Judge declines to place ousted Republican hopeful back on ballot

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday denied a congressional hopeful's motion to reverse his removal from the GOP primary ballot.

In his 19-page decision, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw said that while the Tennessee Republican Party may have possibly violated its own bylaws in kicking video producer Robby Starbuck off the ballot, it did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

"Exactly why Mr. Starbuck's name was removed from the ballot the Court may never know," Crenshaw wrote. "His complaint speaks of smoke-filled rooms with carpetbaggers engaged in political chicanery reminiscent of the Daley machine in Chicago during the 60's and 70's, and New York's Tammany Hall in the late 1800's and early 1900's."

Last month, state GOP officials confirmed that Starbuck, small business owner Baxter Lee and former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus did not qualify to run in the upcoming Republican August primary. All three had received challenges over their voting records.

Starbuck has been the only candidate who has fought to overturn the Republican Party's decision in court. According to the lawsuit, Starbuck was seeking a court injunction to stop the removal of his name from the primary ballot, alleging that the state Republican Party violated its own bylaws in a decision "inconsistent with federal and state law."

"Starbuck's efforts were thwarted not because of any clear violation of federal law, but because (for whatever reason) the (Tennessee Republican Party) decided not to follow its own rules," Crenshaw wrote.

Starbuck on Thursday said he was considering all of his options, including taking the case to state court.

"There's no excuse for keeping a vouched for, bonafide, leading Republican candidate who's endorsed by Senator Rand Paul off of the ballot," he said in a statement.

Several candidates have set their sights on Tennessee's freshly drawn 5th District after Republican redistricting this year. The seat opened up after Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper announced he would not seek reelection rather than run in a remapped district. The redrawn district carved up Nashville, favoring Republicans in each of the three seats and making it impossible for him to win any of them, in his view.

The Republican field for the 5th District includes Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Heidi Campbell is seeking the 5th District seat.