Leading the pack among Southern Democrats who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 was Joe Cunningham, representing the Low Country of South Carolina, who raised $663,500 during the first quarter of 2019, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Cunningham was followed by two Texans — Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Houston, who raised $582,900, and Colin Allred in Dallas, who raised $530,400. In the Atlanta suburbs, Lucy McBath, who already has two Republicans campaigning against her for 2020, raised $482,000.
Collective amnesia is on display these days in Richmond, where Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Democrats in the House of Delegates are resisting calls from Republican legislators to allow two women who have accused Fairfax of sexual assault to testify publicly.
Instead, Fairfax wants prosecutors in North Carolina and Boston — where the alleged assaults took place — to investigate cases that are 19 and 15 years old, respectively, knowing full well that said prosecutors have absolutely no incentive to get involved in cases that involve no one now living in their jurisdictions and are unlikely to lead to criminal prosecution.
Virginia House Democrats are resisting public testimony because, in the words of Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, the hearing proposed by Republicans would turn into “a politically motivated and unprecedented spectacle.”
Unprecedented? Anyone remember Brett Kavanagh and Christine Blasey Ford?
The questions here isn’t whether Justin Fairfax should go to jail; it’s whether he should remain in high office. And that is a political matter clearly under the purview of Virginia legislators. And how can anyone say, as Fairfax has, how much we need to listen to sexual assault victims while at the same time thwarting efforts to let them be heard?
Tuberville, who coached Auburn for nine seasons and led the team to an SEC championship in 2004, announced his candidacy in an April 6 Twitter post in which he said “after more than a year of listening to Alabama’s citizens, I have heard your concerns and hopes for a better tomorrow” and would seek the Republican nomination for the seat currently held by Democrat Doug Jones. In his tweet, Tuberville used the hashtag #MAGA, President Donald Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again.” Politico reported that Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, will work for Tuberville, who will face U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne in the primary, with other Republicans also expected to join the race. (Posted April 6)
Days after two women vividly described for a national television audience how they were sexually assaulted by Fairfax, the lieutenant governor called a news conference to once again deny the allegations and release results of polygraph examinations that he insists clear him. “Sensationalizing allegations does not make them true,” said Fairfax, who admitted having sexual encounters with both women but said they were consensual. Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates continued to spar over whether to let Fairfax’s accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, testify in a public hearing, as the women have requested. (Posted April 3)
Robin Hayes, a former congressman who chairs the North Carolina Republican Party, and the state’s top political donor have been indicted in what federal prosecutors called a “brazen” scheme to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Prosecutors charged Hayes and Durham businessman Greg E. Lindberg with wire fraud and bribery for an alleged scheme to bribe Causey to get favorable treatment from regulators for one of Lindberg’s companies. The indictment also appears to connect Walker to Lindberg but does not accuse him of wrongdoing. (Posted April 2)
Graham, a one-time Trump critic who has become one of his most vigorous and unlikely defenders in the Senate, was rewarded with a visit from Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to South Carolina for the kickoff of Graham’s 2020 re-election campaign. Pence told a rally in Greenville that he and Trump were “standing next to this man because of the way he stood next to us.” Graham also put his relationship with the president front-and-center, saying “purpose No. 1 is to help President Trump in his second term, to be an ally of this president who has kept his word, who is making America great again and will continue to do so.” Graham, 63, is seeking his fourth term in the Senate. (Posted March 31)
In an extemporaneous speech to an enthusiastic hometown crowd, O’Rourke called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted” America’s democracy. “This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting. The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes,” he said. Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. O’Rourke barely mentioned Donald Trump other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”(Posted March 30)
The list of Republicans in the May primary includes four current or former elected officials — State Senator Dan Bishop from Charlotte; Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing; former Mecklenberg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour; and Fern Shubert, a former state legislator from Marshville — along with six political newcomers. The winner will face Democrat Dan McCready, who lost the seat by 905 votes in November but got another chance when state election officials ordered a new vote over allegations of absentee ballot fraud by an operative working for Republican Mark Harris. Citing health concerns, Harris opted out of a rematch with McCready. (Posted March 15)
With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home. The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Democrats voting yes included Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama, who faces re-election in 2020. (Posted March 14)
Byrne has become the first Republican to enter the race against U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who is considered among the most endangered Democratic incumbents in 2020. In his campaign kickoff, Byrne, who represents Mobile and southern Alabama, drew a contrast with Jones over his opposition to Brent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, his stand in favor of legal abortion, and his opposition to President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, Byrne’s own past criticisms of the president are likely to become an issue in the GOP primary. (Posted February 21)
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.
Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.
The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience. (Posted February 20)
Jones, a libertarian maverick who frequently bucked his party’s leadership and became a vocal opponent of sending U.S. troops into foreign wars, has died at the age of 76. The congressman, who had been granted a leave of absence from the House in December due to ill health, died on his birthday Sunday at a hospice in Greenville, according to his office. He had entered the hospice in late January when his health declined after breaking a hip. Jones’s death will trigger a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which includes the eastern part of the state along the Atlantic Coast. (Posted February 11)
After defeating his Democratic challenger by just 433 votes in 2018, Woodall announced he will retire from the House after four terms, becoming the first Southern congressman to forgo a re-election bid in 2020. His decision opens up the 7th District seat in Atlanta’s increasingly diverse northwestern suburbs, a once solidly Republican area where Democrats have made recent gains. Carolyn Bordeaux — the Democrat who nearly unseated Woodall in 2018 — is running again. (Posted February 7)
In a January 29 radio interview, Bevin lamented school closings across his state, amid subzero wind chills. “It does concern me a little bit that in America, on this and a number of other fronts, we’re sending messages to our young people that if life is hard, you can curl up in the fetal position somewhere in a warm place and just wait ’til it stops being hard,” he said. The governor faced immediate blowback, with NBC’s Al Roker calling him a “nitwit” on national television. (Posted January 31)
After less than three weeks on the job, Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel resigned after the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper published photos of him in drag and wearing blackface while posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a Halloween Party in 2005. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who appointed Ertel as secretary of state in December, accepted his resignation January 24, telling reporters, “I don’t want to get mired in side controversies.” Ertel was elections supervisor in Seminole County when the photos were taken. (Posted January 24)
Castro launched his campaign January 12 in the mostly Latino West Side neighborhood where he grew up, calling for “new leadership” and a “new commitment to make sure that the opportunities I’ve had are available to every American.” Castro, 44, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, served as housing secretary in the Obama administration after five years as mayor. He is the first Southerner of either party, and the first Latino, to launch a 2020 presidential campaign. (Posted January 12)
VIDEO ROUNDUP OF INAUGURATIONS FOR SOUTHERN GOVERNORS
- ARKANSAS: ASA HUTCHINSON (Posted January 17)
- TEXAS: GREG ABBOTT (Posted January 17)
- GEORGIA: BRIAN KEMP (Posted January 14)
- ALABAMA: KAY IVEY (Posted January 14)
- OKLAHOMA: KEVIN STITT (Posted January 14)
- SOUTH CAROLINA: HENRY MCMASTER (Posted January 8)
- FLORIDA: RON DESANTIS (Posted January 8)
Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020. Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote. Two other freshmen Democrats who vowed during their campaign to oppose Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — voted instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois. (Posted January 3)
In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the new Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five. The chairmanships now no longer in Southern hands include such powerful and high-profile posts as Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform. (Posted January 2)
North Carolina Republicans will now be able to dump Mark Harris, their embattled candidate in the disputed 9th District U.S. House race, after the General Assembly overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of bill requiring primaries if state elections officials decide to rerun the race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The change would allow Republicans to replace Harris, whose campaign has become embroiled in an investigation into irregularities in absentee voting. (Posted December 27)
Alexander’s retirement will bring down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and will set up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in the Volunteer State. In a statement announcing his decision, Alexander said, “I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.” (Posted December 17)
Just hours after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to name Mick Mulvaney acting White House chief of staff, The Daily Beast posted a short video clip from a 2016 congressional debate in South Carolina in which Mulvaney said he was supporting Trump “as enthusiastically as I can despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.” Those remarks, reported by local media at the time, stand in contrast Mulvaney’s December 14 tweet after Trump installed him as interim chief of staff to replace John Kelly: “This is a tremendous honor. I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!” (Posted December 15)
Twelve former Southern senators have joined an open letter calling on current senators “to be steadfast and zealous” in guarding democracy amid “serious challenges to the rule of law” flowing from investigations of President Trump and his administration. “It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” wrote a bipartisan group of 44 former senators in the letter, which was published December 10 in the Washington Post. The group includes 11 former Democratic senators from the South and one Republican, John Warner of Virginia. (Posted December 11)
Kennedy, in a statement announcing his decision, said, “It is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good.” The senator, who has won statewide office six times, would have been a formidable challenger to Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, the only Democrat holding a governorship in the Deep South. The only Republican in the race so far is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, although U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham is considering a bid. (Posted December 3)
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally the Democratic base in general and minority voters in particular. No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.
But, alas for Democrats, this chatter proved to be rather idle. Beto O’Rourke is not going to be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum will not be governor of Florida, and Stacey Abrams will not be governor of Georgia. And as Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Posted November 30)
After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest. Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State. With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. (Posted November 28)
With one uncalled seat in Georgia heading for a recount, Democrats have made a net gain of 10 U.S. House seats across the 14 Southern states in the November 6 election, an improvement over their results in 2014 and 2016 but only about a third of the seats they targeted. Democratic gains were centered in suburban areas around major cities, and they also made breakthroughs in Oklahoma and South Carolina. However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. Republicans will still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in Southern seats when Congress convenes in January. (Posted November 18)
The Florida governor’s race has come to an end with Democrat Andrew Gillum’s second concession to Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis. Gillum — who had conceded on election night but took it back after late-reporting results showed the race tightening — took to Facebook Saturday to offer his congratulations to DeSantis and thank his supporters. After a statewide machine recount, Gillum trailed DeSantis by 32,500 votes. (Posted November 18)
After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space. In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.” He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life. (Posted November 18)
Saying she sees “no further remedy” to allow her to overcome Republican Brian Kemp’s lead in Georgia’s governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams has acknowledged Kemp’s win but is refusing to concede and vowing to file a federal lawsuit over what she sees as his “malpractice” in administering the election as secretary of state. She said “as a woman of conscience and faith” she could not concede “because concession means to acknowledge an action is right and proper.” In his response to Abrams’s non-concession concession, Kemp said he appreciated “her passion, hard work and commitment” but said “we can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.” (Posted November 16)
In April 2017, Handel, after twice losing races for statewide office, had arrived at the promised land, at end of a very long road. She won a special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, narrowly defeating Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff after $50 million was spent in a race fueled by Democratic anger over the election of Donald Trump. Her future seemed assured in the 6th, anchored in Atlanta’s wealthy northern suburbs and previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Rep. Tom Price. When Ossoff decided not to challenge Handel again in the midterm election, her seat seemed secure — until Tuesday’s midterm election, when Handel lost her seat to Democrat Lucy McBath, who didn’t have Handel’s political pedigree but did have a compelling personal story and an issue, gun control. (Posted November 8)
The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida. The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat. Democrats did flip at least eight Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Four House seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in three of them. (Posted November 7)
Haley, the former South Carolina governor, made the surprise announcement at the White House sitting next to the man who appointed her, President Donald Trump, who told reporters that Haley has “done an incredible job.” Haley said that after six years as governor and two years in the U.N. post, she wanted to leave government service and return to private life, although she did not announce any specific plans. But she did rule out a White House run in 2020, saying she plans to campaign for Trump. (Posted October 10)
Manchin said he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court despite “reservations” because of accusations of sexual assault leveled against President Trump’s embattled nominee. Manchin, the only Democrat to break ranks to support Kavanaugh, called him “a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.” Four other Southern Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Doug Jones of Alabama — voted no. (Posted October 6)
After months of being tight-lipped about his political plans, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says he will run for re-election in 2019, amid the fallout from a teachers’ strike earlier this year that roiled state politics. His decision sets up a possible battle with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has used the powers of his office to become a significant thorn in the governor’s side. Bevin told a state GOP gathering in Lexington that “there was not a chance that I was going to walk away and leave the seeds that we’ve put in the ground to be trampled.” (Posted August 28)
Four Southern Republicans — Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jody Hice of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — were part of a group of 11 Freedom Caucus members who introduced articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But the effort quickly fizzled after running into opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders. Now, instead, the group will seek to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not fully comply with requests for documents about the Russia probe. (Posted July 27)
Beshear, the first Democrat to enter the governor’s race, launched his campaign in a two-day swing across the commonwealth during which he took a dig at Bevin with a pledge to “set a standard for transparency and decency” in Frankfort. Beshear and Bevin have been at war — legally and rhetorically — since 2016, including a pending court fight over a pension reform bill that prompted thousands of public school teachers to protest at the State Capitol earlier this year. Reflecting the political potency of the education issue, Beshear selected as his running mate Jacqueline Coleman, 36, a civics teacher and high school basketball coach who was active in the protest movement. (Posted July 10)