Biden, Bloomberg and Sanders scramble for Southern support; Jeff Sessions mounts a comeback in Alabama; another Bush tries to launch
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoitics.com
(CFP) — Southern voters from the shores of Virginia to the deserts of West Texas will go to the polls to vote in primary elections Tuesday, with the Democratic presidential race as the day’s marquee event.
In what’s come to be known as Super Tuesday, 621 delegates are up for grabs in presidential primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, with polling showing a three-way tussle in those states between former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is making his campaign debut.
In North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, voters will also decide down ballot races in addition to the White House contest.
North Carolinians will pick nominees for governor, and there are contested U.S. Senate primaries among Democrats in Texas and North Carolina and among Republicans in Alabama, where Jeff Sessions is trying to reclaim the seat he gave up to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.
A wave of Republican U.S. House retirements in Texas has also triggered a string of wide-open primaries there, including one in which Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, is trying to launch a political career with an establishment pedigree in the age of Trump.
Two veteran members of the Lone Star delegation, Republican Kay Granger and Democrat Henry Cuellar, are also trying to fend off primary challenges — she from the Trump right, and he from the “progressive” left — while former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in the Democratic sweep of 2018, is trying to mount a comeback from a different district in Waco.
Heading into Super Tuesday, the state of Democratic presidential contests in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma are a big unknown, given a paucity of public polling in any of those states. The polling that has been done in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia shows Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg bunched at the top, with the other candidates trailing behind.
However, those polls don’t take into account the possible effect from Biden’s big win in South Carolina on Saturday, which was the first Southern stop on the primary calendar, and the subsequent departures from the race of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom endorsed Biden.
In the Super Tuesday states, Biden must also cope with Bloomberg’s lavish campaign spending and Sanders’s formidable ground operation.
One of the biggest factors in who can carry these Southern states will be performance among African American voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in Alabama and more than a quarter in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
While Biden ran away with the black vote in South Carolina, he will face new competition Tuesday from Bloomberg, who has been organizing across the region and getting endorsements from African American elected officials.
Down Ballot Races
To win without a runoff in North Carolina, a candidate needs to win 30 percent of the vote, as opposed to the majority requirement in most Southern states.
In Texas and North Carolina, Democrats will be selecting nominees to face incumbent Republican U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Thom Tillis; in Alabama, Republicans will pick a challenger for Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.
The Alabama GOP primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. Polls point to a likely runoff.
In North Carolina, the Democratic establishment’s pick, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is facing State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller. Cunningham will need to win 30 percent to avoid a runoff.
In Texas, a field of 12 Democrats includes MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force combat pilot; State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Given the fractured field, a runoff is likely.
Texas U.S. House
The primary competition for U.S. House races in Texas will be particularly intense on Tuesday, thanks to the departures of five sitting Republicans in the Texas delegation and a number of other seats that both parties are targeting in the fall.
At least 13 seats that are open or potentially competitive are likely headed to runoffs in one and possibly both parties, which means the state of play for the fall won’t be apparent until after runoffs on May 26.
Among the notable candidates trying to get to Congress are former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention in a bid for governor in 2014, who is running in the 21st District near Austin for the chance to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy; Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former physician and unsuccessful nominee for veterans secretary, running for the GOP nomination in the 13th District in the Panhandle with Trump’s support; and Pierce Bush in the 22nd District in suburban Houston.
Bush is the son of Neil Bush, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, and the nephew of President George W. Bush. If elected, he would be the second of his generation of the Bush family to hold elective office in Texas, joining State Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
In the 12th District, which includes Fort Worth, Granger, — the House’s senor woman Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee — is trying to hold off a challenge from Chris Putnam, a former Colleyville city councilman who calls Granger “a creature of the swamp” and criticizes her for calling on Trump to get out of the 2016 race after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.
He has also hit Granger for changing her position on legal abortion, which she now opposes but supported earlier in her career.
Granger, however, has countered Putnam’s criticism with the most powerful tool in modern Republican politics — an endorsement from Trump himself.
In South Texas, Cuellar, one of more conservative Democrats in the House, is being challenged by Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney from Laredo who has gotten endorsements from a who’s who of the party’s left flank, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.
Culler is also one of seven Democratic House incumbents who are being targeted for defeat by Justice Democrats, a group affiliated with Ocasio-Cortez.
Cisneros has hit Cuellar for being too willing to support Trump, opposing federal funding for abortion, and being too cozy with the National Rifle Association. But Cuellar has countered by stressing his constituent service over more than a decade in Congress and arguing that voters in his majority Latino 28th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Laredo and down through the Rio Grade Valley, don’t share Cisneros’s more liberal policy positions.
Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in 2018, is trying to make a comeback in the Waco-centered 17th District, where he grew up but hasn’t lived in decades. The man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep Bill Flores, has pointedly endorsed one of Sessions’s 10 Republican rivals, Renee Swann, saying “our next congressperson needs to be one of us.”
However, of all of the candidates in the race, Sessions has the highest political profile, which could be enough for him to get into what is likely to be a runoff for the nomination.
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