Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state, won a runoff for the state’s 6th District U.S. House seat, dashing Democratic hopes of embarrassing President Trump by snatching away a seat that has been safely in GOP hands for decades. Handel won 52.1 percent in the June 20 vote, defeating Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide, who took 47.9 percent despite raising more than $23 million. All told, more than $50 million was spent on the race, making it the most expensive House contest in U.S. history. (Posted June 20)
Republican Ralph Norman has won the special election for South Carolina’s 5th District U.S. House seat, but Democrat Archie Parnell trimmed more than 17 points from the GOP’s 2016 margin. Norman, a former state representative, won 51.1 percent to 47.9 percent for Parnell, a former Wall Street executive. That 3.2-point margin was a major drop from November, when President Trump won the district by 19 points and Mick Mulvaney, who gave up the seat to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, won by nearly 21 points. (Posted June 20)
Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, brushing aside an anti-establishment challenge from former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. But on the Republican side, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie could only squeak out a narrow win over Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s one-time Virginia campaign director, in a race that turned out to be much closer than pre-election polls had forecast. The results of the June 13 primary now set up what is likely to be an expensive and hard-fought race in the fall for the South’s only open governorship. (Posted June 12)
Gowdy, who gained national prominence for his investigation of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, was selected June 8 by the Republican Steering Committee to chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, replacing U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Gowdy’s Benghazi probe led to the disclosure that Hillary Clinton had used a private email server during her time as secretary of state, which dogged her throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. A former federal and state prosecutor in South Carolina, Gowdy represents the state’s 4th District. (Posted June 8)
The high court has upheld a ruling striking down the congressional map approved by North Carolina lawmakers after the 2010 census because it relied too heavily on racial considerations in drawing the new lines. Although the May 22 ruling will have little impact because the map was already changed after the state lost in a lower court, it could affect a pending case in Texas and curtail the ability of GOP majorities in Southern statehouses to maximize safe GOP seats by packing black voters into a small number of districts. (Posted May 23)
Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a four-term lawmaker from Huntsville, has announced he will run in a special election for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat against Strange, who was appointed in February. In a series of events across the state, Brooks touted himself as the only candidate with “a proven record of conservative leadership.” He is the eighth Republican and 10th candidate overall in the race triggered after new Governor Kay Ivey ordered an election this year. (Posted May 16)
Brown, an icon in North Florida’s African-American community who served 24 years in Congress, is likely headed to prison after being found guilty of 18 fraud and tax charges related to a scheme to divert money from a fraudulent scholarship charity to pay personal expenses. No sentencing date has been set, but, given the number and magnitude of the charges, the 70-year-old former Democratic congresswoman could potentially spend much of the rest of her life behind bars. (Posted May 12)
Jenkins announced that he will try to defeat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in 2018, in what is expected to be one of the South’s hottest Senate races. Although Manchin, a former governor, styles himself as a moderate, Jenkins put out a blistering campaign video accusing Machin of straying from the values he was elected to represent by supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Jenkins also tied himself firmly to Donald Trump, who won the Mountaineer State by a staggering 41 points in 2016. (Posted May 8)
While five Southern GOP members defied party leaders and President Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and supported it. Two of the Southern GOP no votes came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018. The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so because they thought the repeal measure didn’t go far enough. Among the potentially vulnerable members voting yes were Florida’s Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart; John Culberson of Texas; and Ted Budd of North Carolina. (Posted May 4)
Ros-Lehtinen, dean of Florida’s House delegation and the first Cuban-born member of Congress, is not seeking re-election in 2018 to her 27th District seat, closing three decades of service that have made her an icon in Miami’s politically powerful Cuban-American community. Republicans will now have to defend a seat from a district Donald Trump lost by 20 points but which returned Ros-Lehtinen to office term after term. The moderate congresswoman has been at odds with Trump and members of her own party, but she insisted neither the current Washington political climate nor her district’s increasing Democratic tilt prompted her retirement. (Posted May 1)
Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as chief justice after battles over same-sex marriage and the Ten Commandments, is running against U.S. Senator Luther Strange to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general. Moore is the third Republican to challenge Strange, who was appointed to the seat in February but now must defend it after new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed a decision by her predecessor, Robert Bentley, and called a special election. (Posted April 26)
Facing likely impeachment and possible criminal charges, Robert Bentley resigned and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide Rebekah Mason. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was then sworn in as the state’s new chief executive, becoming only the second woman to ever hold Alabama’s highest office.
Bentley’s resignation capped a remarkable fall from grace for the dermatologist-turned-governor from Tuscaloosa, whose good name, marriage and political future were all swept aside by the salacious story of a septuagenarian Baptist grandfather of seven carrying on with a married mother of three who is nearly three decades his junior. Under terms of a plea deal, Bentley avoids jail time and keeps his medical license, but he is barred from seeking political office again. Ivey said her first priorities would be to “steady the ship of state and improve Alabama’s image.” (Posted April 11)
With the support of all 24 Southern Republicans, the U.S. Senate changed its rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime seat on the high court. Three of the four Southern Democratic senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia — supported a filibuster to block Gorsuch, prompting Republicans to end the practice. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who did not join the filibuster but voted against changing the rules, criticized both sides for “hypocrisy,” saying the filibuster flap illustrates “precisely what is wrong with Washington.” (Posted April 6)
O’Rourke, who is giving up his safe House seat in order to make a long-shot bid to unseat Cruz, kicked off his campaign March 31 with a rally in his hometown of El Paso, which he represents in Congress, followed by a weekend of stops in major cities around the Lone Star State. Without mentioning Cruz by name, O’Rourke accused him of putting political ambition above his job as a senator, saying that to meet the challenges of the future, Texans will need “a senator who’s working full time for Texas, a senator who’s not using this position of responsibility and power to serve his own interests, to run for president, to shut down the government.” O’Rourke is also positioning himself as aDonald Trump critic, saying the new administration is “focused on the wrong things instead of the right things that (are) going to get us ahead.” (Posted April 1)
After a year of turmoil and economic losses, North Carolina legislators have passed a bill that rolls back HB2, which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender. However, the compromise hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and GOP legislature leaders also forbids local jurisdictions from passing ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise being criticized by LGBTQ advocates. Cooper, propelled to office on a pledge to repeal HB2, said the compromise wasn’t perfect but “begins to repair our reputation.” (Posted March 30)
Federal prosecutors are blaming former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and an aide for an ongoing scheme to bilk $1.25 million from charitable foundations and divert it for personal use. But Stockman, in the dock, is blaming the “deep state” for his legal woes. Stockman, a Republican who served two stints in the House before losing a Senate primary in 2014, is facing charges of mail and wire fraud, money laundering, violating campaign finance laws and filing a false tax return. Stockman, arrested while trying to catch a flight to the Middle East, said the “deep state” was trying to exact revenge for his longtime opposition to the IRS, according to the Houston Chronicle. (Posted March 30)
Cole, who serves as a deputy whip in the House GOP leadership, told reporters that there is “no indication” that Trump’s allegation that Obama had his phones tapped during the presidential campaign is true. “It’s not a charge I would ever have made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think … President Obama is owed an apology,” said Cole. “If (Obama) didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.” Cole represents Oklahoma’s 4th District, which stretches from the southern Oklahoma City suburbs south to the Texas border. Trump carried the district by 38 points in November. (Posted March 18)
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves. Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and how much white Southerners have forsaken their Democratic roots. The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South seems to be accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage. (Posted March 3)
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
Prior to the November 8 election, Democrats were publicly hopeful that they might finally be turning back Republican hegemony in the South, to the degree that pro-Hillary Clinton ads were running not only in the battleground states of Florida and North Carolina but also in reliably Republican Georgia and Texas.
Election results show that thinking was not just wishful, it was magical.
In fact, Clinton did comparatively worse in the South than Barack Obama did four years ago (which, oddly, seems to undercut the notion that the South’s resistance to Obama was based on his race.) A look at regional and state-by-state figures in the presidential race shows just how grim election night was for Southerners with a D attached to their name. (Posted November 11)