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Veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren leaves Republican Party to become independent

Decision by Hendren, nephew of Governor Asa Hutchinson, sparks speculation about 2022 bid for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Saying he was disturbed by the corrosive effects of hyper-partisanship and the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren announced Thursday that he was leaving the Republican Party, becoming an independent and forming a new centrist political organization, Common Ground AR.

The move prompted speculation that Hendren could launch an independent bid for governor in 2022, setting up a general election showdown with a Donald Trump-aligned Republican candidate.

State Senator Jim Hendren, I-Arkansas, announces party switch (From YouTube)

In a statement posted to YouTube, Hendren said the attack on the Capitol was the “final straw” that prompted him to leave the GOP, which he has represented for nearly 15 years as a legislator, including four years as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2019.

“I asked myself what in the world I would tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it?” Hendren said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell my family, my friends, and the people I serve that I did everything I could to do right by them.”

“I’m still a conservative. But I’m one whose values about decency, civility and compassion I just don’t see in my party anymore,” he said. “I haven’t changed. My party has.”

Watch video of Hendren’s full statement at end of story.

Hendren, 57, who represents a district in Northwest Arkansas, comes from a prominent and politically connected Arkansas political family. His father, Kim, is a former legislator, and he is the nephew of Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson.

While not mentioning Donald Trump by name, Hendren made it clear that his decision to leave was prompted by Trump’s impact on the Republican Party.

“I watched the former president actively fan the flames of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies, and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business,” Hendren said. “As he did this from the highest office in the land, I realized that my daughters and granddaughters were hearing it, too. And I worried about the example this set for my sons and grandsons.”

“And I watched as this behavior went on with nobody holding him to account and our party leaders too often taking a back seat rather than leading,” he said.

As for a run for governor in 2022, Hendren told the Arkansas publication Talk Business & Politics that he was putting that on the “back burner,” although he said he believes there would be a “hunger” among state voters for such a candidate.

The Republican contest for governor is shaping up as a battle between former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has also been a staunch Trump supporter.

Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin announced last week that he was dropping out of the governor’s race and would instead run for attorney general.

Responding to Hendren’s decision to leave the GOP, Republican state chair Jonelle Fulmer said Hendren had never voiced his concerns to party leaders and noted that he had welcomed support from the party, including during his re-election race in November.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to garner press for a future independent candidacy for governor, knowing that he cannot compete with the conservative records” of Sanders and Rutledge, she said.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders running for governor of Arkansas

Former White House press secretary will face battle in competitive Republican primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained national prominence battling reporters from the White House podium in defense of President Donald Trump, is running for governor of Arkansas.

Sanders, 38, whose father Mike Huckabee, served as the Natural State’s chief executive from 1996 to 2007, announced her entry into the 2022 governor’s race in a video released Monday.

Watch Sanders’s full announcement video below

Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces run for Arkansas governor

“Everything we love about America is at stake, and with the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense,” Sanders said. “Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”

While Sanders will take the Trump brand with her into her run for governor, she faces what is shaping up to be a contentious Republican primary against two current statewide officeholders, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Sanders acknowledged the tough primary ahead, saying “my opponents will do everything in their power to destroy me, but I will not apologize for who I am or who I’m fighting for.”

Griffin, in a statement, welcomed Sanders to the race, saying he looked forward “to comparing our experience, track record and vision for the future of Arkansas.” He served as a federal prosecutor and two terms in Congress before being elected as lieutenant governor in 2014.

Rutledge, in a tweet, noted that she has been friends with the Huckabee family “for a long time, and will continue to be after this election.” But she added that the race is “about who has a proven record and not merely rhetoric.”

Rutledge is in her second term as attorney general and served as legal counsel to Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Republican incumbent Governor Asa Hutchinson is term-limited in 2022. No Democrats have yet announced for the post.

Sanders served two years as White House press secretary before stepping down to return to Arkansas in 2019. Her tenure was marked by frequent battles with reporters in the Washington press corps, who challenged her truthfulness — which she pointed to as a badge of honor in her announcement video.

“I look on the media, the radical left and their cancel culture, and I won,” Sanders said. “I’ve been tested under fire, successfully managing one crisis after another in one of the most difficult, high-pressure jobs in all of government.”

During the investigation into Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Sanders admitted to investigators that she lied to reporters in the White House briefing room in 2017 by telling them that she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who supported Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. She later described the episode as a “slip of the tongue.”

If Sanders wins in 2022, she will return to the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock where she spent her teenage years when her father was governor. She would also be the first woman to serve as Arkansas governor.

Sanders was national political director for Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008. She joined Trump’s campaign in 2016 and was named as deputy press secretary, before ascending to the top spot in 2017 when Sean Spicer left after a stormy six months.

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Most Southern Republican U.S. House members break with Trump on 2 key votes

Only 18 join Trump’s push for $2,000 coronavirus relief checks, while 51 vote to sustain veto of defense spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Southern U.S. House Republicans were largely unswayed by President Donald Trump’s call for larger coronavirus relief checks in a key vote Monday, and most of them then voted to override the president’s veto of a defense spending bill that had passed earlier in the month with broad bipartisan support.

Trump had threatened to veto a coronavirus funding bill because it did not provide Americans with more generous relief checks, before signing it Sunday. But House Democrats brought a stand-alone bill to the floor to increase checks from $600 per person to $2,000, and 44 Republicans joined with almost all of the Democrats to pass it by a margin of 275 to 134 and send it to the Senate.

However, among the 99 Southern Republicans in the House, just 18 joined in the effort to make relief checks more robust — Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama; James Comer and Hal Rogers of Kentucky; Rick Crawford of Arkansas; Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney and John Rutherford of Florida; Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, Bill Flores, Will Hurd, Mike McCaul and Pete Olson of Texas; Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Tom Cole and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; David McKinley of West Virginia; and Denver Riggleman of Virginia.

Hours later, the House, as expected, overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Bill, with 109 Republicans, including 51 Southern Republicans, voting in favor of the first successful veto override of his presidency.

Just 35 Southern Republicans voted to sustain the president’s veto including 12 Southern Republicans who had voted for the defense bill but switched sides on the override vote — Comer, Diaz-Balart, Burgess, McKinley, Rick Allen of Georgia,  Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Carol Miller of West Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama, John Rose of Tennessee, and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas. Greg Steube of Florida, who did not vote when the bill came to the floor, also voted against the override.

Five other Southern Republicans who supported the bill’s passage opted not to oppose Trump on the veto override and did not vote — Reps. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Kenny Marchant of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Phil Roe of Tennessee. Jody Hice of Georgia, who opposed the bill, also did not vote on the override.

Twenty-two Southern Republicans opposed both the original bill and the veto override, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Trump’s most vocal defender in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

All 50 Southern Democrats serving in the House voted for the $2,000 checks and the veto override.

Trump vetoed the defense spending bill because he objected to a provision requiring name changes for military bases named for Confederate officials, mostly in the South. He also wanted Congress to repeal an unrelated provision that protects digital media companies from liability for posting third-party content.

The veto put Republicans in the awkward position of choosing between loyalty to Trump and supporting a bill to fund military operations, including pay raises for the troops.

After the House override, Trump took to Twitter to denounce the action as “a disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech.”

The bill had passed December 8 by a veto-proof margin of 335 to 78, with the support from 140 Republicans. The veto override is expected to clear the Senate.

However, the boost in relief checks is expected to have a much more difficult time in the Senate, where members have expressed concerns about the $300 billion cost of nearly the tripling the amount of the payments.

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Decision 2020: Democrats trying to build on 2018 gains in battle for Southern U.S. House seats

6 freshmen Democrats are in tough races to defend their seats, while a dozen GOP incumbents are fighting off Democratic challengers

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — When the dust cleared after the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats had picked up 10 U.S. House seats across the South, climbing slightly out of a deep hole dug over the previous decade but still trailing Republicans by a better than 2-to-1 margin.

The question for 2020 will be whether Democrats can hang on to those gains and take advantage of an expanded map — particularly in Texas — to add to their numbers, or whether 2018 was a high-water mark for the party’s fortunes.

Six freshmen Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 are facing stiff challenges in November, five of whom represent districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. All of them have raised piles of money, outpacing their GOP opponents, but will have to hold their seats this time around with Trump at the top of the ballot.

Democrats are also contesting nine open Republican held seats without an incumbent. Four are competitive, Democrats are poised to flip three of them, and Republicans are favored to hold the other two, for a net Democratic gain of between three and seven seats.

In addition, 12 Republican incumbents targeted by Democrats are in potentially competitive races, though only four of them seem in significant jeopardy as of yet. Seven of those races are in Texas, where Republicans are playing defense after a slew of retirements by incumbents and Democratic gains in 2018.

The likely best case scenario for Democrats right now would be a gain of 11 seats, slightly better than they did in 2018, or as many as 19 if all of the Republican incumbents fall. The likely best case scenario for Republicans would be a net gain of three seats, if they topple all of the Democratic freshmen and elsewhere hold the line.

The result will probably be between those extremes, with biggest wildcard being what happens at the topic of the ticket. Will Trump propel Republicans in close races to victory in a region where he remains popular — or imperil more of them with a weaker-than-expected national performance?

Here is your guide to the 2020 Southern U.S. House races:

Democrats Fighting to Hold Seats

Virginia 2 (metro Norfolk): Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria is facing a rematch against the man she ousted in 2018, Republican Scott Taylor, in this Trump district. But she enjoys as 4-to-1 fundraising advantage and may also be helped by criminal charges lodged against Taylor’s 2018 campaign staffers for election fraud.

Virginia 7 (Richmond suburbs, central Virginia): Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger faces Republican State Delegate Nick Freitas. This district went for Trump by 7 points in 2018, but Spanberger has raised more than $5 million, giving her a significant financial edge.

Georgia 6 (Northwest Atlanta suburbs): Democratic incumbent Lucy McBath is also facing a rematch against her 2018 opponent, Republican Karen Handel. But this is a district that Trump barely carried, with diversifying demographics that could help McBath hang on in a race for which she’s raised more than $5 million.

Oklahoma 5 (Metro Oklahoma City): Democrat Kendra Horn’s win here in 2018 was among the biggest shocks of the election. She is facing Republican State Senator Stephanie Bice, who had to fight her way through a contentious primary runoff. This is a solidly Republican district in a solidly Republican state, which is why Horn is considered one of the nation’s most endangered Democratic incumbents.

South Carolina 1 (Lowcountry and Charleston): Incumbent Democrat Joe Cunningham faces Republican State Rep. Nancy Mace. While the district went for Trump by 13 points in 2016, some more recent local results showed some Democratic strength, and Cunningham has outraised her by more than 2-to-1. The other wildcard in this race is a highly competitive U.S. Senate race in the Palmetto State between Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Jaime Harrison, which could increase turnout.

Florida 26 (South Miami-Dade and Florida Keys): Trump lost by 16 points in this district in 2016, which should be good news for Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. However, she is facing a formidable opponent in Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has his own political pedigree separate from Trump or his party. Gimenez has also benefited from being front-and-center in handling the coronavirus crisis in his perch as head of county government.

Open Republican Seats

Georgia 7 (Northeast Atlanta suburbs): This was the closest race in the country in 2018, with Republican Ron Woodall hanging on by a mere 400 votes. He retired, but his 2018 Democratic opponent, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is back, facing Republican Rich McCormick, a military doctor. This district was once a mostly white Republican bastion; it is now a majority minority district where Democrats have been making gains in local and legislative offices.

Virginia 5 (Central Virginia around Lynchburg): This district only became open when the Republican incumbent, Denver Riggleman, was bounced at a GOP party convention amid a controversy over his presiding over a same-sex wedding. The man who beat him, Bob Good, a social conservative county supervisor and former official at Liberty University, is facing Democratic doctor Cameron Webb, who has gotten increased party support in the wake of Riggleman’s demise.

Texas 22 (Southwestern Houston suburbs): Incumbent Pete Olson decided to retire rather than contest this seat in Houston suburbs, which showed a purple streak in 2016 when Hillary Clinton carried once solidly Republican Fort Bend County. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is trying to keep the seat for Republicans against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former congressional aide who challenged Olson in 2018.

Texas 24 (Metro Dallas-Fort Worth): This is another suburban district where the Republican incumbent, Kenny Marchant, decided not to seek re-election in 2020. The Republican in the race is former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who faces Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member. Valenzuela has drawn national attention and endorsements since her win in the Democratic primary, including a nod from vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Black, Hispanic and Asian voters are now a majority here, which should work to Valenzuela’s advantage.

Open Seats/Likely to Flip: A court-ordered redrawing of North Carolina’s House map has tilted two Republican-held seats, North Carolina 2 (metro Raleigh) and North Carolina 6 (metro Greensboro), toward the Democrats, prompting both Republican incumbents to retire. In Texas 23 (West Texas), the retirement of the lone African-American Republican in the House, Will Hurd, has opened up a seat likely to flip to his Democratic opponent from 2018, Gina Ortiz Jones, in a district Hillary Clinton carried.

Open Seats/Republicans Favored: In Florida 15 (eastern Tampa Bay), Democratic hopes may have been dashed when the Republican incumbent, Ross Spano, mired in a criminal ethics investigation, lost his primary to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, who appears poised to keep the seat. In North Carolina 11 (western mountain counties), the Republican nominee, Madison Cawthorn, just 25, has been facing questions about his finances and personal conduct since he won the primary, although this district is strongly Republican and his Democratic opponent, Moe Davis, has also been dealing with similar fallout from a colorful past.

Republican Incumbents in Competitive Races

Texas 3 (Northern Dallas suburbs): Incumbent Republican Van Taylor, who won this seat in 2018, is being challenged by Democrat Lulu Seikaly, an employment lawyer from Plano who is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Democrats have targeted this race, even though Taylor won it by 10 points and Trump by 14, because it is the type of suburban district where Democrats made gains in 2018, although Taylor holds a substantial financial advantage.

Texas 10 (North Austin suburbs, northwest Houston suburbs, areas between):  Republican incumbent Mike McCaul faces a rematch with the Democrat he beat in 2018, Mike Siegel, a Austin civil rights lawyer. In 2018, McCaul only beat Siegel by 4 points, as Democrat Beto O’Rourke was carrying the district in the U.S. Senate race. But Siegel had to fight his way through an expensive Democratic primary runoff, leaving McCaul with a financial advantage.

Texas 21 (Austin and Hill Country/San Antonio suburbs): Incumbent Republican Chip Roy, a freshman who held this seat for Republicans in 2018, is facing former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who built a national following with her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014. Davis represented Fort Worth in the legislature but decided to run in this Austin-area seat, and she’s used her national profile to raise more than $4.4 million, outpacing Roy by nearly $2 million  Roy’s win in 2018 was by less than 3 points, which is why this seat is one of Democrats’ top targets in Texas.

North Carolina 8 (Piedmont between Fayetteville and Charlotte): Incumbent Republican Richard Hudson, who won the seat in 2012, is facing Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court justice who has made the seat competitive by raising more than $1 million for the race. Democrats have targeted this seat as their best chance for an additional pickup in North Carolina, in addition to the two seats that are expected to shift their way under new court-imposed maps.

Republican Incumbents in Potentially Competitive races

Arkansas 2 (Metro Little Rock): Incumbent Republican French Hill is facing Democratic State Senator Joyce Elliott. Both are from Little Rock, which Democrats usually carry; Hill’s strength will be in surrounding suburban counties that vote heavily Republican. This is may be Natural State’s most Democratic district, but Trump carried it by 10 points and a Democrat hasn’t won it since 2008. The stars will have to align for Elliott to carry off a victory, although Hill has been sufficiently concerned to run negative ads against her.

Florida 16 (Sarasota and Bradenton): The incumbent Republican, Vern Buchanan, has held this seat since 2013 and won by 9 points last time. But Democrats are hoping that a repeat of the 2018 suburban wave can lift Democratic State Rep. Margaret Good to victory. Buchanan holds the financial edge, but Good has raised more than $1.8 million in what could be Buchanan’s strongest challenge since winning the seat.

Florida 18 (Treasure Coast): Incumbent Republican Brian Mast is facing Democrat Pam Keith, an attorney and Navy veteran who made an unsuccessful run for the seat in 2018. Mast won by 9 points in 2018, but this seat had been held by a Democrat before he won it in 2016.

North Carolina 9 (Charlotte suburbs east toward Fayetteville): The race in this district was razor-close in 2018, and the results were eventually overturned amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud by the campaign of the Republican winner, Mark Harris. But Dan Bishop held it for the GOP in a 2019 special election, and the Democrats’ nominee in both 2018 and the special election, Dan McCready, opted not to run again. Facing Bishop is Democrat Cynthia Wallace, a financial services executive and Democratic party chair in the district.

Texas 2 (Houston): Incumbent Republican Dan Crenshaw a former Navy SEAL who wears an eye patch because of a combat injury, won this seat in 2018 and quickly became one of the best-known freshmen Republicans in the House. Given his high profile, Democrats are gunning for him in November with their nominee, Sima Ladjevardian, a Houston attorney and senior advisor to the 2018 O’Rourke Senate campaign. But Crenshaw has used his national profile to raise more than $9 million, giving him a huge financial advantage.

Texas 6 (Arlington, Waxahatchie, Corsicana): Incumbent Ron Wright is another Republican freshman facing a Democratic challenge after winning by 7 points two years ago. He is facing Democrat Stephen Daniel, a Waxahatchie lawyer. Trump carried this district by 12 points in 2016, but nearly half of its population are minority voters, which could give Wright a shot if the Trump vote falters.

Texas 25 (Suburban Austin, central Texas): Incumbent Republican Roger Williams, first elected to the House in 2012, is facing Democrat Julie Oliver, an Austin attorney who has has built her campaign around the issue of health care and included her background as a homeless teen mother in campaign ads. Trump carried this district by 15 points in 2016, and Williams won by 9 in 2018. Williams has run into controversy after revelations that a car dealership he owns received government coronavirus relief payments.

Texas 31 (North Austin suburbs, Temple): Incumbent Republican John Carter is facing a challenge from Democrat Donna Imam, a computer engineer and businesswoman from Round Rock. Carter won by just 3 points two years ago, the closest race he’s had since first taking the seat in 2002. But his 2018 challenger, MJ Hegar, opted to run for the U.S. Senate this time around, and Imam had to spend money to win a contested primary, leaving Carter with a 2-to-1 cash advantage heading into the home stretch.

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Decision 2020: 14 Southern U.S. Senate seats on November ballot, with 4 possible flips

Races in North Carolina, Alabama on national radar; Lindsey Graham faces stiff challenge in South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Fourteen Southern U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in November, putting half of the South’s seats in play with control of the chamber very much up for grabs.

Of these seats, one presents a likely pickup opportunity for Republicans, while three Republican incumbents are facing stiff challenges. Three other seats are somewhat competitive but with incumbents still favored, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s race in Kentucky.

Five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — are cruising toward re-election, with Republicans also likely to keep an open seat in Tennessee. A special election in Georgia with candidates from both parties running in the same race is a wild card that will be difficult to predict — and could potentially decide which part controls the Senate when the dust clears.

Here is your guide to the 2020 Southern Senate races.

Possible Flips

1. Alabama: U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D) vs. Tommy Tuberville (R)

Jones has had a target on his back since he won a special election in 2017 over Republican Roy Moore, whose candidacy imploded in a sex scandal. Jones was the first Democrat elected to a Senate seat in the Yellowhammer State since 1992; his vote to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial has put his continued tenure in jeopardy. Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University, is making his political debut, impressively taking out a field of prominent Republicans in the primary, including Jeff Sessions, who held this seat for 20 years before leaving to join the Trump administration. If Jones somehow manages to hang on, it will be perhaps the biggest surprise on election night.

2. North Carolina: U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R) vs.  Cal Cunningham (D)

Cunningham, an attorney who served a single term in the legislature 20 years ago and made an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2010, was recruited by Democratic leaders in Washington to run against Tillis, who is seeking a second term after ousting former Democratic Senator Kay Hagin in 2014. This seat was once held by Jesse Helms, and no one has managed to win a second term since he gave it up in 2002. Cunningham has raised $15 million, slightly more than Tillis, and has led consistently in polls. The outcome of the presidential race in this battleground state may be key here. If Donald Trump wins, Tillis is likely to keep his seat as well; if he doesn’t, Cunningham will be in the driver’s seat.

3. South Carolina: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R) vs. Jaime Harrison (D)

Over the past four years, Graham has become one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, after spending much of the 2016 campaign trashing him. That about-face spared him from the kind of primary challenge he had to beat back in 2014, but Harrison, a former state Democratic party chair, is hoping Graham’s association with the president will turn off enough Palmetto State voters to put him over the top. Harrison has raised a staggering $30 million — an unheard of sum for a Democrat in South Carolina — to stay even with the incumbent in the money chase. While polling shows the race is competitive, Trump is expected to carry the state, and the universe of Trump-Harrison voters may be too small to flip this seat.

4. Georgia: U.S Senator David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D)

It’s been a long time since Georgia has been competitive in a presidential or senatorial contest, but polling has shown Ossoff within striking distance of Perdue, who is seeking a second term. Ossoff built a national profile by raising more than $30 million for a special U.S. House election in 2017 that he narrowly lost. He hasn’t raised anywhere near that kind of money this time around, and Perdue enjoys a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage. Democrats insist that the Peach State’s changing demographics and an influx of newly energized, newly registered Democratic voters will lead to victory for Ossoff and Democratic nominee Joe Biden; Republicans scoff at such a scenario as delusional. If Biden makes a serious play for Georgia, it could help Ossoff; if Biden wins, Perdue will need to run ahead of Trump to survive.

Less Competitive

1. Texas: U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R) vs. MJ Hegar (D)

Democrats had high hopes for flipping this seat, particularly after Beto O’Rourke nearly took out Ted Cruz in 2018. But O’Rourke passed on the Senate race to make a quixotic bid for president, and Hegar, a former military chopper pilot and Afghan war veteran who lost a House race in 2018, had to spend time and money fighting her way through a primary runoff. Cornyn entered the fall campaign with the benefit of incumbency and a huge financial advantage, in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. This could turn out to be a might-have-been race for Democrats — what might have been if O’Rouke had run instead.

2. Kentucky: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) vs. Amy McGrath (D)

Democratic leaders recruited McGrath for this race, enthused by her prodigious fundraising during an unsuccessful House race in 2018. But running against McConnell in Kentucky is a tall order, and she has not always seemed up to the task. Her campaign had an unsteady launch when she flipped positions on confirming Brett Kavanaugh, and she very nearly lost the Democratic primary after mishandling her response to racial justice protests that have roiled Louisville. After an uneven campaign, she decided change campaign managers in August, which is never a good sign. There’s a reason Mitch McConnell has been a senator since 1985 — he is perhaps the wiliest politician of his generation. His tenure in Washington seems likely to endure.

3. Mississippi: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) vs. former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D)

This race is a rematch of 2018, when Hyde-Smith beat Espy by 8 points in a special election runoff, running nearly 10 points behind what Trump did in 2016. Espy was encouraged enough by his showing to try to take her down again, hoping that the energy unleashed by social justice protests will galvanize black voters, who make up 37percent of the state’s electorate, the highest percentage in the country. However, if he couldn’t beat Hyde-Smith in a lower turnout midterm election, beating her with the presidential election on the ballot, in a very pro-Trump state, is likely to be a tall order.

Wild Card

Georgia: U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) vs. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R), Raphael Warnock (D) and Matt Lieberman (D)

In this special election to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, candidates from all parties run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December runoff. Loeffler is trying to keep this seat after being appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp, who opted to pick the political newcomer instead of Collins, one of Trump’s biggest champions in the House. Collins defied the governor to run against Loeffler, splitting Peach State Republicans into two camps.

On the Democratic side, Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, has drawn support from the party establishment who see him as the best option to win the seat. But Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, has resisted pressure to leave the race in favor of Warnock, and polls have shown him remaining competitive. If Warnock and Lieberman split the Democratic vote, it could clear the way for both Loeffler and Collins to meet in an all-GOP second round. If one Republican and one Democrat get through, the outcome of the race is likely to depend on who those two candidates are.

Shoo-Ins

Arkansas: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R) faces no Democratic competition after the lone Democrat who qualified abruptly left the race. The only person standing between Cotton and re-election is Libertarian Ricky Harrington.

Tennessee: Republican Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, has a much easier path to Washington after the Democrat recruited and financed by party leaders to challenge for the seat lost his primary. He will now face Marquita Bradshaw, an environmental activist from Memphis who harnessed grassroots support to win the primary.

West Virginia: U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) is not expected to have much trouble against Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, an environmental activist who gained national exposure when her 2018 race against the state’s other U.S. senator, Joe Manchin, was featured in the Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”

Oklahoma: If U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R), as expected, wins a fifth full term over Democrat Abby Broyles, he will be 92 when this term ends in 2026. Broyles, a former TV reporter in Oklahoma City, has run a spirited campaign in which she’s needled the senator for refusing to debate her.

Virginia: Giving the Old Dominion’s increasingly Democratic tilt, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D) is a clear favorite over Republican Daniel Gade, a former Army officer who was wounded in Iraq and now teaches at American University in Washington.

Louisiana: U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R) is competing in a jungle primary in November and will face a runoff in December if he doesn’t clear 50%. He avoided any major Republican opposition; the biggest Democratic name in the race is Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.

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