely important point, and we’ll be tracking that when they file their FEC reports to see who’s winning the donor base race in Williamson County.

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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. 
















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One Thought to “All-Star Panelist Clint Brewer Gives His Take on Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District GOP Race”

  1. Concerned Tennessee Republican

    This legislation is not popular with many ordinary voters as it seems like an “establishment” move. While many agree it might be a good idea, to change the rules now and make new rules applicable to the current race is inappropriate and looks like interference on behalf of other candidates or at least against specific candidates.

    Pass the bill but make it applicable to the 2024 races and beyond, not current, to avoid appearance of wrong doing, backroom deals and to ensure fair play. No one thinks changing the rules of the game after the game has begun is fair – even if they Like the new rules, dislike the candidates that would be disqualified and prefer candidates that this law would benefit. 

    Fair is fair. Win on the issues and the rules of the game as they stood at the beginning of this election season. Change? Ok – sounds like a good change … but not for the election in which candidates are already running and have invested months of work (or weeks, depending on the candidate).

    Speaking to voters, this is a move that does not appear fair

    TN Politics should not be a game of Calvin Ball.

    (Disclosure: I am a native Tennessean … who also appreciates & accepts those who value & embrace TN and Tennesseans so much that they pick TN on purpose and relocate their lives to our great state!)