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13 of the 14 Southern states have primaries or caucuses before March 15
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — For the gaggle of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, success or failure is likely to hinge on how well they can perform in a primary calendar that is frontloaded with Southern contests.
Between February 20, when South Carolina holds its primary, and March 15, when Florida and North Carolina vote, 13 of the 14 Southern states will hold either primaries or caucuses.
In that three-week stretch, a whopping 824 delegates will be up for grabs in the South, about two-thirds of the 1,237 delegates needed to cinch the nomination. And 471 delegates will be decided on a single day, March 1, when seven Southern states will vote in what is being dubbed the SEC Primary (albeit with a bit of ACC and Big 12 mixed in.)
Having almost all of the Southern states vote early (save West Virginia) is a new wrinkle in this year’s primary calendar that will no doubt add to the region’s clout in the nominating process. So it is perhaps not surprising that nine Southern Republicans decided to run in 2016, with six still in the race (as of this writing.)
While the early states might weed some of them out, the Southern frontloading of the calendar might provide temptation for the also-rans to hang on until they get to more hospitable territory, as there is barely more than a month between New Hampshire and Florida.
However, the last two GOP primary battles argue against the idea that Southerners might be particularly hospitable to Southern candidates. In 2008 and 2010, candidates from outside the South won twice as many Southern contests (16) as candidates from the South (8).
And if the field remains crowded, the rules under which delegates are allocated could leave Southern delegations fractured as the process heads north and west.
Here is how the process generally works: Each state gets a number of delegates who are selected statewide, and it also gets three delegates for each congressional district. The delegates are allocated based on how well a candidate performs across the state and in each congressional district, and the state’s three members of the Republican National Committee are automatically delegates.
In most of the states, there is a threshold percentage that a candidate has to meet before being eligible for statewide or district delegates, ranging from 5 to 20 percent. In a heavily split field, that means that candidates who don’t finish near the top may not get any delegates, but the delegations could be sliced and diced if multiple candidates cross the threshold.
In five states, candidates who win more than 50 percent of the vote statewide or in a district take all of the delegates; in Tennessee, that threshold is 66 percent. But if the field still remains fractured in mid-March, it is unlikely that any candidate will be able to win an outright majority to sweep most, if not all, of a state’s delegates.
Also, two of the larger states–North Carolina, with 72 delegates, and Virginia, with 49–have no threshold, with all delegates allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote. So no one is likely to sweep either of those states.
The two outliers in this process are South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20, and Florida, which votes March 15. In South Carolina, with 50 total delegates, the statewide winner gets all of the statewide delegates, and the winner of each congressional district receives all three. In Florida, with 99 total delegates, the statewide winner takes everything.
So, for instance, if one of Florida’s two favorite sons in the race–U.S. Senator Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush–lands in first place by even a single vote, he gets all 99 delegates and the other gets nothing. And if neither of them places first, they will have no Sunshine State support at the convention in Cleveland.
The two biggest prizes in the Southern primary calendar are Florida and Texas, where 155 delegates will be up for grabs on March 1.
While Bush and Rubio will be competing in their home state, only one candidate still in the face hails from Texas–U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. And Texas is one of the states where, if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the statewide or district vote, he or she gets all of the delegates.
So if Cruz, a favorite son with statewide political roots, could win a majority in Texas, he would need to win a majority in just 19 of the state’s 36 congressional districts in order to match the delegate haul that Rubio or Bush might take out of Florida–an uphill climb in a fractured race, but doable.
The biggest wildcard heading into the Southern primaries is what the region’s all-important block of religious conservatives will do. In 2008, when they coalesced around Mike Huckabee, he won six Southern states; in 2012, when they got behind Rick Santorum, he won four. The South was the best region for both, although it did not work for either of them in the end.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
The newfound drive to retire the Confederate battle flag from the public arena may have been fueled by the visceral emotional reaction to the racist massacre at a church in Charleston, the Confederacy’s very birthplace. But the seeming ease with which Confederate artifacts are being swept away across the South can also be explained by another factor — shifts in the region’s demography that are eroding the regional insularity underpinning romantic attachment to the Lost Cause.
In the last 30 years, there has been a sea change in the Southern electorate. The percentage of white people born in the South — the people most inclined to want to retain vestiges of their Confederate past — is shrinking, while the percentages of African-Americans and whites born outside the region are expanding.
So even though the South may be as politically conservative as it has ever been, the constituency for public maintenance of Confederate heritage is becoming less potent, which is giving Southern politicos more freedom to maneuver across these contentious waters.
For example, in 1960 — around the time that many Southern state governments began embracing Confederate symbols in a show of defiance against the Civil Rights movement — more than 90 percent of the population of eight of the 11 former Confederate states was Southern born, according to U.S. Census figures.
The only exceptions were Florida, Virginia and Texas, but even in the most Yankee-fied of those states — Florida — 60 percent of the population was still born in the South.
1960 was also at the tail end of the Great Migration, in which 6 million African-Americans left the South for cities in the North and West, which dramatically reduced the black populations across the region In 1900, 90 percent of African-Americans lived in the South; by 1970, that figure had fallen to just 53 percent.
Fast forward to 2010. Only two former Confederate states — Louisiana and Mississippi — still had 90 percent of their populations born inside the region. Alabama was at 86 percent. But across the rest of the South, more than 20 percent of the state populations weren’t born in the South. In Florida, only 45 percent of the population was Southern born.
And those figures don’t take into account two salient factors: First, African-Americans born in the South, who would not support display of Confederate symbols, are included. And second, people born in the South whose parents weren’t born in the South are also included — another group not likely to salute the Confederate battle flag.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a conservative Republican who has been leading the charge to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse in Columbia, is a case in point. She was born in South Carolina — but to Sikh parents from India with no ancestral attachment to the Confederacy.
And even in Mississippi, the only Southern state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem into its state flag, 9 percent of the population in 2010 was born outside the South and 37 percent was African-American — a potentially formidable coalition against public Confederate nostalgia.
In South Carolina, the non-Southern population is 25 percent, and the black population is 28 percent. Although those two groups overlap, those numbers indicate that the section of the electorate that has no attachment to Confederate heritage may be approaching a majority in the place where the Confederacy began.
At the same time as the non-Southern born population in the South was rising, so too was the African-American population. As segregation faded away and the South’s economy boomed, blacks began moving back to the region, in essence reversing the Great Migration.
For example, between 2000 and 2010, six of the seven U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest influx of African-Americans were in the South — Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte and Orlando. The seventh, Washington, D.C., is partially in Virginia.
Topping that list was Atlanta, which is why it is not that surprising that after the Charleston massacre, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, ordered a redesign of a Sons of Confederate Veterans’ specialty license plate festooned with the battle emblem.
That was a far cry from the fight over removing that same emblem from the Georgia state flag, a controversy that raged for more than 10 years and led to the introduction of three state flags in two years before the current design was adopted in 2003.
Whether public exhibition of Confederate symbols is a display of heritage or a display of hate is, of course, a debate that will probably continue as long as people watch “Gone With The Wind” and drink mint juleps. But if demography is any guide, public use of those symbols is headed into the quaint mists of Southern memory.
The younger nominee usually wins, and the age gap between Clinton and a number of her GOP opponents is bigger than what Reagan overcame
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
If Hillary Clinton wins the White House in 2016, at age 69, she will be the second oldest person ever elected to the presidency, just behind Ronald Reagan and just ahead of the ill-fated William Henry Harrison, who perished after just a month in office back in 1841.
In the thirteen presidential elections since 1960, the younger candidate has won seven times. However, in two other elections — Johnson vs. Goldwater in 1964 and George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000 — the candidates were roughly the same age. (Johnson had just a year on Goldwater; Bush had two on Gore.)
So, in only four of the 13 elections did the candidate who was appreciably older pull off a victory. Two of those were won by Reagan, and, in all four, the age gap was substantially less than what Clinton may face in 2016. (The other two were George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1972.)
Now 67, Clinton is more than 20 years older than four of the likely Republican prospects — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal. Indeed, Rubio and Jindal are both 43 — a whopping 24 years younger than Clinton.
To put it another way, Clinton was already studying law at Yale when Rubio and Jindal were still in diapers.
Reagan was the oldest man ever elected to the presidency when he beat Jimmy Carter in 1980, but he was just 13 years older. In contrast, the average age of the 10 leading Republican prospects in 2016 is 52 — 15 years younger than Clinton.
In fact, only two of the likely candidates — former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – even share the same decade as Clinton. Perry is 65; Bush, 62.
So, if history is prologue here, Republicans might do themselves some good by nominating someone who can present a generational contrast with Clinton. Bush would seem to be the candidate least able to do this, given his age and pedigree as the son and brother of presidents. But Rubio and Walker are both well positioned to make such a generational case.
Of course, it should be noted that Democrats tried, and failed, to make Reagan’s age a salient issue in both the 1980 and 1984 campaigns. Clearly, history can be defied. But if Democrats decide to nominate the oldest candidate in the field, save for longshot Democrat Bernie Sanders, they will be taking a generational and historical gamble.
2014 was a much better year for Republicans than for reality stars revamped as politicos
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
A congressman man caught kissing. Reality stars trying to remake themselves as politicians. A snowstorm that threatened to torpedo a sitting governor. A top U.S. House leader unceremoniously unseated in a primary. And a flap over a fan during a heated debate.
Those were just some of the strange and unlikely events in Southern politics in 2014, a year that ended with Republicans roaring through the region like Sherman in reverse. Here are some of the memorable moments:
Loose Lips Sink More Than Ships — Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, a married Christian conservative from northeast Louisiana, was caught on videotape passionately kissing a female staffer who was, ahem, not his wife. He refused to resign but decided not to run for re-election. Then, he changed his mind and ran again, with his wife’s vocal support. But his constituents were less forgiving than the missus, and he finished a distant fourth in the primary.
Snowmageddon — When a January snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, Republican Governor Nathan Deal took the heat for a sluggish state response and his initial attempt to shift the blame elsewhere. But Democratic hopes that this snowy debacle might bury Deal had melted by November, when he was comfortably re-elected.
Taking Aim At Obamacare — Alabama Republican U.S. House candidate Will Brooke posted a YouTube video, entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage,” in which he fired bullets into a copy of the Obamacare bill. The gambit gained him a bit of attention, though, alas, not enough to win the primary in his Birmingham-area district.
Strange Bedfellows — Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both waded into the Florida governor’s race this year, cutting ads for Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott, respectively. However, their shoes were on the other feet in 2006, when Crist was a Republican (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.) Back then, it was Crist who enjoyed Giuliani’s support, while Clinton backed his Democratic opponent.
Overheated Debate — Speaking of the Florida governor’s race, a televised debate between Crist and Scott came to an abrupt halt when Crist insisted on putting a small fan at his feet under the podium, in apparent violation of the debate rules. Scott first refused to take the stage until the fan was removed, but he eventually relented — after seven awkward minutes of scrambling by the debate moderators. In the end, Scott won a narrow victory.
Real Mean Politics — Three reality TV stars — American Idol Clay Aiken, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel — all vied for political office this year. But political reality proved harsh, as all three lost badly. However, Aiken is turning his unsuccessful U.S. House campaign in North Carolina into — wait for it — a new reality show.
Biggest Upset — In an outcome that shocked the political world, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his Richmond-area seat to Dave Brat, a little known college professor who ran at Cantor as a Tea Party insurgent. Weep not for Cantor, though. He bounced back with a job on Wall Street.
Worst Campaign — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis tried to parlay her filibuster against a bill restricting abortions in the Lone Star State into the governor’s mansion. But a series of gaffes — including questions about the veracity of her rags-to-riches story as a single trailer-park mom made good — sunk her chances, and she lost by a staggering 20 points.
Weirdest Campaign Appearance — Matt Bevin, who was challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary in Kentucky, appeared at a rally hosted by a group that supports legalizing cockfighting. While insisting he didn’t condone cockfighting, Bevin didn’t help himself when he told a radio reporter that the Founder Fathers were “very actively involved” in the blood sport. Perhaps not surprisingly, McConnell won rather handily.
Best Don Quixote Impression — Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel — peeved that he was defeated in a GOP U.S. Senate runoff by crossover votes from Democrats and independents — launched a three-month court fight to overturn the result. Alas, his windmill tilting came to naught, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran kept the seat.
Best Houdini Impression — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee faced voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from his bitter 2001 divorce during which he admitted a string of extra-marital affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his first wife to have two abortions. However, GOP voters in his district proved surprisingly forgiving, handing DesJarlais a narrow primary victory. He went on to win re-election in November.
If You Can’t Override, Indict — Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion over his veto of a funding bill for an Austin prosecutor who refused his demand that she resign after being arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. A defiant Perry vowed to fight the charges, noting that in America, “we settle our political differences at the ballot box,” rather than in criminal court.
Double Dipper — Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul announced he would run for re-election in 2016, even as he is also considering a White House bid. One pesky little problem, though: Kentucky law doesn’t allow somebody to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Paul’s supporters are trying to find a way to work around that technicality.
Democrat Dam Breaks in Upper South — While the general election was grim for Democrats across the South, the news was especially depressing in Arkansas and West Virginia, which had been places where the party of Jackson was still competitive. In Arkansas, Republicans took all seven statewide constitutional offices and every congressional seat for the first time since Reconstruction. In West Virginia, the GOP took all three U.S. House seats and captured control of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.
“D” Is The New Scarlet Letter — Three sitting Southern Democratic U.S. senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — all went down to defeat, paving the way for Republicans to take control of the Senate. Republicans also took away an open seat in West Virginia that they hadn’t won since 1942.
GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — One look at a color-coded map of midterm election results in any Southern state tells the story – there’s a tsunami of red and a shrinking pool of blue.
Take Texas, for example, with its 254 counties. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn carried 236 of them; the Republican candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, carried 235. The only blue is found in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and along the Mexican border.
But that’s still more blue than in Oklahoma, where both Republican U.S. Senate candidates swept all 77 counties, and in West Virginia, where GOP Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito swept all 55, despite the fact that Democrats have a 350,000-person lead in voter registration.
A deeper look at the numbers from the midterm elections shows just how far Democrats have fallen from the halcyon days when they had an iron grip on the solid South. They’re not just losing; lately, they’re not even competitive.
And perhaps even more troubling for Democrats is the fact that the dam seems to have burst in states in the upper South, where the party had been holding its own at the state level.
This year, 13 of 14 Southern states — all but Florida — had a U.S. Senate election, and two states — Oklahoma and South Carolina — had two. Setting aside Louisiana, which is headed to a runoff, and Alabama, which Democrats didn’t even bother to contest, GOP candidates won by an average of nearly 21 points.
Democrats couldn’t crack 30 percent in either Oklahoma race. They failed to crack 40 percent in six others. In fact, Republicans won by double digits in 10 races. Only Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina were close, with the GOP taking the latter two.
Things were just about as bad in races for governor, where the GOP margin of victory was about 18 percent. Republicans won by double digits in six of the eight governor’s races. Only Florida and Georgia were even remotely close.
The news was particularly bad for Democrats in three upper South states that were politically competitive a decade ago – West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.
In West Virginia, Democrats not only lost the U.S. Senate race, but they lost all three U.S. House seats, and Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.
With Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor’s loss, Arkansas will have an all-Republican congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. Heading into the election, Democrats held five out of the seven statewide constitutional officers. In the midterm, they lost all seven.
Tennessee used to be split between Republicans in the east and Democrats in the west. Now, the GOP is winning everywhere, holding seven of the state’s nine U.S. House seats. Both Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam, re-elected with 71 percent of the vote, carried Shelby County, which includes the Democratic bastion of Memphis.
Increasingly, Democrats seem to be doing better in the deep South, where they can rely on the support of black voters, than in the upper South, where black populations are smaller.
For example, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, despite being a long-time incumbent in a very red state, won by a smaller margin than did Republican Tom Cotton, who beat Pryor like a rug in Arkansas.
Some might attribute Graham’s narrower margin to his Tea Party problems. But Alexander — who faced a similar Tea Party dynamic — managed to win by 30 points in Tennessee.
What is clear from the midterms is that despite recent gains at the presidential level in states such as North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats are becoming less competitive across the region, and the South is becoming more monolithically red.
Indeed, the midterm results support the argument that in most of the South, the two-party system is becoming a relic of the past.
Democrats across the region making little headway in overcoming Republican hegemony
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
This year, 10 GOP-held U.S. Senate seats are up for election across the South. Democrats mounted serious challenges to just two of them.
This year, seven Republican-held Southern governorships are on the ballot. Democrats mounted serious challenges in just two of those races as well.
Heading into this election, Republicans hold 108 of the 151 U.S. House seats in the South. Democrats put just six of them in play and could very well come away without gaining a single seat, while at least four of their own seats are in serious jeopardy.
With the exception of Georgia, where Democrats are making surprisingly strong runs for both U.S. Senator and governor, 2014 has been a year of miscues and might-have-beens for the party of Jackson.
For example, at the beginning of the year, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had shaky job approval numbers and looked like she might be vulnerable. Now, she’s poised to roll to re-election on Tuesday, which could put her in the national conversation in 2016.
Down in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott’s rocky tenure in Tallahassee gave Democrats a golden opportunity, which they may have squandered by giving their nomination to the deeply flawed Charlie Crist.
A year ago in Texas, State Senator Wendy Davis was the darling of liberals everywhere, poised to lead Lone Star Democrats to the promised land after 20 years in the wilderness. Her inept campaign for governor has left those hopes in tatters, although it could be argued that a candidate best known for a full-throttled defense of abortion wasn’t that viable in a place like Texas to begin with.
In Florida earlier this year, Democrats failed to wrest the 13th District U.S. House seat — which Barack Obama carried twice — from Republicans during a special election, which left them with no chance to win it in the fall.
Florida 13 is one of three Republican-held House seats in the South that Obama carried in 2012. The GOP is poised to carry all three on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, there are five Democrat-held Southern House seats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Republicans are making strong runs in all five.
So moribund is the Democratic Party in Alabama that it didn’t even field a candidate to run against Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. And in both Oklahoma and South Carolina, where both Senate seats are up this year, Democrats couldn’t muster a serious challenge in any of those four races.
Senate seats are likely to flip from Democratic to Republican hands in both West Virginia and Arkansas, with Democrat-held seats in both North Carolina and Louisiana in jeopardy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be beating back a Democratic challenge in Kentucky.
That leaves Georgia as the only bright spot for Democrats. Michelle Nunn has combined innate political talent with a strong campaign to make herself competitive in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1996.
However, if she can’t polish off David Perdue on Tuesday, the race will head to a January runoff — and runoffs can be nasty, brutish and unpredictable.
So here is the state of play, heading into Tuesday:
- Republicans hold 20 of the 28 Southern Senate seats. That number will almost certainly rise.
- Republicans hold 10 of 14 governorships. Given that the GOP will likely make a pick-up in Arkansas, the best Democrats can hope for is to go from four to five, if they take out incumbents in both Georgia and Florida — a tall order..
- The GOP holds 108 of the 151 House seats. Odds are the Republican margin will increase slightly.
All in all, Republican hegemony is alive and well across the Southland.
Democrats are gambling that Crist won’t do something foolish or shameless before election day
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
More than 4.6 million registered Democrats call Florida home. Surely, in a pool of people that enormous, the party could have found somebody — anybody — to nominate for governor who is not as inherently flawed as Charlie Crist.
But what’s done is done. Democrats have given one of their prized political possessions to a man who has pulled off the hat trick of being a Republican, an independent and a Democrat in just four short years. Look in the dictionary under “political opportunist,” and you will find his uber-tanned countenance, smiling sweetly back at you.
Now, Democrats must hold their breath until November, hoping that Crist won’t do something foolish or shameless in the next three months that will ensure Governor Rick Scott’s re-election. Good luck with that.
Given Scott’s frequently turbulent tenure in Tallahassee, the governor should be in a lot more trouble than he is. Surely this should have been a race into which politically ambitious Democrats were anxious to plunge. But none of them were, and, as a result, this contest is, essentially, a dead heat, even though the Democrat should be well ahead.
Democrats may still believe that the divisive flavor of Scott’s first term will be enough to push Crist to victory, and the results in November may still prove them right. But an argument can also be made that they would be in better shape right now had they not nominated a man who has enough political baggage to fill all his overhead bins.
That was essentially the argument that Nan Rich made in the Democratic primary. Nobody listened to her. Her decades of service to the Democratic Party went unrewarded. Crist, who in comparison to Rich has been a Democrat for about 15 minutes, took the prize instead.
So what made Crist’s resurrection possible? In a word, money. He has the ability to raise a ton of it. Not as much as Scott, of course, who can also just get out his hefty personal checkbook if need be. But Crist’s argument that he was person best equipped to defeat Scott apparently resonated with Democrats.
Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
In any case, no other up-and-coming Democrats were willing to endure the prospect of facing big-spending Crist in the primary and, then, if successful, facing the bigger-spending Scott in the general election. The result? Crist is heading into the general election without having fought for the Democratic nomination, a fight that might have demonstrated whether he still has the political chops to go the distance.
If Crist loses in November, Florida Democrats — particularly those who view Scott as nothing short of diabolical — will be kicking themselves for the next four years. And Charlie Crist? Well, there’s a Senate race in 2016, and he hasn’t been a Libertarian yet.