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