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 re-examine the race for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional House seat and how the candidates compare to one another.
Leahy: We are having a lot of fun right now talking with Clint Brewer, all-star panelist. We’re going to talk about the Tennessee 5th Congressional District race.
And it’s interesting, Clint, because the national mainstream media try to report on this and they just have no understanding of what’s going on here.
Brewer: No. I mean, at most, they parachute in and they spend a day or two or even a week and try to get a sense of things. But, yeah, it’s a race with a lot of complexity, a lot of nuances.
Leahy: Now let’s talk about those candidates who have announced and at least have some shot, some chance of winning. And so we’ll go through of the Tennesseans. Kurt Winstead, his team is pretty strong. He’s a retired brigadier general.
His wife is a lobbyist, he kind of works with her. She’s a Democrat. And so Kurt Winstead, Chris Devaney is his general consultant. Good guy. Was very successful. I like Chris a lot.
Brewer: Yes, absolutely. Known him for a long time.
Leahy: And he was very successful in managing the Bill Lee campaign.
Brewer: He’s won statewide.
Leahy: Former state party chairman. Worked with former Senator Alexander for a long time. And he’s got a strong fundraising team.
So then you got Baxter Lee. Baxter Lee has said on the air here he’s willing to spend up to $3 million. He’s hired a political heavyweight, Chip Saltsman.
Leahy: Chip is a guy you got to take seriously.
Leahy: I mean, he ran the Huckabee campaign, did a good job on that. He ran the Randy Boyd campaign for governor. That didn’t work out, but he made a lot of money. (Laughs)
Brewer: Randy came in second.
Leahy: Came in second. So we got that. And so that’s Winstead and Lee. And then you have the carpetbaggers, Robby Starbuck – and I would say, I think the likelihood that these three carpetbaggers – I won’t even add … Vitalli’s not serious. But the other two carpetbaggers, Robby Starbuck and Morgan Ortagus, probably won’t make it on the ballot. Either the GOP Republican Party will throw them off, for a reason, or the state law will pass, and that will cause them to be off the ballot.
But I don’t want to dwell on that too much. Let’s talk about Morgan Ortagus. I haven’t seen much of her in terms of being in the district or doing much in the past week. Have you?
Brewer: I have not. But that doesn’t mean she’s somewhere else where I don’t have that vantage point to see it. I think that pulling a petition will be a sign.
Leahy: We only have two weeks to go. She’s not pulled a petition.
Brewer: It’s not a high bar, right? I mean, it’s not a huge number of names you’ve got to get. I’m sure that’s already lined up.
Leahy: They could do it, but they haven’t done it. Her launch has not been strong. She was here on this program. We asked her a few basic questions about the district. She couldn’t tell us the names of the main interstate highways. That was not a good sign.
Brewer: I think, though, and we haven’t finished … You’ve also got the former Speaker of the House.
Leahy: Beth Harwell. And then we got Robert Starbuck Newsom.
Brewer: And Mayor Ogles. So I think if I’m a voter trying to make sense of all this, you’ve got to pay attention to the former House Speaker, Beth Harwell. You’ve got to pay attention.
Leahy: Little birdies tell me that polls have been taken, and that the leader in both name ID and leader on the ballot is Beth Harwell in some polls. But I haven’t seen the polls. I can’t verify them. And that’s when Ogles was not on the ballot.
Brewer: These campaigns will be doing their own polls.
Leahy: Push polls, some of them.
Brewer: The complexity in the race has changed this week with Mayor Ogles getting in. He’s a longtime conservative activist in the state. He has run and won countywide in Maury County, which is the only large county that is entirely in the district.
So that’s a huge base of voters. He’s already been on the ballot in front of a touched campaign and been successful with. And to my knowledge, I think he’s been a good county Mayor. I think people there like him, and he’s got a really great base.
Former Speaker [Harwell], she’s been a public servant for a long time. I think she’s going to have a lot of name ID out there. And you keep going down the list. Baxter Lee, if he can make the ballot and he has the money, I think that’s a reputable possibility.
Leahy: There’s a little bit of a twist on his bona fides. If you look at his voting record, he voted in the March 2020 Democratic primary, which is a red flag, shall we say, and he might have some problems getting on the ballot.
Brewer: He might. But all things being equal, if he gets on there, I think he’s a player in the race. And then General Winstead, as we said, Chris Devaney is running his race and he’s had success statewide. So you’ve got four pretty solid players there to make up what I think is probably the core of the race.
Leahy: On the Tennessee side. The true Tennesseans.
Brewer: Of the carpetbaggers …
Leahy: We’ve got four Tennesseans and two carpetbaggers.
Brewer: Yes. Again, as we’ve discussed, there’s a process with the state executive committee, and then there’s the option to simultaneously seek relief in court as to a potential candidacy. I think of all the new folks, just simply because of her ties to the Trump world and the endorsement, you have to consider Morgan Ortagus a competitor if she makes the ballot.
There are a lot of these folks running, and some of them have never run for anything before. Some of them have run and lost before for different things.
Leahy: If Robby Starbuck were to make the ballot, you don’t think he’d be the kind of competitor that Morgan Ortagus would be?
Brewer: I don’t see that from him, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. There seems to be a lot of social media that’s not really targeting the people of the district and the voters.
Leahy: He’s got two things going for him.
Brewer: Insiders, right.
Leahy: He’s got two things going for him beside the man-bun. Number one, he’s very good at social media. Number two, he’s a good speaker. Right now, beyond that track record residency here. But here’s the thing about this race.
Right now, we’re talking polling name ID, past affiliations. But a congressional race in a brand-new district is going to require an intense ground game to be successful.
It is going to be retail policies. First of all, you’ve got to just explain to people that it’s a new district because most voters don’t really pay attention to that.
Leahy: We pay attention because we’re political geeks.
Brewer: Yes, exactly. But your average vote is like what? People in my neck of the woods are going to be looking at the ballot going, why can’t I vote for John Rose?
Leahy: Many will walk into the ballot in Wilson County and say, well, I thought John Rose was on the ballot.
Brewer: Who are all these people?
Leahy: I don’t know any of these people.
Brewer: So that’s their first task. The field as a whole is going to have to educate voters and help them understand they’re part of a new district and a new seat that’s open. Beyond that, I think it’s going to be very much a getting around the district, campaigning in small places over and over and over again.
Leahy: Personal. All politics is local, as Tip O’Neill said.
Listen to the full interview:
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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 “Robby Starbuck” by Robby Starbuck.