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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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Congressional candidate who embraced QAnon, posted racist videos wins Georgia GOP runoff

Marjorie Taylor Green’s victory in the 14th District primary puts her on track to go to Washington; Andrew Clyde wins GOP runoff in 9th District

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ROME, Georgia (CFP) — In what may become an ongoing headache for Republican leaders in Washington, Marjorie Taylor Greene — who has been denounced for posting racist and anti-Muslim videos, peddling an anti-Semitic trope and giving credence to the QAnon conspiracy theory — has won the party’s nomination for the 14th District in northwest Georgia, putting her on track to win a seat in Congress in November from the heavily Republican district.

Greene, a businesswoman from Milton who did not even live in the district when the race began, took 60 percent in the Republican runoff to defeat John Cowan, a Rome neurosurgeon who had denounced her as “crazy” and a “circus act.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene

After Greene came in first place in June, videos she posted on social media surfaced in which she decried an “Islamic invasion,” said African Americans were “slaves” to the Democratic Party, and pushed a false conspiracy theory that liberal megadonor George Soros had collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

She also expressed her belief in the validity of QAnon, a conspiracy theory that posits that a secret “deep state” is working to undermine President Donald Trump.

Greene pushed back against the string of negative stories by denouncing them as “fake news” pushed by news media outlets trying to derail her campaign.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who may soon have Greene in his caucus — called the videos “appalling” but did not get directly involved in the runoff. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise supported Cowan and raised money for him.

The 14th District is solidly Republican. The only person standing between Greene and Congress is Democrat Kevin Van Ausdel, a financial technology professional from Catoosa who has raised less than $20,000 for the race.

The seat opened when Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves announced his retirement. Greene was initially running in the 6th District, where she lived, but switched to the 14th District race after Graves announced his departure.

In the other race of note in the Peach State Tuesday, GOP leaders were successful in blocking State Rep. Matt Gurtler from the party nomination in the 9th District in northeast Georgia.

Gurtler, from Tiger, was defeated by Andrew Clyde, who owns a firearms business in Jackson County.

During his four years in the legislature, Gurtler had so irritated Republican leaders that they unsuccessfully tried to defeat him in a primary in 2018. Party leaders who did not want to see Gurtler in Congress pulled out all the stops to support Clyde, who was making his first run for political office and had little public profile before the race began.

Clyde will now face Democrat Devin Pandy, a retired Army veteran and actor from Commerce, who won his party’s runoff.

Like the 14th District, the 9th is also solidly Republican. The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate.

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Georgia U.S Rep. John Lewis honored and remembered at funeral service in Atlanta

Former presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton eulogize civil rights icon at Ebenezer Baptist Church

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Three former U.S. presidents and more than 50 U.S. House colleagues gathered in Atlanta Thursday to say a final farewell to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who represented the city for more than 30 years in Congress.

From the pulpit of Ebeneezer Baptist Church, once pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former President Barack Obama called Lewis “perhaps [King’s] finest disciple.”

Casket of John Lewis in repose at Ebenezer Baptist Church (From Washington Post via YouTube)

Lewis’s life redeemed “that most American of ideas — the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo and decide that it is within our power to remake this country that we love,” Obama said.

“He believed that in all of us there exists the capacity for great courage, and in all of us, there is a longing to do what’s right,” Obama said. “He knew that non-violent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness and to put the spotlight on injustice and make the powers that be uncomfortable.”

“What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way.”

Former President George W. Bush said Lewis “believed in the Lord, he believed in humanity, and he believed in America.”

“His lesson for us is that we must all keep ourselves to hearing the call of love, the call of service, and the call to sacrifice for others,” Bush said.

Bush noted that while he and Lewis often disagreed politically, “in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”

Joining Obama and Bush to speak at the funeral service were former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who grew emotional when she presented his family with the flag that was flying over the Capitol on the night that Lewis died.

“When this flag flew there, it said good-bye. It waved good-bye to John, our friend, our mentor, our colleague, this beautiful man we had the privilege of serving with,” said Pelosi, who served with Lewis in Congress for 33 years.

“Every time he stood up to speak [in the House], we knew that he was going to take us to a higher place of our understanding, of what our responsibilities were and what our opportunities were,” Pelosi said. “When he spoke, people listened. When he led, people followed.”

Not attending Thursday’s event was President Donald Trump, whose impeachment Lewis had vigorously supported last year. Trump also did not join he crowds who paid tribute to Lewis when his casket was displayed at the U.S. Capitol.

The funeral was the culmination of nearly a week of events honoring Lewis, including a memorial service in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, and lying in state at both the Alabama and Georgia state capitols.

The crowd inside the church for the private service was limited due to coronavirus, and mourners wore masks. The service was broadcast on a television screen outside of Ebenezer, where crowds gathered in the summer heat.

Lewis, 80, died on July 24 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

During his long and illustrious life, Lewis, who grew up on a farm in rural Alabama during the Jim Crow era, had a first-hand presence at some of the most pivotal moments of American history.

In 1960, as a student at Fisk University, he participated in protests to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and, a year later, became of the original “freedom riders,” risking his life to desegregate buses in the South.

By 1963, he had risen to a leadership position in the civil rights movement, as president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and, at just 23, was the youngest person to address the historic March on Washington, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the summer of 1964, he went to Mississippi to register black voters, part of the “Freedom Summer” to break the power of segregation in its most redoubtable citadel.

In 1965, baton-wielding state troopers fractured Lewis’s skull as as he tried to lead marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, a shocking scene captured on national television that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act.

A campaign is now underway to rename the bridge for Lewis.

In 1968, he was in Los Angeles working for the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy when Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary.

Lewis had eventually extended his activism into politics, winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1986 that he held for more than three decades, becoming known as the “conscience of Congress” — opposing military action, supporting gay rights, leading a sit-in for gun safety.

Through all the beatings and tragedies, and the twists and turns of political life, Lewis never wavered from the philosophy of non-violence — and never stopped advocating for equality. He made his last public appearance in June at the dedication of a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Washington, the latest incarnation of the cause to which he had dedicated his adult life.

In his eulogy, Obama exhorted the audience to honor Lewis’s legacy by working to “revitalize” the Voting Rights Act and fighting against restrictions on voting access.

“Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting, by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision — even undermining the postal service in an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick,” he said.

Georgia Democrats have selected State Senator Nikema Williams to replace Lewis on the November ballot and take his place in Congress representing the 5th District, which includes much of the city of Atlanta and suburbs to the west and south.

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Passing of an Icon: Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis dies at 80

State Democrats scramble to replace Lewis on November ballot before Monday deadline

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — During his long and illustrious life, John Lewis had a first-hand presence at some of the most pivotal moments of American history.

In 1960, as a student at Fisk University, he participated in protests to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and, a year later, became of the original “freedom riders,” risking his life to desegregate buses in the South.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia

By 1963, he had risen to a leadership position in the civil rights movement, as president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and, at just 23, was the youngest person to address the historic March on Washington, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the summer of 1964, he went to Mississippi to register black voters, part of the “Freedom Summer” to break the power of segregation in its most redoubtable citadel.

In 1965, baton-wielding state troopers fractured Lewis’s skull as as he tried to lead marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, a shocking scene captured on national television that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1968, he was in Los Angeles working for the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy when Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary.

And in 2018, Lewis stood on the House floor and exhorted his colleagues to vote to impeach President Donald Trump: “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something.”

Lewis had eventually extended his activism into politics, winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1986 that he held for more than three decades, becoming known as the “conscience of Congress” — opposing military action, supporting gay rights, leading a sit-in for gun safety.

Through all the beatings and tragedies, and the twists and turns of political life, Lewis never wavered from the philosophy of non-violence — and never stopped advocating for equality.

Battling pancreatic cancer, he made his last public appearance in June at the dedication of a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Washington, the latest incarnation of the cause to which he had dedicated his adult life.

His death Friday in Atlanta marks the turning of a page — he was the last surviving speaker of the March on Washington, which galvanized the civil rights movement in the summer of 1963.

His death also opens up his seat representing Georgia’s 5th U.S. House District, which includes much of the city of Atlanta and suburbs to the south and west, and has set off an immediate search for his successor, even before his funeral takes place.

That’s because state law only gives the state Democratic Party until Monday afternoon to replace Lewis on the fall ballot. Party officials opened up an application process for the seat, with a Sunday evening deadline, with the state party executive committee making a final decision on Lewis’s replacement.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp will decide when to call special election to fill the remainder of Lewis’s current term, which could be held concurrently with the November vote.

Lewis’s first run for Congress, in 1977, was unsuccessful. In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council and launched a second congressional run in 1986, after the Democratic incumbent, Wyche Fowler, gave up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

Lewis faced tall odds in the Democratic primary against another civil rights icon, State Senator Julian Bond. But he narrowly defeated Bond in a runoff to win the nomination and then the 5th District seat.

He was re-elected 16 times, including six times without opposition; his closest race came in the Republican wave of 1994, when he still won by 38 points.

Lewis is survived by his son, John-Miles Lewis. His wife, Lillian, died in 2012.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

A campaign is now underway in Lewis’s native Alabama to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in his honor.

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Insight: Will Joe Biden really make a play for Georgia and Texas in 2020?

Why, despite the summertime chatter, putting resources into these states makes little strategic sense

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried Georgia, The Cover Girls (remember them?) were wishing on a star. The last time a Democrat carried Texas, people were still wearing bell bottoms.

Every four years, the pundit class and Democrats in these states insist that this time will be different — this year, finally, these states are going to flip. And every four years, Republicans scoff at their wishful thinking and hubris.

It’s deja vu all over again. Joe Biden’s campaign is making noises about competing in the Peach and Lone Star states, committing significant resources for a serious ground game in places where one hasn’t been seen in a generation.

So what are the chances this will actually happen? Probably pretty slim — not because it isn’t possible for Biden to win these states but because, if they are within reach, winning them won’t be necessary.

First, the numbers. Donald Trump carried Georgia by slightly more than 5 points in 2016, the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Bob Dole won by less than 2 points in 1996 in a three-way race. (By way of contrast, George W. Bush won by nearly 17 points in 2004.)

In Texas, Trump’s margin was larger, just under 9 points, but that was also the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Dole. (Bush won by more than 20 points.)

Clearly, the trend lines are headed in the Democrats’ direction, as even Republicans in these states would concede. These states are within (a long) reach.

However, in considering Electoral College strategy, it is helpful to think of the presidential race as a tug-of-war, with states arrayed along the rope in order from most Democratic to most Republican. The goal is to pull the rope far enough that there are at least 270 electoral votes on your side.

In 2016, six states on Trump’s side of the rope were closer than Georgia — the Southern states of Florida and North Carolina, along with Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. Those six and Ohio were closer than Texas.

So, if Georgia is truly within reach for Biden in 2020, six Trump states are likely already in Biden’s hands; make that seven if Texas is in play. And if Biden is already carrying all of those states, he won’t need to bother with Georgia or Texas. He’s already won.

This is why, strategically, it would make little sense for the Biden campaign to put resources into Georgia and Texas. But there are three reasons we might see them do it anyway.

First, engaging in these states could help drive up Democratic turnout, which could help in U.S. Senate and down ballot races. However, presidential campaigns aren’t known for their altruism; we’re only likely to see this if the race is a blowout for Biden and he can spare the resources to benefit other candidates.

Second, making a play for Texas or Georgia could be an insurance policy in the event that something unexpected happens in one of the closer states, as happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Michigan and Wisconsin. However, given that experience, Biden won’t be caught napping like Clinton was, making such a surprise less likely.

And third, putting resources into Georgia or Texas could be a way to troll the Trump campaign and force it to engage in these states. Even talking about the possibility forces the Trump forces to consider countermeasures.

However, if Trump needs to shore up either of these states come November, his battle is already lost, and what happens in Texas and Georgia won’t matter (although Biden could make a play for them to run up the score.)

So, all this summertime chatter about competing in Georgia and Texas may make interesting cable news conversation, but the smart money says that in the end, Biden won’t bite.

Then again, betting on presidential politics these days might, admittedly, be a bit of a fool’s errand.

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