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Republican Karen Handel wins hotly contested U.S. House race in suburban Atlanta

Handel turns back challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in most expensive House race ever

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — Republican Karen Handel has won a runoff for Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, dashing Democratic hopes of embarrassing President Trump by snatching away a seat that has been safely in GOP hands for decades.

U.S. Rep.-Elect Karen Handel, R-Georgia

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Commission chair, won 52.1 percent in the June 20 vote, defeating Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide making his first bid for political office, who took 47.9 percent.

She will be the first Republican woman ever to represent Georgia in Congress.

Speaking to supporters at a hotel in Dunwoody, Handel said she was “extraordinarily humbled and honored at the tremendous privilege and high responsibility that you and the people across the 6th District have given to me to represent you.”

She also said Ossoff’s supporters should “know that my commitments, they extend to you.”

“We may have some different beliefs, but we are part of one community,” she said. “My pledge is to be part of the solution to focus on governing, to put my experience to work to help solve the very serious issues we’re facing in this country.”

Handel also thanked Trump, who tweeted on her behalf throughout the race, and Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Georgia to campaign with her as national Republicans scrambled to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Ossoff, speaking to his supporters at a hotel in Sandy Springs hotel after the race had been called for Handel, saluted his volunteers, “more than 12,000 of you who, as darkness has crept across this planet, have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country and for people around the world.”

“At a time when politics have been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up … and showed the world that in places where nobody thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight. We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of,” he said.

Handel’s win, along with a win by Republican Ralph Norman in the South Carolina 5th District special election on the same night, means Republicans have successfully defended all four of the House seats that became vacant when their occupants were appointed to positions in the Trump administration. The other elections were in Kansas and Montana.

However, in three of those four races, the Republican winners polled substantially worse than did Trump in November. The only exception was Handel, who ran 4 points ahead of Trump.

Ossoff had come in first in the April primary but fell short of the majority needed to win outright. Handel, who edged out a flock of Republican candidates to make the runoff, was able to consolidate GOP support and win the runoff, despite being outspent by 4-to-1 by Ossoff, who tapped anti-Trump sentiment to raise more than $23 million.

In all, total spending by candidates and outside groups in the 6th District race topped $50 million, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history. But despite all that spending, Ossoff’s vote share was less than a point higher than what Hillary Clinton pulled down in the district in November.

The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Tom Price, who gave it up when Trump picked him to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While Price had won the seat easily in 2016, Trump only carried it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

For Handel, 55, winning the 6th District seat revives her once-promising political career, which was battered by back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

In her victory speech, Handel thanked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana for his advice during her campaign, and she asked her supporters to “lift up” Scalise and three others wounded June 14 while practicing for a charity baseball game by a shooter with apparent political motives.

“We need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements because in these United States of America, no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs,” she said.

Voters give verdict on expensive slugfest in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District runoff

Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to wrest away traditionally GOP seat in suburban Atlanta

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — The most expensive U.S. House race in American history is drawing to a close, with Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff making last-minute pitches in a special election runoff to fill Georgia’s vacant 6th District seat.

Polls in the June 20 runoff open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT, with the results expected to draw outsized national attention.

A victory by Ossoff in a district the GOP has held for decades will be seen as a harbinger of potential doom for House Republicans in 2018. But a win by Handel would make Republicans three-for-three in winning House special elections this year, possibly tempering the speculation about how much President Trump’s historic unpopularity ratings are really eroding the party’s electoral health.

No matter the outcome, the competitiveness of the race wasn’t what Trump had in mind when he appointed Tom Price to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, leaving an open seat that Republicans expected to defend easily.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Fueled by liberal anger at Trump’s election, Ossoff — a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide seeking office for the first time — raised a staggering $23.6 million by the end of May, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That figure doesn’t include any additional money raised during the first three weeks of June, as his runoff with Handel moved toward its climax.

Handel, a former Fulton County Commission chair and secretary of state, raised just $4.5 million by the end of May, although outside GOP-aligned groups have spent additional money on her behalf.

When all of the candidate and outside spending is tallied, the total is expected to approach $50 million, shattering all previous records for U.S. House races. To put that spending in perspective, a $50 million race would come to roughly $71 each for every man, woman and child in the district — and would be the equivalent of a $700 million statewide race in Georgia.

The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Price, now in Trump’s Cabinet.

While Price won the district by 76,000 votes in November, Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Ossoff had initially begun his campaign with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” But after coming in first in the April 19 primary, he eschewed nationalizing the campaign and sought to focus on district-specific issues.

Karen Handel, R. Georgia 6th District candidate

For Handel, 55, the second-place finish in the primary was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

Trump has not campaigned in person for Handel, although he did tape an anti-Ossoff robocall before the primary. But Vice President Mike Pence and Price both came down from Washington to make appearances on her behalf.

Democrat Jon Ossoff falls short of majority in Georgia U.S. House special election

Ossoff will now face an uphill climb in runoff against Republican Karen Handel

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Jon Ossoff’s insurgent campaign to flip Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat in Atlanta’s northern suburbs fell short of securing a majority in an April 18 special election, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff.

Karen Handel

Jon Ossoff

With all of the precincts in the district reporting, Ossoff had 48.1 percent of the vote, followed by Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, at 19.8 percent. Bob Gray, a technology executive who touted his work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, came in third with 10.8 percent.

Ossoff’s result was a surprisingly strong showing by a Democrat in what had been seen as a safe Republican seat. But his failure to clear an outright majority means he will now have to beat Handel in a head-to-head race.

Despite not clearing that hurdle, Ossoff told his supporters that the result was “a victory for the ages” and vowed to continue the fight.

“We have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world, and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country,” said Ossoff,  a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide with no previous political experience.

“There is no amount of dark money, Super PAC, negative advertising that can overcome real grassroots energy like this. So bring it on.”

Handel, who managed to fight off attacks from her fellow Republicans to come in second, told her supporters that “nine weeks from today, we have an opportunity and a real responsibility to elect a member of Congress who shares our values.”

Telegraphing how her campaign will frame the campaign ahead, Handel called herself “a proven, independent and conservative leader who has delivered for the people of this district.”

For Handel, 55, the second-place finish was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

Trump was an overarching presence in the 6th District race. Ossoff used anti-Trump sentiment to whip up Democratic enthusiasm and raise a staggering $8.3 million, using the slogan “Make Trump Furious.”

That prompted the president to make a robocall to voters in the district, saying “Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care and flood our country with illegal immigrants.” However, Trump did not endorse anyone, and the four unabashedly pro-Trump candidates in the race fared poorly, taking only about 20 percent of the vote.

The June 20 runoff is likely to be a bruising affair with national implications, as Republicans try to hold on to what had been seen as a safe seat and Democrats try to embarrass Trump by snatching it away.

The first round results show the uphill climb Ossoff faces: Together, 11 Republican candidates captured 98,000 votes, besting the 93,900 votes captured by Ossoff and four other Democrats. And while Ossoff carried a majority in the part of the district that lies in DeKalb County, he failed to clear a majority in the larger slices in Cobb and Fulton counties.

The 6th District seat became vacant in February, when Tom Price left to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump cabinet. The all-party special election drew a crowded field of 18 candidates.

Price had won the district by 76,000 votes in November, but Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

The 6th District has been previously represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. It had been considered so unassailable that in 2016, the Democratic nomination for the seat went to a man who didn’t even bother to campaign.

Despite public insistence by Republican leaders that an Ossoff victory was nothing more than a liberal fantasy, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved resources into the district in anticipation of the runoff.

Decision day for voters in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House district

Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to pull off an upset and avoid runoff in GOP-held district

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Voters in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District will give their verdict on the first three months of Donald Trump’s presidency Tuesday, in a special election where energized Democrats are hoping to pull of a political miracle and a gaggle of Republicans are battling to stave off political disaster by forcing a runoff.

Jon Ossoff, D, Ga. 6th District candidate

Polls show Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide, with a sizable lead over the rest of the 18-person field in the all-party contest to fill the seat vacated in February when Tom Price became secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump cabinet.

However, if Ossoff doesn’t win an outright majority in the first round, he will face a June runoff against unified Republican opposition, in a district the GOP has held for decades and which Price won by 76,000 votes in November.

Republicans are in a four-way battle for the second slot between Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission; Bob Gray, a technology executive and former city councilman in Johns Creek, one of the cities in the district; and two former state senators, Dan Moody of Johns Creek and Judson Hill of Marietta.

Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT.

Despite the 6th District’s Republican tilt, Democrats smelled blood after Trump carried by district by a mere 1.5 percent in November. Ossoff, whose campaign has been dubbed “Make Trump Furious,” has benefited from an avalanche of more than $8.3 million in campaign cash, most of it raised from Trump critics outside the district.

The district is anchored in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The seat has been held previously by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

Despite public insistence by Republican leaders that the Ossoff campaign is an exercise in futility, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved in staffers in preparation for a runoff.

Karen Handel, Ga. 6th District candidate

Late polling in the race points to a runoff between Ossoff and Handel, who has high name recognition from her unsuccessful races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014, although at least one poll shows Gray within striking distance.

Trump has been the overriding issue in the contest. While Ossoff has run as the Trump critic, a number of Republicans have been jockeying to be the Trump candidate. including Gray and Bruce LeVell, who was head of Trump’s diversity coalition.

LeVell, who campaigned in the district with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, has taken to calling Gray “Lyin’ Bob” for overstating his ties to Trump. But Gray is insisting he is the only one of the “major” Republican candidates who had a role in the Trump campaign.

However, the Trump label might not be as useful in the 6th District as it would be in other parts of Georgia. In the Republican presidential primary last march, Trump lost to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in the district, on his way to losing all three of the counties that make up parts of the district.

The Republican race has taken on an establishment-versus-outsider tone.

Handel, a political fixture in North Fulton for the past 15 years, has received a slew of endorsements from city and county officials throughout the district, as well as the support of former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss. Gray, who has positioned himself as a business-oriented political outsider aligned with Trump, is receiving support from the conservative Club for Growth.

Moody was endorsed by U.S .Senator David Perdue; Hill, by Gingrich and Rubio, whom Hill endorsed in last year’s presidential primary.

Race for GOP-held Georgia U.S. House seat closing with Democrat in lead

But polls shows Jon Ossoff may not avoid a runoff that could be fatal in metro Atlanta’s 6th District

ATLANTA (CFP) — On paper, the outcome of the April 18 special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House district should be an foregone conclusion.

This seat in Atlanta’s upscale, leafy northern suburbs has been previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. Last November, Tom Price, now secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, won it by more than 76,000 votes against a Democrat who didn’t even bother to campaign.

But after seeing the presidential results in the 6th District last November, Democrats smelled blood.

Donald Trump carried the district by a mere 1.5 percentage points, on his way to losing Cobb County, a GOP bastion that hadn’t gone Democratic since 1976. The eastern half of Cobb is in the 6th District, along with the northern portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties, which Hillary Clinton also carried.

When Trump put Price in his Cabinet, Democrats saw an opportunity in the all-party special election to fill this seat, if they could find a candidate who could make the race competitive.

Jon Ossoff, Ga. 6th District candidate

Enter Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide who had never before run for anything. He galvanized Trump-disaffected Democrats with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” He raised a staggering $8.3 million in one just one quarter, including $1.25 in crowdfunding from the liberal website Daily Kos — a fundraising haul larger than all of his 11 Republican competitors combined.

Not only has Ossoff proven himself to be competitive, he has shot to a large lead in the polls, a full 20 points ahead of his nearest competitor. But he still may need the political equivalent of a Hail Mary to actually get to Congress.

For to win the seat outright, Ossoff has to clear 50 percent in the April 18 vote against a field with 17 competitors. If he doesn’t pull that off, he’ll face a June 20 runoff against the second-place finisher, who will almost certainly be a Republican.

Recent polls have put Ossoff as high as 43 percent, well short of what he would need to win outright. However, Democrats are hoping that their enthusiasm for Ossoff, along with the low voter turnout typical of special elections, can propel their man over the top.

The results of April 11 special election for a Republican-held congressional seat in Kansas have buoyed those hopes. The Republican in that race won, but there was a 20-point swing toward the Democrat from what Trump posted in November. Even a fraction of that swing could put Ossoff in Congress.

A recent poll by Fox 5 in Atlanta also contained good news for Democrats. In head-to-head match-ups with the four leading Republicans in the race, Ossoff was in a statistical dead heat with all of them, raising hopes he might be able to win even if forced into a runoff.

But Republicans aren’t buying that argument. Given the district’s historical tendencies, they are confident their candidate will prevail in a one-on-one race with Ossoff. One of the Republicans competing for second place, Bob Gray, has gone so far as to dismiss Democratic hopes of poaching the seat as a “fantasy.”

Yet, with Ossoff’s campaign in high gear and Republicans still tussling with each other for second place, the National Republican Congressional Committee began running ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved staffers into the district.

Another wild card in Ossoff’s ultimate success will be which Republican he faces in the runoff, who will emerge after an increasingly fractious battle for second place.

Gray

Handel

Polls show the chase for the second spot in the runoff appears to be between Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission, and Gray, a technology executive and former city councilman in Johns Creek, one of the cities in the district.

Handel, a political fixture in North Fulton for the past 15 years, has high name recognition after failed runs for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. She has received a slew of endorsements from city and county officials throughout the district, as well as the support of former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.

Gray has positioned himself as a business-oriented political outsider aligned with Trump, and he is also receiving support from the conservative Club for Growth.

Two other Republicans with an outside shot at the runoff slot are Dan Moody, a former state senator from Johns Creek, who has the backing of U.S .Senator David Perdue, and Judson Hill, a former state senator from East Cobb who has been endorsed by Gingrich and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who carried Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties over trump in Georgia’s 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Both Gray and Moody have turned their fire on Handel, with ads that criticize her as an opportunistic office seeker and a flip-flopper in the mode of John Kerry. Handel has responded with an ad touting her experience as county commission chair and secretary of state and criticizing her opponents for being more talk than action.

Analysis: Results in Confederate namesake counties show role of race in Democratic decline

Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.

Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.

In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.

By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).

The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.

In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.

The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.

In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.

By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.

This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.

Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.

The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.

The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.

But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.

Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.

As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue picked as Trump’s agriculture chief

Perdue advised Trump on agricultural issues during presidential campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

georgia mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, a veterinarian by training who grew up on a family farm, has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the nation’s next agriculture secretary.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue

The selection of Perdue, announced a day before Trump’s inauguration on January 19, rounds out the new president’s cabinet.

“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, (Perdue) has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face,” Trump said in a statement announcing Perdue’s selection. “He is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”

In the same statement, Perdue said “making sure Americans who make their livelihood in the agriculture industry are thriving is near and dear to my heart.”

“I’m going to champion the concerns of American agriculture and work tirelessly to solve the issues facing our farm families in this new role,” he said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Purdue will oversee the sprawling U.S. Department of Agriculture, with more than 100,000 employees and a $140 billion budget. In addition to farm programs, the department also oversees food safety, national forests and the food stamp program that provides nutritional assistance to more than 40 million low-income Americans.

Perdue’s selection will present an unusual wrinkle in the Senate confirmation process, as one of the senators who will consider his nomination, U.S. Senator David Perdue, is Sonny Perdue’s first cousin.

Perdue, 70, served two terms as Georgia governor. His election in 2002 marked the first time a Republican had won the state’s chief executive post since Reconstruction, ending 130 years of Democratic dominance.

Perdue grew up on a farm in Houston County in central Georgia. During the presidential campaign, he had been a member of Trump’s agricultural advisory council.

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