Endorsed by Trump, Polk native Morgan Ortagus at center of Tennessee Congressional fight (2024)

Endorsed by Trump, Polk native Morgan Ortagus at center of Tennessee Congressional fight (1)

A Polk County native who has served in three presidential administrations is the subject of a skirmish among Tennessee Republicans as she runs for Congress in that state.

Morgan Ortagus filed last month to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, joining a dense field in Tennessee’s District 5. Her candidacy quickly earned a “complete and total endorsem*nt” from a previous boss, former President Donald Trump, but also criticism from some Tennessee Republicans because Ortagus only moved to the state last year.

In response, theTennessee General Assembly is considering rule changes that would require candidates to live in the state for three years before qualifying to run for Congress, potentially ending Ortagus' candidacy.

Ortagus, 39, is among more than a dozen candidates —all Republicans except for two independents—seeking to succeed longtime Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat. The Republican-controlled General Assembly divided Cooper’s current Nashville district into three new districts during this year’s redistricting process, prompting Cooper to announce that he wouldn’t run again.

The irregularly shaped district stretches mostly south of Nashville, where Ortagus lives, according to her campaign website.

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A staffer with Ortagus’ campaign said last week that the candidate would be available for a phone interview. But the campaign didn't respondto subsequent requests from The Ledger.

Ortagus, an Auburndale native, has a bulging resume that includes government service in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations —most recently as a spokesperson for the State Department from 2019 to 2021 —as well as private-sector work with companies involved in international relations. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science with honors from Florida Southern College in 2005, earning the title of Miss Florida Citrus in a pageant and collecting scholarship money, The Ledger previously reported.

In her role as Miss Florida Citrus, Ortagus reportedly traveled to China, a prelude to her later work in international relations.

Ortagus quickly became involved in Republican politics after college. She worked on the campaign staff of former U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, a Bartow native, and later as a press secretary for former U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who grew up in Lakeland.

Ortagus briefly considered a run for the Florida House in 2006 but deferred to Lakeland’s Dennis Ross, The Ledger reported at the time.

After a stint with the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of K.T. McFarland, later a security adviser in the Trump Administration, Ortagus in 2007 became a public affairs officer with the George W. Bush Administration in the United States Agency for International Development. In that role, she spent time in Iraq, according to published reports.

Endorsed by Trump, Polk native Morgan Ortagus at center of Tennessee Congressional fight (2)

She later joined the U.S. Treasury Department as an intelligence analyst focused on North Africa and the Middle East, according to the Washington Post.

During the Obama Administration, Ortagus served as a deputy Treasury attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the Post reported. Back in the United States, Ortagus left government to work for private financial firms, serving as an investment risk analyst for Ernst & Young.

Ortagus earned twin master’s degrees from John Hopkins University in 2013, the same year she married her second husband, Jonathan Weinberger. Ortagus converted to Judaism, and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a neighbor, presided over the couple’s wedding, The New York Times reported.

Ortagus, an active U.S. Navy Reserve officer, became a national security contributor to Fox News, appearing regularly on its programs. She also co-founded GO Advisors, a risk and policy consulting firm focused on improving connections between private investors and the U.S. Treasury Department, the Post reported.

The election of Trump in 2016 eventually led to Ortagus’ service with a third presidential administration. In her role as State Department spokesperson, she traveled with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to more than 50 countries, according to her campaign website.

Ortagus joined Pompeo on a trip to Qatar in February 2020 for the signing of the Doha agreement, a contract with the Taliban to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. She also promoted the Abraham Accords, a joint statement of improved relations between Israel and two Persian Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Pompeo has endorsed Ortagus in her bid for Congress, issuing a statement saying, “I can’t think of a stronger candidate than Morgan Ortagus.”

Ortagus served until the end of the Trump Administration, taking maternity leave in late 2020 and giving birth to a daughter. She then resumed serving as a contributor to Fox News.

Ortagus joined the Tennessee congressional race in February. Of the 13 listed candidates, only three have reported campaign contributions, and Republican Robby Starbuck leads with $255,000 in campaign cash.

An endorsem*nt from Trump sometimes proves decisive, as it did in 2018, when his blessing propelled Ron DeSantis —then a little-known congressman —to an upset of Putnam, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

More recently, though, Trump-endorsed candidates have had mixed results, and some Republicans in Tennessee have complained about his favoring of Ortagus.

Some GOP officials complained that the endorsem*nt “essentially served as an anointment,” NBC News reported. The Tennessee Senate voted 31-1 to approve a bill that would require congressional candidates to reside in the state for three years and in their districts for one year before running in a primary race. (Federal law does not require U.S. House members to live in their districts.)

The state House passed a similar bill, but it would delay the rule changesuntil after the November general election, the Tennessean newspaper reported. As of Thursday, the two chambers had not reconciled the differences in their bills. The General Assembly’s session is scheduled to end in late April.

The deadline to qualify for the primary election is April 7.

On her campaign website, Ortagus lists a series of “key issues,” among them border security, religious freedom, support of Israel and balancing the budget. She claims that President Joe Biden and Democrats are trying “to turn America into a socialist country.”

Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13.

Endorsed by Trump, Polk native Morgan Ortagus at center of Tennessee Congressional fight (2024)
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