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Oklahoma Primary: Voters will decide whether to expand Medicaid under Obamacare

Republicans will also pick challenger to Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Voters in Oklahoma will decide Tuesday whether to make an end run around resistant statehouse politicians and implement Medicaid expansion authorized as part of Obamacare.

Also in Tuesday’s primary, voters in the 5th U.S. House District in metro Oklahoma City will pick a nominee to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, who flipped the seat in 2018 and is one of the GOP’s top targets for 2020.

Sooner State Democrats will also pick a nominee to face Republican U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, running for a fifth full term that could secure his place in the Senate into his 90s.

In-person voting opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m., although absentee voting is expected to break records due to concerns about coronavirus.

Oklahoma is one of 14 Republican-controlled states whose leaders have refused to expand Medicaid to extend coverage to low-income residents without insurance who don’t currently qualify for the program but can’t afford private coverage on the Obamacare exchanges.

According to proponents, expansion could benefit 200,000 state residents and help rescue rural hospitals how in financial trouble.

Proponents collected enough petition signatures to put expansion on the ballot Tuesday as a constitutional amendment, following similar successful efforts in the conservative states of Utah, Idaho and Nebraska to use voter initiatives to get around lawmakers philosophically opposed to participating in Obamacare.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt also opposes expansion, arguing that the state cannot afford to cover its part of the cost amid a budget crunch caused by the coronavirus crisis.

In the 5th District, nine Republicans are competing for the right to take on Horn, with the race expected to come down to State Senator Stephanie Bice and businesswoman Terry Neese, both of whom have raised $1 million for the race. Also in the field is former State School Superintendent Janet Barresi and David Hill, a businessman from Edmond.

If no candidate wins a majority Tuesday, the top two voter-getters will face off in an Aug. 25 runoff for the right to face Horn, whose election to the House from deep-red Oklahoma was one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 cycle.

Horn has raised more than $3.3 million as she fights to keep her seat.

The Democratic race for U.S. Senate features four candidates, including Abby Broyles, a former investigative reporter for an Oklahoma City television station, and Elysabeth Britt, a human resources professional who finished third in the 5th District race in 2018.

Inhofe will be the prohibitive favorite in November. At 85, if he wins, he’ll be 92 by the time his term ends in 2029.

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President Donald Trump returns to campaign trail with raucous rally in Tulsa

Smaller-than-anticipated crowd attends event, the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TULSA (CFP) — After being sidelined from the campaign trail for three months by the coronavirus lockdown, President Donald Trump was back in his element Saturday night, addressing thousands of adoring supporters as he returned to the campaign trail in Tulsa.

“I stand before you today to declare that the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Trump told the crowd at the BOK Center. “We”re going to stop the radical left. We’re going to build a future of safety and opportunity for Americans of every race, color, religion and creed.”

Donald Trump rallies supporters in Tulsa (From Fox News via YouTube)

Trump touted the achievements of his first term, saying that “together, we are taking back our country. We are returning it to you, the American people.”

While the campaign claimed that more than 1 million people had registered for the event and had set expectations of a capacity crowd, parts of the arena were visibly empty. According to the Tulsa Fire Department, only 6,200 people attended, based on a count conducted by the fire marshal.

Trump and Pence had been scheduled to address the crowd in an overflow area set up outside the arena, but that event was canceled, and crews began dismantling the stage as Trump was speaking inside.

Trump campaign officials issued a statement saying “radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters.” Trump told the audience that “a bunch of maniacs” had interfered with the rally, although news media coverage showed no significant violence or obstructions outside of the arena.

State and local police and National Guard units had been brought in to provide security for the event and separate rally-goers from groups who were protesting the event in downtown Tulsa near the arena.

In his return to active campaigning, Trump, who had promised his supporters a “wild evening,” didn’t disappoint, offering up plenty of political red meat in a speech that lasted for nearly an hour and 50 minutes.

He attacked the “fake news” as “sick,” called coronavirus “kung flu,” complained that an “unhinged left-wing mob is trying to desecrate our history,” and called activists trying to defund the police “stone cold crazy.”

And he heaped particular scorn on the Democrat he will face in November, Joe Biden, repeatedly calling him “Sleepy Joe,” implying that Biden is unwell, and charging that he has “surrendered to the left-wing mob.”

“If Biden is elected, he will surrender the country to these mobsters,” Trump said. “If Democrats gain power, the rioters will gain control.”

Trump also called for a new law mandating jail time for people who burn the American flag and decried protests against police violence from NFL players, saying “we will never kneel to our national anthem or our great American flag.”

The rally was the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown began in March. While attendees were screened with temperature checks before entering, there was little social distancing among the crowd, and most people — including Trump — did not wear face masks, which were optional.

The doors of the arena opened four hours before the event began, with people sitting in close proximity the entire time.

Local health officials in Tulsa expressed concerns about holding the rally amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The Oklahoma Supreme Court Friday rejected a request to force attendees to abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would have required social distancing and masks.

Attendees had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the campaign if they were exposed to coronavirus. On the morning of the event, Trump campaign officials acknowledged that six workers who had helped set up the rally tested positive for coronavirus.

In his remarks, Trump did not address the coronavirus concerns surrounding the rally, but he did tout his administration’s response to the pandemic, which he said saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Biden took to Twitter to chide the president for going ahead with the rally despite concerns about exposing attendees to the virus.

“Donald Trump is so eager to get back to his campaign rallies that he’s willing to put people at risk and violate CDC guidelines — as long as they sign a waiver promising not to hold his campaign liable,” Biden said. “Unbelievable.”

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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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Former Vice President Joe Biden rolls across the South in Super Tuesday primaries

Biden wins all 7 Southern states; Mike Bloomberg drops out after failing to break through in his campaign debut

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled to wins in all seven Southern Super Tuesday primaries, cementing his status as the new front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and handing a string of defeats to Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Tuesday’s triumphs across the South — including the biggest prize, Texas — marked a remarkable four-day swing by the Biden campaign, fueled by a stronger-than-expected win on Saturday in South Carolina that prompted three other candidates to exit the race, two of whom then endorsed Biden.

In the wake of the Super Tuesday results, Bloomberg, too, exited the race and endorsed Biden.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Los Angeles as the scope of his victories became clear, Biden noted that “just a few days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this campaign dead.”

“We were told, well, when it got to Super Tuesday, it would be over. Well, it may be over — for the other guy,” he said.

Biden won Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas by double digits. He won by more than 40 points in Alabama, where a majority of the Democratic voters were African American, and by 30 points in Virginia, buoyed both by a strong result among black voters and in the suburban counties around Washington, D.C.

His margin over Sanders was much smaller in Texas, at 4 percent.

In the race to pile up delegates, the size of Biden’s victories in the South allowed him to build a 130-plus margin over Sanders and overtake him as the delegate leader nationwide.

Bloomberg, making his campaign debut after skipping South Carolina and three other early states, came in a distant third in all of the Southern states except Virginia, where he finished fourth. He won just 21 delegates.

On election night, Bloomberg had sounded a note of optimism, saying the results showed his late-starting campaign was viable. But by Wednesday morning, he announced that he had concluded he had no viable path to the nomination and endorsed Biden.

The Super Tuesday results continue a tale of woe for Sanders in the South, where he was buried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Oklahoma was one of only two Southern states Sanders won in 2016, along with West Virginia, but this time around, Biden beat him in the Sooner State by 13 points. And as in 2016, Biden’s won across the region by beating Sanders by large margins among African American voters.

Sanders used his election night speech to supporters in his home state of Vermont to exude confidence — and to draw a contrast between what he described as his “movement” for fundamental change and the status quo represented by the former vice president.

“We’re going to win because the people understand it is our campaign, our movement, which is best positioned to defeat Trump,” he said. “You cannot defeat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics. What we need is a new kind of politics that brings working class people into our political movement, which brings young people into our political movement.”

The next Southern stop on the presidential campaign trail is Mississippi, which votes March 10, followed by Florida on March 17 and Georgia on March 24.

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Super Tuesday: Democratic White House chase and down ballot races to be decided in 7 Southern states

Biden, Bloomberg and Sanders scramble for Southern support; Jeff Sessions mounts a comeback in Alabama; another Bush tries to launch

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoitics.com

(CFP) — Southern voters from the shores of Virginia to the deserts of West Texas will go to the polls to vote in primary elections Tuesday, with the Democratic presidential race as the day’s marquee event.

In what’s come to be known as Super Tuesday, 621 delegates are up for grabs in presidential primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, with polling showing a three-way tussle in those states between former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is making his campaign debut.

In North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, voters will also decide down ballot races in addition to the White House contest.

North Carolinians will pick nominees for governor, and there are contested U.S. Senate primaries among Democrats in Texas and North Carolina and among Republicans in Alabama, where Jeff Sessions is trying to reclaim the seat he gave up to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

A wave of Republican U.S. House retirements in Texas has also triggered a string of wide-open primaries there, including one in which Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, is trying to launch a political career with an establishment pedigree in the age of Trump.

Two veteran members of the Lone Star delegation, Republican Kay Granger and Democrat Henry Cuellar, are also trying to fend off primary challenges — she from the Trump right, and he from the “progressive” left — while former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in the Democratic sweep of 2018, is trying to mount a comeback from a different district in Waco.

Presidential Race

Heading into Super Tuesday, the state of Democratic presidential contests in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma are a big unknown, given a paucity of public polling in any of those states. The polling that has been done in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia shows Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg bunched at the top, with the other candidates trailing behind.

However, those polls don’t take into account the possible effect from Biden’s big win in South Carolina on Saturday, which was the first Southern stop on the primary calendar, and the subsequent departures from the race of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom endorsed Biden.

In the Super Tuesday states, Biden must also cope with Bloomberg’s lavish campaign spending and Sanders’s formidable ground operation.

One of the biggest factors in who can carry these Southern states will be performance among African American voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in Alabama and more than a quarter in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

While Biden ran away with the black vote in South Carolina, he will face new competition Tuesday from Bloomberg, who has been organizing across the region and getting endorsements from African American elected officials.

Down Ballot Races

North Carolina Republicans are also deciding who to pick to try to unseat Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in November, with Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest facing State Rep. Holly Grange.

To win without a runoff in North Carolina, a candidate needs to win 30 percent of the vote, as opposed to the majority requirement in most Southern states.

In Texas and North Carolina, Democrats will be selecting nominees to face incumbent Republican U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Thom Tillis; in Alabama, Republicans will pick a challenger for Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

The Alabama GOP primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. Polls point to a likely runoff.

In North Carolina, the Democratic establishment’s pick, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is facing State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller. Cunningham will need to win 30 percent to avoid a runoff.

In Texas, a field of 12 Democrats includes MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force combat pilot; State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Given the fractured field, a runoff is likely.

Texas U.S. House

The primary competition for U.S. House races in Texas will be particularly intense on Tuesday, thanks to the departures of five sitting Republicans in the Texas delegation and a number of other seats that both parties are targeting in the fall.

At least 13 seats that are open or potentially competitive are likely headed to runoffs in one and possibly both parties, which means the state of play for the fall won’t be apparent until after runoffs on May 26.

Among the notable candidates trying to get to Congress are former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention in a bid for governor in 2014, who is running in the 21st District near Austin for the chance to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy; Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former physician and unsuccessful nominee for veterans secretary, running for the GOP nomination in the 13th District in the Panhandle with Trump’s support; and Pierce Bush in the 22nd District in suburban Houston.

Bush is the son of Neil Bush, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, and the nephew of President George W. Bush. If elected, he would be the second of his generation of the Bush family to hold elective office in Texas, joining State Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

In the 12th District, which includes Fort Worth, Granger, — the House’s senor woman Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee — is trying to hold off a challenge from Chris Putnam, a former Colleyville city councilman who calls Granger “a creature of the swamp” and criticizes her for calling on Trump to get out of the 2016 race after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.

He has also hit Granger for changing her position on legal abortion, which she now opposes but supported earlier in her career.

Granger, however, has countered Putnam’s criticism with the most powerful tool in modern Republican politics — an endorsement from Trump himself.

In South Texas, Cuellar, one of more conservative Democrats in the House, is being challenged by Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney from Laredo who has gotten endorsements from a who’s who of the party’s left flank, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.

Culler is also one of seven Democratic House incumbents who are being targeted for defeat by Justice Democrats, a group affiliated with Ocasio-Cortez.

Cisneros has hit Cuellar for being too willing to support Trump, opposing federal funding for abortion, and being too cozy with the National Rifle Association. But Cuellar has countered by stressing his constituent service over more than a decade in Congress and arguing that voters in his majority Latino 28th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Laredo and down through the Rio Grade Valley, don’t share Cisneros’s more liberal policy positions.

Sessions, who lost his metro Dallas seat in 2018, is trying to make a comeback in the Waco-centered 17th District, where he grew up but hasn’t lived in decades. The man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep Bill Flores, has pointedly endorsed one of Sessions’s 10 Republican rivals, Renee Swann, saying “our next congressperson needs to be one of us.”

However, of all of the candidates in the race, Sessions has the highest political profile, which could be enough for him to get into what is likely to be a runoff for the nomination.

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