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Georgia Primary: Jon Ossoff avoids runoff, wins Democratic U.S. Senate race

Republican Karen Handel gets her rematch in 6th U.S. House district; Democratic U.S. Rep David Scott barely escapes getting forced into a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Three years after coming up on the short end in the most expensive House race in U.S. history, Democrat Jon Ossoff revived his political fortunes by winning Georgia’s U.S. Senate primary and earning the right to challenge Republican to U.S. Senator David Perdue in the fall.

Offoss took 51 percent over the vote, defeating Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, who came in second with 15.2 percent, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman who was the party’s unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, at 12.6 percent.

Jon Ossoff

On election night, Ossoff had been under the 50 percent threshold he needed to avoid a runoff but moved into a majority as tens of thousands of absentee ballots were counted.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the state had mailed absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state to increase mail-in voting. Tuesday’s vote in the Peach State was still marred by long lines and technical issues with the state’s new touch screen voting machines, which forced poll times to be extended up to three hours in parts of metro Atlanta.

Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, rose to national prominence in 2017 in a special election for the 6th District seat in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, in which he turned Democratic anger at President Donald Trump’s election into a $30 million fundraising haul but was edged out for the seat by Karen Handel.

Handel, who subsequently lost the seat in 2018 to Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, will get a rematch after she easily cleared the Republican primary Tuesday. McBath was unopposed in the Democratic primary

The 6th District race is at the top of the Republican target list, with McBath’s support of Trump’s impeachment likely to be front and center in the fall. Trump carried the district by just 1.5 points in 2016.

The breakout performance in Georgia Tuesday came from political newcomer Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot won the GOP nomination in the 7th U.S. House District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs without a runoff.

He won 55 percent and defeated six other candidates, including State Senator Renee Unterman, a former mayor who has spent two decades in the legislature, who finished in second with 17 percent.

Democrats in the 7th District nominated Carolyn Bourdeaux, who came within 400 votes of winning the seat in 2018 against Republican Rob Woodall, who decided not to run again. She carried 53 percent of the vote, ahead of State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero and Nabilah Islam, a political consultant, both at 12 percent.

Veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, running for his 10th term, survived a scare after he was nearly forced into a runoff against former State Rep. Keisha Waites for his seat in Atlanta’s southern and western suburbs. On election night, Scott only stood at 48 percent, but he went over the 50 percent threshold on Thursday, after the remaining absentee ballots were counted.

Republicans also filled runoff slots for two of their safest Georgia U.S. House seats — the 9th District in the north Georgia mountains, which U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is giving up to run for the state’s other Senate seat, and the 14th District in northwest Georgia, where Tom Graves is retiring.

In the 9th District, the GOP runoff will pit State Rep. Matt Gurtler of Tiger, who came in on top with 22 percent, against Andrew Clyde, a retired Navy officer and firearms instructor from Jackson County, who finished in second at 19 percent. Former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who represented a neighboring district from 2007 until 2015, came in fourth.

In the 14th District, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Milton businesswoman, will face John Cowan, a neurosurgeon from Rome, in the Republican runoff. Greene, who had originally filed to run in the 6th District but switched to the 14th when Graves retired, took 41 percent to 20 percent for Cowan.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican Kelly Loeffler,  is also up for election in 2020; however, because that contest is to fill the remainder of a term, a special election will be held until November in which Loeffler will run against candidates from all parties, including Collins, who has launched an intra-party fight to push Loeffler out of the seat.

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Voters in Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina vote Tuesday in rescheduled primaries

Democrats will pick a U.S. Senate nominee in Georgia and a gubernatorial candidate in West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Voters in three Southern states — Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina — will vote Tuesday in primaries that were rescheduled from earlier in the year due to the coronavirus crisis.

In Georgia, Democrats will be picking a nominee to oppose Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in November, while Republicans will begin sorting out their nominees for two open U.S. House seats in safely Republican districts that have both drawn a gaggle of candidates.

In West Virginia, Democrats will pick an opponent to face Republican Governor Jim Justice — who won four years ago as a Democrat before switching parties and embracing President Donald Trump — and will also decide on a nominee to face U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito.

In South Carolina, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham faces three little-known challengers in his primary, while his expected Democratic opponent in the fall, Jaime Harrison, is running unopposed.

Republicans in the Lowcountry will also pick a candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who is one of the GOP’s top 2020 targets.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, mail and early voting has been expanded for the primaries, with a smaller portion expected to vote in person on primary day with reduced numbers of polling stations.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Georgia and South Carolina and from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in West Virginia.

In Georgia, the marquee race is the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate. The polling leader in the race has been Jon Ossoff, who benefits from the statewide name recognition he built in 2017 by spending $30 million in a special election for the 6th District House seat, a race he narrowly lost.

Ossoff’s primary challengers include Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman who was the party’s unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Polls have given Ossoff a large lead but short of the majority he would need to win the nomination outright and earn a spot against Perdue in November. If he does not clear that threshold, he’ll face an August runoff against Tomlinson or Amico.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican Kelly Loeffler,  is also up for election in 2020; however, because that contest is to fill the remainder of a term, a special election won’t be held until November, in which Loeffler will run against candidates from all parties, including Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has launched an intra-party fight to push Loeffler out of the seat.

Peach State Republicans will also start the process for picking nominees for two of their safest U.S. House seats — the 9th District in the north Georgia mountains, which Collins is giving up to run for the Senate, and the 14th District in northwest Georgia, where Tom Graves is retiring. Nine Republicans have entered the primary for both of those seats, making runoffs a near certainty.

In the 7th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs, seven Republicans and six Democrats are running in their respective primaries for the seat Republican Rob Woodall kept by a scant 413 votes in 2018. He decided to retire rather than to contest the seat again.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat whom Woodall barely beat two years ago, is back, but she faces a primary battle against five challengers including State Senator Zahra Karinshak, a lawyer and former Air Force officer; State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, the first Latina to serve in the Georgia legislature; and John Eaves, the former chairman of the Fulton County Commission and former Atlantan who decamped for the suburbs in a bid to get to Congress.

On the Republican side, State Senator Renee Unterman, a former mayor who has served 22 years in the legislature, is facing off against six competitors, including Lynne Homrich, a former Home Depot executive, and Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot.

The only House incumbent in either party facing a significant primary challenge in Georgia is Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, who is being challenged in the 13th District in the southern and western Atlanta suburbs by Jannquelle Peters, the former mayor of East Point; former State Rep. Keisha Waites; and Michael Owens, the former chair of the Cobb County Democratic Party who challenged Scott unsuccessfully in 2014.

Scott, 74, is seeking his 10th term in the House and has held elected office continuously for 46 years. The majority black 13th District is strongly Democratic, which means whoever emerges from the primary will likely win the seat in November.

In West Virginia, Democrats are itching for a grudge match against Justice, who infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage with the president at a Trump rally.

Five Democrats are running for the nomination to oppose the governor, led by Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who has the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions. He was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass.

Also running are State Senator Ron Stollings from Madison; Jody Parker, a former journalist from Madison; and Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, who is running what he describes as a grassroots, progressive campaign.

A fifth candidate who filed to run, Doug Hughes, later announced on Facebook that he was pulling out and endorsing Smith.

In the Senate race, former State Senator Richard Ojeda — an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction — is the best-known of the three candidates vying to take on Capito, whose seat is not currently considered to be jeopardy.

West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races will be the nominee.

In South Carolina, the marquee race is the U.S. House contest in the 1st District, where Republicans have their sights set on Cunningham, who flipped the seat in 2018.

The race for the GOP nomination includes State Rep. Nancy Mace from Daniel Island, a real estate agent and businesswoman who was the first female graduate of The Citadel; Kathy Landing, a businesswoman who serves on the town council in Mount Pleasant; Chris Cox, a chainsaw artist who was one of the founders of the Bikers for Trump group; and Brad Mole, a housing administrator from Bluffton.

Mace and Landing have led the race in fundraising and advertising, with Mace raking in more than $1.3 million for the race to $630,000 for Landing, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The question will be whether either woman will be able to clear the majority needed to avoid a runoff with Cox and Mole also in the race.

Mace has gotten the backing of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the conservative business groups Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth. But Landing has her own conservative backers, including the House Freedom Fund, a campaign group associated with House Freedom Caucus, as well as conservative stalwart and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.

In the U.S. Senate race, Republican primary voters will decide whether to reward Graham for his enthusiastic embrace of Trump.

Six years ago, he faced a slew of candidates who ran at him from the right and criticized him as inauthentically conservative. But this time around, Graham faces only token opposition from three little-known candidates, none of whom has raised enough money to compete with his $26 million war chest.

Harrison, who hopes to be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in South Carolina since 1998, faces no opposition on the Democratic side of the ballot. He has so far raised $19 million, according to the latest FEC filings.

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4 Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump seats break with party on coronavirus vote

Georgia’s Lucy McBath is only Southern Democrat in a seat Trump carried to vote for $3 trillion spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four of the five Southern Democrats trying to hold seats from U.S. House districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 have voted against a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package pushed through the House by Democratic leaders late Friday.

The lone Southern Democrat in a Trump seat who voted for the measure was U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who represents a district in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs. She came under immediate fire from her leading GOP opponent for supporting “her San Francisco buddy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the vote.

Voting no were U.S. Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, both from Virginia.

Five other Democrats who in 2018 flipped Republican-held districts that Trump didn’t carry in 2016 voted for the measure, including Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas.

The measure, dubbed as the HEROES Act by its sponsors, passed the House on a mostly party-line vote of 208-199. It would provide nearly $1 billion to state, local and tribal governments that have seen their tax revenues plunge during the coronavirus shutdown, along with $100 billion for farmers who have faced market dislocations.

The measure would also provide another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans, including undocumented immigrants; extend supplemental federal unemployment payments until January; forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for every borrower; provide money for election security; and inject $25 billion into the U.S. Postal Service.

The $3 trillion price tag for the package — along with the provisions on student loan debt, election security, and including undocumented immigrants in stimulus payments — have drawn strong opposition from Republican leaders in the Senate, who have pronounced the plan dead on arrival.

By voting against the bill, the Southern Democrats in Trump districts were trying to avoid being tagged with support for a doomed, partisan spending plan that could be weaponized by their Republican opponents in the fall.

Cunningham, who represents the 1st District in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, called the bill “Washington politics at its worst.”

“While South Carolina families, small business owners, and workers are struggling, now is not the time to advance a partisan wish list or refuse to come to the negotiating table,” Cunningham said in a statement. “At a time when our country is in real trouble, we should not be spending precious time on one-sided solutions that aren’t going anywhere.

Horn, who represents the 5th District in and around Oklahoma City, called the measure “a messaging bill” that lacked bi-partisan support and was “a disservice to the American people, especially during a time of crisis.”

“This is not the time for partisan gamesmanship, this is the time to find common ground and deliver help where it is needed most,” Horn said in a statement.  “In response to COVID-19, our relief efforts must be targeted, timely, and transparent. The HEROES Act does not meet those standards.”

Luria, who represents Virginia’s 2nd district in the Hampton Roads area, noted that the bill would double federal spending this year “and spending of this scale requires careful consideration and input from all members, not just one party.”

“Relief legislation must address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as pave the path to economic recovery,” Luria said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there are many elements of the bill that are unrelated to addressing Americans’ most immediate needs associated with COVID-19, which distract from addressing our most urgent priorities during this pandemic.”

Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in and around Richmond, said some of her Democratic colleagues “have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need.”

“We must come together to build a targeted, timely relief package that avoids partisan posturing and instead prioritizes combating our nationwide public health emergency, addressing catastrophic unemployment rates, and protecting the security of the next generation,” Spanberger said in a statement.

After the vote, McBath released a statement in which she did not offer a detailed explanation for her support of the bill, beyond saying that she was “fighting” for more funding for hospitals, first responders and the unemployed.

“This pandemic has caused grief for thousands, financial difficulty for millions, and drastic changes to the lives of every American,” she said. “Families across the country agree that more must be done to protect the health and financial well-being of our loved ones.”

But her leading Republican opponent, Karen Handel, charged that McBath “voted with the far left of her party to approve a $3 trillion partisan spending spree on out-of-touch, liberal priorities.”

“Nancy Pelosi has a true and loyal friend in Lucy McBath,” Handel said in a statement posted on Twitter. “When faced with backing the Speaker’s extreme agenda or representing the interests of [her district], McBath chooses her San Francisco buddy every time.”

McBath unseated Handel in 2018 in the 6th District, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016. Handel will face four other GOP candidates in the June 9 primary for the right to take on McBath again in November.

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U.S. Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler under fire for selling stock before coronavirus slide

Burr and Loeffler insist they did nothing wrong in unloading stocks before markets tanked

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia are facing a torrent of criticism after revelations that they and family members unloaded millions of dollars worth of stock before U.S. markets tanked over concerns about the coronavirus — and while both senators were still making upbeat assessments about its threat.

Prior to his stock sales, Burr, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving daily briefings from Trump administration officials about coronavirus; Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, whose company owns the New York Stock Exchange, sold stock after she attended a private briefing for senators on the topic in late January.

Another Southern senator, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, also sold stock after that briefing but says he did not attend.

U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)

All three senators insist they did nothing wrong, although Burr has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks,” Burr said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out it its Asia bureaus.”

Loeffler — a multimillionaire business executive appointed to the Senate in January by Governor Brian Kemp — called the reports about the stock trades “completely false,” saying they were made by her financial advisers.

“I’m not involved in the decision-making of these trades, nor have I been in communication with my third-party financial advisors about them,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I have no knowledge of these trades until well after they are made.”

However, Democrats and even some Republicans are calling for investigations into the trades — and even for the senators to resign.

Among those calling for Burr’s head is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who told his viewers that “there is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis.”

While Burr is retiring in 2018, Loeffler is facing a tough special election battle for the remainder of her term in November, a race that includes an intra-party challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

Collins — still in self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus — said he was “sickened” by Loeffler’s actions.

“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain?” he said in a tweet.

The leading Democrat in the race, Raphael Warnock, called Loeffler’s conduct “unconscionable.”

“As the coronavirus pandemic is busy taking lives and livelihoods, Kelly Loeffler has been busy looking out for herself,” Warnock said on Twitter.

An analysis of disclosure reports by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group, showed that on February 13, Burr sold 33 stocks worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million dollars, including stocks in hotel companies hard hit by the coronavirus. The stock market began to plunge about a week later.

Senators only have to report financial transactions within ranges on disclosure reports, so the exact amount of Burr’s stock sales is unknown.

Loeffler and Sprecher sold up between $1.3 million and $3.2 million worth of stock in the weeks after she attended a private January 24 briefing for senators in which administration officials discussed the spread of coronavirus, according to a financial disclosure report she posted on Twitter.

In that report, Koeffler said she wasn’t notified of those transactions until Feb. 16, which she said was “proof” that the stock sales weren’t improper.

At the time of the briefing, Loeffler had been in office just three weeks.

Two other senators — Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein of California — also sold stock after the January 24 briefing.

In a statement, Inhofe, who is seeking re-election in November, said he did not attend the briefing and that the sales were part of an ongoing effort to shift his stock portfolio into mutual funds after he became chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. His sales were on a smaller scale than those of Burr and Loeffler, between $180,000 and $400,000.

A Feinstein spokesman said her holdings were in a blind trust run by her husband and she was not involved in the sale.

Members of Congress are permitted to own and trade stocks. However, trades have to be disclosed, and it is illegal for them to buy and sell stock based on insider information that isn’t available to the general public.

In addition to the stock sales themselves, statements made by Burr and Loeffler about coronavirus as their stocks were being sold have also come under scrutiny, as have Burr’s remarks at a private gathering in late February where he likened the coronavirus to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people worldwide.

On February 28, Loeffler took to Twitter to allege that “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness. Here’s the truth: @realDonald Trump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

On March 10, following a meeting with the president, she said on Twitter: “Concerned about #coronavirus? Remember this: The consumer is strong, the economy is strong, & jobs are growing, which puts us in the best economic position to tackle #COVID19 & keep Americans safe.”

By the time of those tweets, at least $355,000 worth of her stock had been sold and possibly as much as $950,000; her husband’s total was between $926,000 and $2.2 million, according to her disclosure report.

On February 7, Burr co-wrote an opinion article for Fox News in which he said that the United States “is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus” and said public health officials were moving “swiftly and decisively” to deal with the threat.

A week later, he began selling stock, and on February 27, he told a private meeting of North Carolina business leaders that coronavirus “is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” according to audio of the speech obtained by National Public Radio.

Burr also likened coronavirus to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that is believed to have killed at least 17 million people worldwide, NPR reported.

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Ebenezer Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock enters Georgia U.S. Senate special election

Warnock gets an early boost from Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a governor’s race in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA — Atlanta pastor Ralphael Warnock, who holds the historic pulpit where both Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached, has entered the special election race for a U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate for a seat they have high hopes of flipping.

“I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential,” he said in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door — that’s actually where it starts.”

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

Warnock’s campaign launch came with a full-throated endorsement from Stacey Abrams, who energized Democrats nationally in a unsuccessful race for governor in 2018.

“Wherever there is need, Reverend Warnock can be found on the front lines,” Abrams said in a letter sent to her supporters. “And that’s where we need him at this moment. On the front lines of the battle for the soul of America.”

Since 2005, Warnock has been senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, from which King helped lead the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Senate race is his first run for political office.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate seat in December by Governor Brian Kemp to replace Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. Georgia voters will decide in November who fills the remaining two years of Isakson’s term; candidates from all parties will run in a special election, with the top two voter-getters facing each other in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

Warnock’s entry into the race further complicates Loeffler’s effort to hold the seat. She is already facing an intra-party challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who was passed over by Kemp when he filled the Senate vacancy.

Four other candidates will be competing with Warnock for Democratic votes: Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

The next wrinkle in the Senate race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — are trying to push through a change in state law to hold party primaries instead of an all-parties special election, setting up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

The change would also ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican David Perdue, is also up in 2020. And while Georgians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2000, the two Georgia seats could be key to Democrat’s hopes of overturning the GOP’s three-seat majority.

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