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Former Vice President Joe Biden rolls across the South in Super Tuesday primaries

Biden wins all 7 Southern states; Mike Bloomberg drops out after failing to break through in his campaign debut

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled to wins in all seven Southern Super Tuesday primaries, cementing his status as the new front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and handing a string of defeats to Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Tuesday’s triumphs across the South — including the biggest prize, Texas — marked a remarkable four-day swing by the Biden campaign, fueled by a stronger-than-expected win on Saturday in South Carolina that prompted three other candidates to exit the race, two of whom then endorsed Biden.

In the wake of the Super Tuesday results, Bloomberg, too, exited the race and endorsed Biden.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Los Angeles as the scope of his victories became clear, Biden noted that “just a few days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this campaign dead.”

“We were told, well, when it got to Super Tuesday, it would be over. Well, it may be over — for the other guy,” he said.

Biden won Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas by double digits. He won by more than 40 points in Alabama, where a majority of the Democratic voters were African American, and by 30 points in Virginia, buoyed both by a strong result among black voters and in the suburban counties around Washington, D.C.

His margin over Sanders was much smaller in Texas, at 4 percent.

In the race to pile up delegates, the size of Biden’s victories in the South allowed him to build a 130-plus margin over Sanders and overtake him as the delegate leader nationwide.

Bloomberg, making his campaign debut after skipping South Carolina and three other early states, came in a distant third in all of the Southern states except Virginia, where he finished fourth. He won just 21 delegates.

On election night, Bloomberg had sounded a note of optimism, saying the results showed his late-starting campaign was viable. But by Wednesday morning, he announced that he had concluded he had no viable path to the nomination and endorsed Biden.

The Super Tuesday results continue a tale of woe for Sanders in the South, where he was buried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Oklahoma was one of only two Southern states Sanders won in 2016, along with West Virginia, but this time around, Biden beat him in the Sooner State by 13 points. And as in 2016, Biden’s won across the region by beating Sanders by large margins among African American voters.

Sanders used his election night speech to supporters in his home state of Vermont to exude confidence — and to draw a contrast between what he described as his “movement” for fundamental change and the status quo represented by the former vice president.

“We’re going to win because the people understand it is our campaign, our movement, which is best positioned to defeat Trump,” he said. “You cannot defeat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics. What we need is a new kind of politics that brings working class people into our political movement, which brings young people into our political movement.”

The next Southern stop on the presidential campaign trail is Mississippi, which votes March 10, followed by Florida on March 17 and Georgia on March 24.

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Super Tuesday: Democratic White House chase and down ballot races to be decided in 7 Southern states

Biden, Bloomberg and Sanders scramble for Southern support; Jeff Sessions mounts a comeback in Alabama; another Bush tries to launch

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoitics.com

(CFP) — Southern voters from the shores of Virginia to the deserts of West Texas will go to the polls to vote in primary elections Tuesday, with the Democratic presidential race as the day’s marquee event.

In what’s come to be known as Super Tuesday, 621 delegates are up for grabs in presidential primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, with polling showing a three-way tussle in those states between former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is making his campaign debut.

In North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, voters will also decide down ballot races in addition to the White House contest.

North Carolinians will pick nominees for governor, and there are contested U.S. Senate primaries among Democrats in Texas and North Carolina and among Republicans in Alabama, where Jeff Sessions is trying to reclaim the seat he gave up to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

A wave of Republican U.S. House retirements in Texas has also triggered a string of wide-open primaries there, including one in which Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, is trying to launch a political career with an establishment pedigree in the age of Trump.

Two veteran members of the Lone Star delegation, Republican Kay Granger and Democrat Henry Cuellar, are also trying to fend off primary challenges — she from the Trump right, and he from the “progressive” left — while former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in the Democratic sweep of 2018, is trying to mount a comeback from a different district in Waco.

Presidential Race

Heading into Super Tuesday, the state of Democratic presidential contests in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma are a big unknown, given a paucity of public polling in any of those states. The polling that has been done in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia shows Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg bunched at the top, with the other candidates trailing behind.

However, those polls don’t take into account the possible effect from Biden’s big win in South Carolina on Saturday, which was the first Southern stop on the primary calendar, and the subsequent departures from the race of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom endorsed Biden.

In the Super Tuesday states, Biden must also cope with Bloomberg’s lavish campaign spending and Sanders’s formidable ground operation.

One of the biggest factors in who can carry these Southern states will be performance among African American voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in Alabama and more than a quarter in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

While Biden ran away with the black vote in South Carolina, he will face new competition Tuesday from Bloomberg, who has been organizing across the region and getting endorsements from African American elected officials.

Down Ballot Races

North Carolina Republicans are also deciding who to pick to try to unseat Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in November, with Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest facing State Rep. Holly Grange.

To win without a runoff in North Carolina, a candidate needs to win 30 percent of the vote, as opposed to the majority requirement in most Southern states.

In Texas and North Carolina, Democrats will be selecting nominees to face incumbent Republican U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Thom Tillis; in Alabama, Republicans will pick a challenger for Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

The Alabama GOP primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. Polls point to a likely runoff.

In North Carolina, the Democratic establishment’s pick, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is facing State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller. Cunningham will need to win 30 percent to avoid a runoff.

In Texas, a field of 12 Democrats includes MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force combat pilot; State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Given the fractured field, a runoff is likely.

Texas U.S. House

The primary competition for U.S. House races in Texas will be particularly intense on Tuesday, thanks to the departures of five sitting Republicans in the Texas delegation and a number of other seats that both parties are targeting in the fall.

At least 13 seats that are open or potentially competitive are likely headed to runoffs in one and possibly both parties, which means the state of play for the fall won’t be apparent until after runoffs on May 26.

Among the notable candidates trying to get to Congress are former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention in a bid for governor in 2014, who is running in the 21st District near Austin for the chance to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy; Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former physician and unsuccessful nominee for veterans secretary, running for the GOP nomination in the 13th District in the Panhandle with Trump’s support; and Pierce Bush in the 22nd District in suburban Houston.

Bush is the son of Neil Bush, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, and the nephew of President George W. Bush. If elected, he would be the second of his generation of the Bush family to hold elective office in Texas, joining State Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

In the 12th District, which includes Fort Worth, Granger, — the House’s senor woman Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee — is trying to hold off a challenge from Chris Putnam, a former Colleyville city councilman who calls Granger “a creature of the swamp” and criticizes her for calling on Trump to get out of the 2016 race after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.

He has also hit Granger for changing her position on legal abortion, which she now opposes but supported earlier in her career.

Granger, however, has countered Putnam’s criticism with the most powerful tool in modern Republican politics — an endorsement from Trump himself.

In South Texas, Cuellar, one of more conservative Democrats in the House, is being challenged by Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney from Laredo who has gotten endorsements from a who’s who of the party’s left flank, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.

Culler is also one of seven Democratic House incumbents who are being targeted for defeat by Justice Democrats, a group affiliated with Ocasio-Cortez.

Cisneros has hit Cuellar for being too willing to support Trump, opposing federal funding for abortion, and being too cozy with the National Rifle Association. But Cuellar has countered by stressing his constituent service over more than a decade in Congress and arguing that voters in his majority Latino 28th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Laredo and down through the Rio Grade Valley, don’t share Cisneros’s more liberal policy positions.

Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in 2018, is trying to make a comeback in the Waco-centered 17th District, where he grew up but hasn’t lived in decades. The man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep Bill Flores, has pointedly endorsed one of Sessions’s 10 Republican rivals, Renee Swann, saying “our next congressperson needs to be one of us.”

However, of all of the candidates in the race, Sessions has the highest political profile, which could be enough for him to get into what is likely to be a runoff for the nomination.

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Insight: Are the politics of Obamacare changing in the South?

Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.

ChickenFriedPolitics editor Rich Shumate

When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.

Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.

Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.

In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.

In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.

Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.

But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)

Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.

In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.

Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.

However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.

In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.

The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.

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Video: Asa Hutchinson sworn in for second term as Arkansas governor

Republican calls for tax cuts, reorganization of state government in inaugural address

Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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