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March Madness: Presidential primary season turns South with a vengeance

10 Southern states hold primaries during March, with nearly 1,000 Democratic delegates at stake

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

The 2020 presidential primary calendar finally turns to the South on the last day of February, when South Carolina Democrats cast their ballots in their state’s first-in-the-South primary.

Then, buckle up. The political version of March Madness is about to take off.

During March, 10 Southern states will hold Democratic presidential primaries, with 981 delegates at stake — nearly 25 percent of the total pledged delegates who will officially pick the party’s presidential nominee in Milwaukee in July.

Louisiana, which votes in April, and West Virginia and Kentucky, which vote in May, are the only three Southern states who won’t pick delegates in March.

On March 3, seven Southern states — Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and North Carolina — will vote, with 621 Democratic delegates on the line, including 228 alone in the Lone Star State. Florida, with 219 delegates, goes two weeks later, and Georgia, with 105, goes the week after that.

In most of these states, the amount of public polling on the Democratic race has been sparse to non-existent. That, combined with the fluidity of the race after Iowa and New Hampshire, means all of the Southern races are shrouded in uncertainty.

So the presidential race takes on a twang, here are some things to watch for:

If Biden Bites the Dust: The former vice president’s campaign will be on life support, or worse, if he loses in South Carolina, which will particularly shake up the landscape in the South because of his heretofore solid support among African American voters.

Black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana; they are a smaller but still powerful group everywhere else. If Biden exits after South Carolina, his African American supporters will be looking for a new home, opening up an avenue for someone to come in and hoover up a crop of Southern delegates. Or, the black vote could fracture between multiple candidates, adding even more uncertainty to the overall race.

Bloomberg’s Debut: The March 3 Super Tuesday primaries (seven in the South and seven in other parts of the country) will be the first test for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been building staff and airing ads across the region while his competitors dallied and debated in the early states. If he can tap into Biden’s African American support, Bloomberg could become an unstoppable force; his performance across the South will tell us whether that’s probable or even possible.

Bernie, Bless His Heart: Four years ago, Hillary Clinton plum wore out Bernie Sanders all across the South. The only states he carried were West Virginia and Oklahoma (and how on earth did a self-described socialist win Oklahoma?), a haul that gave her an insurmountable delegate lead. Against a much more fractured field, Sanders is likely to improve on that dismal performance, but if Bloomberg or one of the other candidates puts together a coalition that sweeps the South, it could be deja vu all over again for Bernie and his ‘bros.

Wave the Rainbow Shirt: Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to make a serious run for the presidential nomination in either political party. How will this play in the evangelical South? Or among culturally conservative African American voters? Polling to date has shed little light on this; the results in March might, although there are a myriad of reasons Buttigieg might falter in the South that have nothing to do with his sexual identity, particularly his sparse political resume.

Danged Yankees: The 2020 Democratic race features one current (Bloomberg) and one former (Sanders) New Yorker, along with candidates from Boston, Delaware, Minnesota, and Indiana. Indeed, for the first time since the modern primary process took root in the 1950s, a competitive Democratic primary race is taking off with nary a Southerner among the major players (if one remembers that for all her New York bona fides, Hillary Clinton was once first lady of Arkansas.) So to the degree that any regional political affinity remains, it won’t be in play in 2020, although Elizabeth Warren does try to remind folks at every opportunity that she grew up in Oklahoma. (As if that compensates for moving to Boston and becoming a Red Sox fan.)

Expanding The Map: If one considers that the primary — perhaps only — purpose of a presidential primary process is to pick a candidate who can win in November, the outcomes of Democratic primary season would seem a poor barometer to predict what might happen in the general election. After all, no matter how well a Democrat does in Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi in March, she or he is not going to carry these states in November, unless something goes catastrophically wrong on the Republican side.

However, Florida and North Carolina will be hotly contested in the general election, and Democrats have hopes of flipping Texas and Georgia. So time, energy and money (think Bloomberg) expended in those states in the primary seasons could pay dividends down the line. (It’s worth noting that after Barack Obama organized in Virginia and Indiana to compete against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, he flipped both of those states in November.)

What About Trump? The GOP is holding primaries at the same time as Democrats in all of the Southern states except for South Carolina and Virginia, where they have been cancelled in deference to President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, has no serious opposition, but his campaign has embarked on a strategy of trying to drive up his vote totals in uncontested primaries as a sign of strength. So don’t be surprised if you see Trump parachuting into the South during March to rally his faithful — and, as a delightful bonus, to irritate the Democrats.

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Two Southern Democratic senators representing Trump states vote to convict president

Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia likely to face blowback back home for supporting Trump’s removal

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to find Trump guilty on two articles of impeachment, a decision that will subject them to significant blowback in their home states.

The other two Southern Democrats in the Senate — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia — also voted to convict Trump, while all 24 Republicans representing Southern states voted no. Both impeachment articles failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president from office.

Jones announces decision on Senate floor (From PBS via YouTube)

Jones — considered to be the most vulnerable Democrat running for re-election in 2020, in a state Trump carried by 28 points — said he concluded that “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office … to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”

“I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days. We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line,” Jones said in a floor speech announcing his vote. “I did not run for the Senate hoping to take part in the impeachment trial of a duly elected president. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”

Watch full video of Jones’s floor speech at end of story

Manchin didn’t disclose his decision in the impeachment trial until moments before the Senate began voting, with each senator standing and pronouncing Trump either “guilty” or “not guilty.”

“Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly,” Manchin said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”

Trump carried West Virginia by 41 points in 2016. However, unlike Jones, Manchin isn’t up for re-election again until 2024, which means he’s unlikely to face any immediate political consequences from his decision.

In the days before the final vote, Manchin had floated the idea of a Senate censure of Trump, which would have condemned his conduct without acquitting him on the impeachment charges. But the idea failed to gain traction among senators in either party.

Both Jones and Manchin also criticized the refusal by Senate Republicans to agree to introduce additional witnesses and documents into the trial, which Jones said “would have provided valuable context, corroboration or contradiction to what we have heard.”

The first article of impeachment, which accused Trump of abuse of power, failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office, with 48 senators voting guilty and 52 not guilty. The second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress, failed on a 47-to-53 vote.

Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote for conviction on the first article, joined by all 47 Democrats. The vote on the second article fell along party lines.

In 2017, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won a special election to become the first Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State in the Senate in 27 years. With the November election looming, he had been under considerable pressure to vote to acquit Trump, with Republicans organizing demonstrations outside of his Alabama offices.

Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama GOP, said the senator’s decision showed that he “continues to take his marching orders from Chuck Schumer and his liberal California campaign donors.”

“Senator Jones once again is demonstrating his contempt for the majority of Alabamians who are opposed to impeachment,” Lathan said in a statement. “The voters of Alabama will keenly remember this day on November 3rd and replace Senator Jones with someone who will truly represent Alabama’s values.”

One of Jones’s GOP opponents, Bradley Byrne, called his vote the “final straw.”

“I’ve never been so fired up to take back this seat & send Trump a conservative fighter,” Bryne said on Twitter.

Another Republican competitor, Jeff Sessions, in an interview with Breitbart News, said Jones “clearly revealed himself to be a part of the Schumer team, the liberal team, that would create a majority in the Senate, that would make every committee chairman a Democrat—some of them radical Democrats—and all of which is contrary to the values of Alabama.”

Sessions held the Senate seat now held by Jones for 20 years before resigning in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general. He is now trying to make a comeback by wrapping himself in the Trump mantle, despite a frequently frosty relationship with the president that led to his ouster from the Justice Department in 2018.

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Ebenezer Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock enters Georgia U.S. Senate special election

Warnock gets an early boost from Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a governor’s race in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA — Atlanta pastor Ralphael Warnock, who holds the historic pulpit where both Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached, has entered the special election race for a U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate for a seat they have high hopes of flipping.

“I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential,” he said in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door — that’s actually where it starts.”

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

Warnock’s campaign launch came with a full-throated endorsement from Stacey Abrams, who energized Democrats nationally in a unsuccessful race for governor in 2018.

“Wherever there is need, Reverend Warnock can be found on the front lines,” Abrams said in a letter sent to her supporters. “And that’s where we need him at this moment. On the front lines of the battle for the soul of America.”

Since 2005, Warnock has been senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, from which King helped lead the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Senate race is his first run for political office.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate seat in December by Governor Brian Kemp to replace Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. Georgia voters will decide in November who fills the remaining two years of Isakson’s term; candidates from all parties will run in a special election, with the top two voter-getters facing each other in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

Warnock’s entry into the race further complicates Loeffler’s effort to hold the seat. She is already facing an intra-party challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who was passed over by Kemp when he filled the Senate vacancy.

Four other candidates will be competing with Warnock for Democratic votes: Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

The next wrinkle in the Senate race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — are trying to push through a change in state law to hold party primaries instead of an all-parties special election, setting up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

The change would also ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican David Perdue, is also up in 2020. And while Georgians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2000, the two Georgia seats could be key to Democrat’s hopes of overturning the GOP’s three-seat majority.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins gets into U.S. Senate race, igniting GOP squabble

Trump champion will challenge Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in December

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, will run in a November special election against the state’s newly minted U.S. senator, Kelly Loeffler, defying the man who appointed her, Governor Brian Kemp, and triggering an intra-party squabble with potential implications for Senate control.

“We’re getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president, keep him working for the people of Georgia,” Collins said in a Wednesday morning appearance on “Fox & Friends” where he confirmed his candidacy. “We just need to have a process that let’s the people decide. Let them choose for themselves how they want to see this vision.”

In December, Kemp appointed Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta business executive who had not previously held political office, to the seat vacated by veteran Republican Johnny Isakson, rebuffing furious lobbying by conservatives who preferred Collins, a Gainesville Republican serving his fourth term in the House who has led the charge against Trump’s impeachment as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, announces Senate bid on “Fox & Friends” (From Fox News Channel)

The question that will now hang over the race is whether Trump will buck Kemp and the Senate Republican establishment and endorse Collins over Loeffler, the incumbent. The president was reportedly cool to Loeffler’s appointment before it was made, although he has since singled her out for praise.

Asked if he expected Trump’s support, Collins said, “I think that’s up the president.”

Even with Trump’s support, Collins will have to battle against what is likely to be Loeffler’s significant financial advantage. He starts the race with less than $1.4 million in his campaign account, while she is expected to tap $20 million from her own fortune for the campaign.

Collins decision to run against Loeffler immediate drew fire from the Senate Republicans’ campaign organization and a political action committee allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning,” said Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. “Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt (Georgia U.S. Senator) David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come. All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play.”

“It’s so selfish of Doug Collins to be promoting himself when President Trump needs a unified team and Senator Loeffler is such a warrior for the President,” said Steven Law, president of the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, in a statement. “As we’ve said before, Senator Loeffler is an outsider like Trump, not just another D.C. politician. We’ll have her back if she needs us.”

Collins fired right back on Twitter, employing one of Trump’s favorite phrases to deride McLaughlin’s comments: “This is FAKE NEWS coming from the head of a Washington-based group whose bylaws require him to support all incumbents, even unelected ones.”

In addition to Loeffler’s seat, Perdue is also up for election in 2020. The two Republican-held seats in Georgia will be key in Democratic efforts to overturn the GOP’s three-seat Senate majority.

The next act in the Collins-Loeffler race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — may try to change the rules governing the November special election to his advantage.

As state law now stands, candidates from all parties will run in November, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a runoff if no one gets a majority. However, some Republicans in the House, with the support of Speaker David Ralston, are pushing to create regular party primaries for seat, which would set up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

In addition to possibly helping Collins, a party primary would ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Democrats, not surprisingly, were gleeful about Collins’s decision to enter the race and upset Kemp’s best-laid plans.

“This expensive, protracted brawl — already playing out on the front page — will force unelected mega-donor Senator Loeffler and Trump ally Congressman Collins into a race to the right that reveals just how out-of-touch both are with Georgia voters,” said Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a statement.

Four Democrats have already gotten into the race against Loeffler, including Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

Raphael Warnock, the high-profile senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, is also expected to join the race.

Collins, 53, was a lawyer and Baptist pastor before being elected to Congress in 2012. He is also a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force reserves.

His 9th District, which covers the state’s northeastern corner, is heavily Republican and is likely to stay in GOP hands after his departure, though his pursuit of the Senate will likely trigger a competitive primary in the five weeks remaining before the filing deadline.

Before being appointed to the Senate, Loeffler, 49, worked as an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange; she is married to Jeffrey Sprecher, the company’s founder and CEO.

Loeffler is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

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2 Southern Democrats named as House impeachment managers for Trump Senate trial

U.S. Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Sylvia Garcia of Texas among group of 7 managers

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern U.S. House Democrats — Val Demings of Florida and Sylvia Garcia of Texas — have been selected to present the case for impeaching President Donald Trump in his Senate trial, which begins next week.

The selections were announced Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as the House approved a resolution to send over two articles of impeachment to the Senate accusing Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

At a news conference where she unveiled the seven impeachment managers, Pelosi said the “emphasis is on litigators, the emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom, the emphasis is on making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveils impeachment managers with Sylvia Garcia at far left and Val Demings at far right. (From Washington Post Live)

Demings, 62, who represents an Orlando area district in the House, is the only non-lawyer among the managers. However, she has a background in law enforcement, serving 27 years as a police officer in Orlando, where she worked her way up to chief before retiring in 2011. She was elected to Congress in 2016.

In a statement, Demings said she was “honored to have the opportunity to help defend our republic in this incredible moment in history.”

“I hope that every American who believes in democracy will take a stand,” she said. “The president has been given an incredible responsibility and opportunity to serve the American people. Instead, he has abandoned his oath of office and the Constitution, choosing to put his interest before the national interest.”

Garcia, 69, who represents a Houston-based district, is one of just two freshmen House members selected as a manager.  She is a former municipal judge in Houston.

In a tweet, Garcia said she was “honored” to be named as a manager.

“The Constitution will be our guide,” she said. “We won’t waver in our commitment to democracy. And we’ll present the truth to the American people.”

The impeachment articles allege that Trump withheld military aide from Ukraine in an effort to pressure Ukrainian officials to launch investigations into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and then obstructed efforts by Congress to investigate those allegations.

The president has insisted that he did nothing improper in urging Ukraine to investigate possible corruption.

While the prospects for an impeachment conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate would be appear dim, Demings said she has “not written off the Senate.”

“Each senator still has the power to do the right thing,” she said in her statement. “I know that as each senator considers whether to side with justice or corruption, the voices of the American people will matter.”

The other impeachment managers are Adam Schiff of California, Jerry Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Zoe Lofgren of California, and Jason Crow of Colorado.

Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee, which took the lead in investigating the Ukrainian controversy, and Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which drew up the articles of impeachment. Crow joins Garcia as the only freshmen legislators among the group.

Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial, which will operate under rules passed by the Senate. A two-thirds majority — 67 senators — is required to convict Trump and remove him from office, something that has never happened before in American history.

Trump is just the third president in history to be impeached by the House, following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998; neither was convicted by the Senate. The House was preparing to impeach Richard Nixon before he resigned in 1974.

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Georgia’s new Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler takes oath of office

Loeffler, appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, will have to defend her seat in November special election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, is now officially Georgia’s newest U.S. Senator.

Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to replace Johnny Isakson, a veteran GOP lawmaker who resigned his seat due to declining health.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Loeffler is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence (From C-SPAN)

Loeffler, who has no previous elected political experience, was picked for the Senate seat by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in December after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators.

She joins the Senate just in time to participate in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler’s appointment had initially received a lukewarm reception from the White House and vocal opposition from some of Trump’s most fervent partisans, although that opposition has dissipated over the past month as Loeffler held a series of private meetings with conservative activists around the state.

Loeffler, 50, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who has said he may challenge Loeffler in the special election. A Collins run could pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Julian Castro ends his run for Democratic presidential nomination

Former San Antonio mayor was the last Southerner left in the 2020 contest

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Julián Castro, the last Southerner and the only Latino in the 2020 presidential race, has ended his campaign for the White House.

“With only a month until the Iowa caucuses, and given the circumstances of this campaign season, I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time,” Castro said in a video message to his supporters that he ended with the phrase “Ganaremos un día.” (One day, we’ll win.)

Julián Castro

Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio and as housing secretary in the Clinton administration, also called for the Democratic Party to change its nominating process, which he said he believes disadvantages candidates of color.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Castro criticized starting the process in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire “that lack people of color ” and was also critical of the caucus process used in Iowa.

“If you didn’t know anything about the Iowa caucuses, and I told you, look, this is how we’re going to start this process — you can only vote on one day at 7 o’clock in the evening, there’s no early voting, there’s no secret ballot … people would think that Republicans designed the Iowa caucuses,” he said.

While Castro was polling poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, he was also polling in low single digits nationally and in other early voting states such as Nevada and South Carolina that are more racially and ethnically diverse.

Castro was one of just three Southerners who entered the 2020 race. The other two — Democrat Beto O’Rourke from Texas and Republican Mark Sanford from South Carolina — had previously ended their campaigns.

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