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West Virginia’s Jim Justice is South’s most popular governor; Georgia’s Brian Kemp the least

Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.

The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.

The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.

Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.

Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.

The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.

Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.

Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.

Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.

However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.

Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt also appear to be in strong shape for 2022, with Lee’s approval at 55% and Stitt’s at 54%.

The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.

Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.

Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.

Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.

Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.

Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.

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Black U.S. Senate candidates in the South piling up impressive amounts of campaign cash

U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Tim Scott have raised more money than any other Senate candidates nationwide

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — African American candidates have historically faced a structural barrier in gaining election to high office — difficulty raising the money needed to run a competitive race. But in 2022, black candidates appear to be kicking down that barrier in Southern U.S. Senate races.

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U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Tim Scott lead national fundraising totals

Six Southern African American candidates have each raised more than $1 million; three have raised more than $10 million. And more than a year before election day, Democratic U.S Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia has raised more money than any other Senate candidate in the country, $44 million.

Behind Warnock is Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, at $31 million.

In the 150 years since Reconstruction, just two African Americans have been elected to represent a Southern state in the U.S. Senate — Scott and Warnock, who are both up for re-election in 2022 and amassing mountains of cash.

But the four other Southern African American candidates trying to join Scott and Warnock in the Senate are also pulling in impressive amounts of campaign money, the possession of which doesn’t ensure victory but the absence of which would certainly spell defeat.

In Georgia, Warnock is likely to face another black candidate, Republican Herschel Walker, the NFL and Georgia Bulldog great whom Donald Trump inveighed to get into the race.

In the third quarter of 2021, Warnock and Walker combined raised $13.3 million for what is likely to be among the most competitive races of the 2022 cycle; Warnock pulled in $9.5 million to $3.8 million for Walker.

Trump’s endorsement has not cleared the Republican primary field for Walker, who faces a multi-candidate primary before he can get to Warnock,. However, in his first five weeks in the race, Walker has already raised more money than any of his primary rivals.

Unlike Warnock, Scott is not facing a competitive race in the Palmetto State in 2022. But his haul during the third quarter — $8.4 million — is stoking speculation that Scott may be filling his cash cupboard for a possible 2024 run for the Republican presidential nomination.

In Florida, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings — who raised her a national political profile as an House manager in the first Trump impeachment trial — raised $8.5 million in the third quarter, eclipsing the $6 million raised by her likely Republican opponent, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. But he’s raised $19 million overall so far, compared to her $13.5 million.

Neither Demings nor Rubio appear likely at this point to face a serious primary challenge that would deplete their coffers before turning their fire on each other.

In North Carolina, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley raised $1.5 million in the third quarter. While that total was not as impressive as some of the black candidates in other races, it was more than any other candidate in her race in either party, although she remains slightly behind her strongest white rival for the Democratic nomination, State Senator Jeff Jackson, in overall fundraising.

In heavily Republican Kentucky, former State Rep. Charles Booker from Louisville is considered the longest of long shots to unseat U.S. Senator Rand Paul, running as a self-styled “progressive.” But he, too, has taken in $1.7 million, tapping into national Democratic anger at some of Paul’s statements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At this point in the cycle, five of the six Southern African American candidates — Warnock, Scott, Demings, Walker, and Booker — are likely to be their party’s nominee, while Beasley’s fundraising will make her competitive in North Carolina’s Democratic primary. That number of major party Southern African-American nominees will shatter historical precedent.

The races in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are also likely to be among the most hard-fought, and expensive, in the country, with African American candidates in the mix for victory, while Scott could use 2022 as a springboard to bigger and better things.

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Second time’s a charm? Charles Booker makes new run for Kentucky U.S. Senate seat

Former Democratic legislator from Louisville will face uphill climb to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Rand in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

KentuckyLOUISVILLE (CFP) — When he launched his first run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, few observers gave Charles Booker a snowball’s chance in a Kentucky August.

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Democrat Charles Booker announces U.S. Senate run

He was just 32, had served in the legislature for just one year, and was trying to wrestle the Democratic nomination away from Amy McGrath, a fundraising powerhouse who had the full backing of Senate Democrats and their leader, Chuck Schumer.

But then, Booker took a leading role in social justice protests in Louisville after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, his charismatic style caught the imagination of the Democratic left, and — amid an uneven, uninspiring and hyper-cautious campaign from McGrath — he came within 16,000 votes of pulling off what would have one of the year’s biggest primary upsets.

Exiting the race, Booker told his supporters, “Don’t ever let someone tell you what’s impossible.”

A year later, he’s trying the impossible again, this time with a run for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, held by Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul.

“A lot of people don’t believe that change is possible in Kentucky. We’re going to prove the doubters wrong,” Booker told supporters at his kickoff rally in Louisville July 1. “We’re going to win this race, and we’re going to transform Kentucky, and it starts right now. Let’s go.”

Video of Booker’s announcement speech at end of story.

And Booker made it clear that whether or not his optimism is borne out, or whether or not the race against Paul ends up being competitive in the end, his quest to unseat Paul will be fiery, unapologetically liberal and in-your-face, in a way McGrath never was.

“Randal Howard Paul — I see you. I see you, but you don’t see us,” Booker said. “Rand Paul thinks we are a joke. He mocks us whenever he opens his mouth. He’s mocking us. He’s an embarrassment to Kentucky because he does not care.”

“He thinks his job is to stir dysfunction, to weaponize hate and essentially dismiss Kentuckians altogether.”

Rand’s response to Booker’s announcement telegraphed the likely Republican strategy against him; namely, pounding him on his more left-wing positions in a conservative state: “I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky.”

What happened to McGrath in 2020 illustrates the decidedly uphill nature of Booker’s quest in 2022. She spent $90 million to lose to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell by 20 points, failing to even break 40%.

Of course, McConnell is a more formidable political force than Paul, and McGrath’s near loss to Booker in the Democratic primary — in which he beat her in Louisville-Jefferson County by 36,000 votes — was a glaring sign of her weakness as a candidate. Booker does have stronger political skills, and it seems likely at this point that he won’t have to battle through a primary.

Still, Donald Trump carried Kentucky by 26 points in 2020, and Paul heads into the race with Trump’s endorsement. And a Democrat has not won a Senate race in the commonwealth for 30 years.

Booker’s theory of the race is that he can reach, rally and motivate voters on the left, rather than trimming his sails to appear more moderate, which did not work for McGrath. To that end, he has hired two campaign operatives involved in Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff win in January, which won with a rallying-the-base strategy.

Booker, like Warnock, is a charismatic African-American candidate with an engaging, pulpit speaking style. However, Kentucky has a much smaller black population than Georgia and is much less urban. Louisville’s impact on the statewide vote will not be as determinative as Atlanta’s was.

Indeed, Booker’s loss to McGrath shows the challenges of a base-centric style in the Bluegrass. He beat her in Louisville and Lexington, but she won the primary by carrying most of the rest of the state.

So, the key question for 2022 is, can he find enough votes in more heavily populated parts of the state to overcome Paul’s margins in more rural areas? Or can he cut into those margins with an economic appeal to rural voters in poorer counties in Eastern Kentucky, where Democrats still have local influence?

Another wild card in this race is the amount of institutional support Booker might get from national Democrats, for a race that is seen as rather less than winnable. The powers-that-be who went all in for McGrath may be wary of going down that road again, although, as Paul’s foil, Booker should be able to raise enough money on his own to be competitive.

It is not impossible for a Democrat to win statewide in Kentucky, as Governor Andy Beshear proved in 2019. Then again, Beshear was running against Matt Bevin, whose performance as governor had made him as popular as a bad rash. Paul starts the race in much better shape.

Booker starts the race with an audacious belief in his own chances, and he has clearly decided that caution is not the better part of valor. While that may or may not end up making a senator, it will make the Kentucky Senate race among them most compelling of the 2022 cycle.

Video of Charles Booker’s announcement

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Most Southern Republican U.S. House members break with Trump on 2 key votes

Only 18 join Trump’s push for $2,000 coronavirus relief checks, while 51 vote to sustain veto of defense spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Southern U.S. House Republicans were largely unswayed by President Donald Trump’s call for larger coronavirus relief checks in a key vote Monday, and most of them then voted to override the president’s veto of a defense spending bill that had passed earlier in the month with broad bipartisan support.

Trump had threatened to veto a coronavirus funding bill because it did not provide Americans with more generous relief checks, before signing it Sunday. But House Democrats brought a stand-alone bill to the floor to increase checks from $600 per person to $2,000, and 44 Republicans joined with almost all of the Democrats to pass it by a margin of 275 to 134 and send it to the Senate.

However, among the 99 Southern Republicans in the House, just 18 joined in the effort to make relief checks more robust — Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama; James Comer and Hal Rogers of Kentucky; Rick Crawford of Arkansas; Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney and John Rutherford of Florida; Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, Bill Flores, Will Hurd, Mike McCaul and Pete Olson of Texas; Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Tom Cole and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; David McKinley of West Virginia; and Denver Riggleman of Virginia.

Hours later, the House, as expected, overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Bill, with 109 Republicans, including 51 Southern Republicans, voting in favor of the first successful veto override of his presidency.

Just 35 Southern Republicans voted to sustain the president’s veto including 12 Southern Republicans who had voted for the defense bill but switched sides on the override vote — Comer, Diaz-Balart, Burgess, McKinley, Rick Allen of Georgia,  Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Carol Miller of West Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama, John Rose of Tennessee, and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas. Greg Steube of Florida, who did not vote when the bill came to the floor, also voted against the override.

Five other Southern Republicans who supported the bill’s passage opted not to oppose Trump on the veto override and did not vote — Reps. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Kenny Marchant of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Phil Roe of Tennessee. Jody Hice of Georgia, who opposed the bill, also did not vote on the override.

Twenty-two Southern Republicans opposed both the original bill and the veto override, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Trump’s most vocal defender in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

All 50 Southern Democrats serving in the House voted for the $2,000 checks and the veto override.

Trump vetoed the defense spending bill because he objected to a provision requiring name changes for military bases named for Confederate officials, mostly in the South. He also wanted Congress to repeal an unrelated provision that protects digital media companies from liability for posting third-party content.

The veto put Republicans in the awkward position of choosing between loyalty to Trump and supporting a bill to fund military operations, including pay raises for the troops.

After the House override, Trump took to Twitter to denounce the action as “a disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech.”

The bill had passed December 8 by a veto-proof margin of 335 to 78, with the support from 140 Republicans. The veto override is expected to clear the Senate.

However, the boost in relief checks is expected to have a much more difficult time in the Senate, where members have expressed concerns about the $300 billion cost of nearly the tripling the amount of the payments.

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Decision 2020: Southern U.S. Senate races see cash avalanche, as Democrats set the pace

Democrats in competitive races raise eye-popping amounts, which Republican incumbents are struggling to match

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — How much money has Democrat Jaime Harrison raised for his race against Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina?

Enough to give every woman, man and child in the Palmetto State $21. Graham could fork over $13 more. And if people in Kentucky could divvy up all the money raised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Amy McGrath for their contest, each one would pocket $33.

One of the biggest stories of the 2020 election has been the avalanche of campaign cash that candidates have been able to raise, much of it from small donors who contribute online. Campaign finance data from the Federal Elections Commission shows that in the South, as in the rest of the country, Democratic challengers have been the biggest recipients of this largesse.

Indeed, only two Southern Republican incumbents facing competitive challenges — John Cornyn in Texas and Kellly Loeffler in Georgia — have raised more money than their Democratic rivals. But Loeffler only did so by pouring $23 million from her considerable personal fortune into the race.

Of course, the candidate who raises the most money doesn’t win; the candidate with the most votes does. Just ask Beto O’Rourke, who burned through $80 million on his way to not becoming a U.S. senator from Texas in 2018.

But the fundraising dominance of Democrats has put many challengers within shooting distance as the election approaches, and raising money can also be a reliable sign of energy and momentum behind a campaign.

Harrison, for instance, has never won political office before and is running against a man who has been in Congress for 26 years in a state that has been red for generations. But the $109 million he has raised, at last count, has helped turn this race into a dead heat — and reduced Graham to begging supporters to send him money on the Fox News Channel.

Graham has raised $68 million, which in a normal year would be exponentially more money than a Senate candidate in South Carolina would need. But this year, he is facing a $40 million gap, as Harrison blankets the airwaves of South Carolina in an advertising storm.

In Kentucky, McGrath has nearly matched Harrison’s per-person fundraising total, raising at least $90 million, or $20 per person. McConnell–who as majority leader has access to every Republican donor under the sun–has not been able to keep up, coming in at $57 million at last count.

In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham has raised $48 million, more than double the $22 million raised by Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

In Alabama, the only state where Republicans are trying to oust a Democratic incumbent, U.S. Senator Doug Jones has raised $27 million, dwarfing the $8.2 million collected by Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville.

Another state with a significant disparity between Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger is Mississippi, where Democrat Mike Espy has raised $9.3 million for his rematch against Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, more than three times as much as she has raised at $3 million.

The fundraising disparity has generated national attention on the possibility of an Espy upset — which shows how fundraising alone can change the conversation about a race.

In Georgia, which has two Senate races this year, five candidates have raised a combined $110 million, with Democrat Jon Ossoff leading the pack at $33 million. He is running against Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue, who has raised $21 million.

In the special election for the other seat, Loeffler has raised $28 million, $23 million from personal loans. Democrat Raphael Warnock has raised $22 million, while Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who is trying to come at Loeffler from the right, trails badly at just $6 million.

Warnock, a political newcomer, surged to the front in polls of this race after he put his campaign money to use running ads. Though Collins has struggled badly in fundraising, polls show him still neck-and-neck with Loeffler for the second spot in the January runoff.

In Texas, Democrat MJ Hegar has raised $24 million compared to $31 million for Cornyn. However, she has been closing the gap with two strong fundraising quarters.

These are the figures reported with a week to go before the election. Given the prodigious pace of fundraising, the final numbers for many of these races are likely to be even larger by the time the votes are counted.

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