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Candidates for Florida governor pick lieutenant governor running mates

Republican DeSantis selects State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez; Democrat Gillum picks primary rival Chris King

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — The major party candidates for Florida governor have announced picks for their running mates for lieutenant governor.

The Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis from Ponte Vedra, has picked State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American legislator from Miami. The Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, picked Chris King, an Orlando businessman who ran against him in the primary.

State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Florida

The selection of Nuñez is noteworthy because of her previous criticism of President Donald Trump, who has been a close ally of DeSantis.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, when she was supporting U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, she called Trump a “con man,” described herself as “never Trump” and accused him of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.

Asked about those critical comments while campaigning with DeSantis in Orlando after the running mate announcement, she said, “We’re here talking about moving forward. Elections are elections. It is what it is.”

“That election is done, and I’m looking forward to this election,” she said.

DeSantis, whose primary victory was fueled by supportive tweets from Trump, described her comments as part of a primary “tussle” in which she was supporting a hometown candidate.

“To support Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, if I were in her shoes I probably would have been supporting Marco as well,” he said.

In a show of Republican unity, the man DeSantis defeated in the primary, State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, was on hand to campaign with the new ticket.

Nuñez, 46, was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, working her way up through the GOP leadership to become speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position, in 2016.

As a legislator, she worked for passage of a bill that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, a position contrary to the hard-line stance on illegal immigration embraced by both Trump and DeSantis.

If elected in November, she would become the first Cuban-American woman to serve as lieutenant governor. The current lieutenant governor, Carlos López-Cantera, is also Cuban-American, a community that has long been an important faction in Florida Republican politics.

Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Chris King, D-Florida

On the Democratic side, Gillum picked King, who came in fifth place in the Democratic primary for governor that Gillum narrowly won.

The pairing was announced in a Facebook video in which both men said the personal relationship they developed on the campaign trail led to King’s selection.

“I developed a friendship with Andrew Gillum over 18 months as we were competing,” he said. “I came to care for him. I came to admire him.”

King, 39, is a lawyer and real estate investor whose run for governor was his first foray into the political arena.

In picking King, Gillum passed over the woman he narrowly defeated for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who had been considered the favorite in the race before Gillum’s surprise victory.

In Florida, the office of lieutenant governor is not independently elected, and candidates for governor pick running mates after the primary.

Though 17 states use the same system, running mates are uncommon in the South, with only Florida and Kentucky selecting lieutenant governors this way.

Southern Primaries: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey seeks full term; U.S. Rep Martha Roby tries to survive backlash over Trump criticism

6 Republicans also battle for open U.S. House seat in Mississippi

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Governor Kay Ivey, who became Alabama’s chief executive last year after her disgraced predecessor resigned amid a sex scandal, will take the first step toward winning a new term in her own right in Tuesday’s Republican primary against three challengers.

In another closely watched race in Alabama, Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is trying to survive the backlash from her pointed criticism of President Donald Trump during last year’s presidential race, facing four GOP challengers who have hit her hard for being insufficiently supportive of the president.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, the marquee race in Tuesday’s primary is in the state’s 3rd U.S. House District, where six Republicans are vying for two runoff spots in a race likely to be decided in the GOP primary.

Six Democrats are also vying for their party’s nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in November, a race in which Wicker will be heavily favored.

Polls in both states are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Ivey, 73, became governor in April 2017 after her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned amid allegations that he used state resources to try to hide an extramarital affair with a female aide, a scandal complete with salacious audio recordings that roiled state politics for months.

After five months in office, Ivey, who won plaudits for her handling of the Bentley debacle and its aftermath, announced that she would seek a full term as governor. A Morning Consult poll earlier this year  put her approval rating at 67 percent, making her one of the most popular governors in the country.

However, she still drew primary challengers from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, State Senator Bill Hightower from Mobile and Scott Dawson, an evangelist from Birmingham. A fourth candidate, Michael McAllister, died in April, too late for his name to be removed from Tuesday’s ballot.

The governor’s campaign was thrown a curve ball in May when Alabama’s only openly gay legislator, Democratic State. Rep. Patricia Todd, posted on social media that Ivey was a closeted lesbian.

The governor’s campaign called the assertion “a disgusting lie.” Todd later said she has no evidence to back up the claim.

Pre-primary polling showed Ivey with a wide lead over her opponents; she will need a majority to avoid a July 17 runoff.

Six Democrats are competing in the primary to face the eventual Republican winner in the fall, including Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court; four-term Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox; and former State Rep. James Fields from Hanceville.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

In the 2nd District U.S. House race in southeast Alabama, Roby is facing four Republican challengers motivated by the congresswoman’s decision to distance herself from Trump during the 2016 election.

In October 2016, after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in which Trump bragged about sexually accosting women, Roby withdrew her endorsement and announced she would not vote for him because his “behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president.”

In November, almost 30,000 people cast write-in votes against Roby. Although she won in the end, she wound up with just 49 percent of the vote in a strongly Republican district, virtually ensuring she would face a primary fight in 2018.

Among those running against Roby are Bobby Bright, a former Montgomery mayor whom Roby beat to win the seat in 2010 when Bright was a Democrat; Rich Hobson, the campaign manager for failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore; State Rep. Barry Moore from Enterprise; and Tommy Amason from Prattville, a military veteran making his first run for office.

Roby, who has toned down her criticisms of Trump since the election, opened up a huge fundraising advantage, taking in $1.4 million — more than twice as much as all of her GOP opponents combined, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

The Democratic race in the 2nd District is between Tabitha Isner from Montgomery, a pastor’s wife and business analyst for a software company, and Audri Scott Williams, a former college dean.

In Mississippi, six Republicans and two Democrats are running in the 3rd District, which stretches across the southern part of the state from Natchez to Meridian and also includes Jackson’s northern suburbs

The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, is retiring after five terms.

Republicans in the race include Michael Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties; Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour; Perry Parker, a farmer and investment executive from Seminary, near Hattiesburg; State Senator Sally Doty from Brookhaven; Morgan Dunn, a healthcare consultant from Magee; and Katherine “Bitzi” Tate, a former high school teacher.

If no candidate captures a majority Tuesday, the top two finishers will meet in a June 26 runoff.

The Democratic race is between State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston and Michael Aycox, a police officer from Newton. The district is heavily Republican, making it a long shot for Democrats to flip a Mississippi seat.

In the Senate race, six Democrats are running to take on Wicker, including State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis; State Rep. Omeria Scott from Laurel; and Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress Sela Ward, a Meridian native.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis announces run for Florida governor

DeSantis’s decision follows a favorable Twitter mention from Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Equipped with a favorable mention from President Donald Trump on Twitter, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has announced that he will run for Florida governor in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

DeSantis, who is serving his third term in Congress, made the announcement January 5 on the conservative-friendly confines of the Fox & Friends morning program on the Fox News Channel.

“I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Governor Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis said.

His decision to enter the race sets up a primary battle with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a former congressman who has the backing of much of Florida’s GOP establishment.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has the imprimatur of Trump, who offered an almost-endorsement of his candidacy December 22 on Twitter: “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Although Trump did not actually use the e-word, DeSantis is playing up the favorable mention, noting on his website that he has been “endorsed by President Trump.”

DeSantis, 39, a Harvard law graduate and former military prosecutor, was elected in 2012 from Florida’s 6th District, which stretches along the Atlantic coast from the Jacksonville suburbs to Daytona Beach. He is a member of the conservative, anti-establishment House Freedom Caucus.

In 2016, DeSantis ran for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate but abandoned his campaign when Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after leaving the presidential campaign.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

The major obstacle in DeSantis’s way to becoming governor is Putnam, 43, the one-time boy wonder of Florida politics who was the elected to the legislature at age 22 and to Congress when he was just 26.

Putnam served five terms in the U.S. House, rising to chair the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 position in the House GOP hierarchy. before being elected as agriculture commissioner in 2010.

He was re-elected in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote and has already raised more $15 million for the governor’s race.

Also considering the governor’s race on the Republican side is Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who represents a suburban Tampa district in the legislature and was elected speaker in 2016.

The Democratic primary for governor is shaping up as a battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine.

Graham, who served a single term in Congress before leaving after she was redrawn into a politically unfavorable district, is the daughter of former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham. If elected, Gillum would be Florida’s first African American governor.

Scott, the incumbent Republican, is term-limited and considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switches from Democrat to Republican

Governor makes dramatic announcement at Donald Trump rally

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Just nine months after winning West Virginia’s top job as a Democrat, Governor Jim Justice has switched to the Republican Party, telling his voters that “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.”

Governor Jim Justice

Justice made his announcement in the most public way possible — at August 3 campaign-style Donald Trump rally in Huntington, with the president looking on. And the newly minted Republican, a longtime friend of Trump and his family, offered an unqualified endorsement of his new party’s standard-bearer.

“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone,” Justice said. “He’s got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Trump carried West Virginia by 42 points in November, his biggest margin of victory in any state except Wyoming, at the same time Justice was keeping the statehouse in Charleston in Democratic hands.

However, Justice told the crowd in Huntington that the decision to bolt to the GOP also stemmed from a dispute he had with Democrats in the legislature after a tax plan he crafted with Republican help went down to defeat.

“At the altar, when we had it done, like or or not, but the Democrats walked away from me,” he said.

In response to Justice’s announcement, West Virginia Democratic chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued a statement accusing the governor of caring more about his own political future than the people of his state.

“During his campaign for governor, Jim Justice said he would never lie to the public; he said he would never be a politician, and he would definitely be a full-time governor. None of those promises were kept,” she said.

“Jim Justice took advantage of Democrats by taking our money and our votes. It’s a slap in the face to all of us who believed in what he was promising. I never thought I would see Jim Justice be anyone’s puppet. Shame on him.”

Republicans control both house of the West Virginia legislature, which means Justice will now be titular head of a party that has complete control of state government for the first time since at least 1931.

Justice, noting that his late parents were both “staunch Republicans,” said he imagined that his mother was in heaven “saying ‘Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”

He also took a shot at those focusing on the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, which has been dominating the conversation in Washington.

“Haven’t we heard enough about the Russians?” Justice said, drawing thunderous applause from the pro-Trump crowd. “I mean, to our God in heaven above, think about it. The stock market’s at 22,000. And this country has hope. And we’re on our way.”

Like Trump, Justice, 66, was a billionaire businessman with no political experience before being elected, a fact the governor also noted while announcing his switch.

“This man and myself are not politicians. We ran to get something done,” he said. “We ran because we want nothing. We ran as our Founding Fathers did years and years ago, to serve.”

A sitting governor changing parties during his term in office is extraordinarily rare. The only recent precedent was former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who switched from Republican to independent in 2010 during an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senator. Crist is now a Democratic member of the U.S. House.

Justice’s switch means that Democrats now hold just three of 14 Southern governorships, in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia. Nationwide, Republicans hold the governor’s office in 34 states, matching their all time high.

Democrat Northam, Republican Gillespie will face off in Virginia governor’s race

Northam wins easily among Democrats; Gillespie barely edges out Trump-aligned candidate

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

FAIRFAX, Virginia (CFP) — Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, brushing aside an anti-establishment challenge from former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.

But on the Republican side, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie could only squeak out a narrow win over Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s one-time Virginia campaign director, in a race that turned out to be much closer than pre-election polls had forecast.

The results of the June 13 primary now set up what is likely to be an expensive and hard-fought race in the fall for the South’s only open governorship.

Among Democrats, North won 55 percent, to 45 percent for Perriello. On the Republican side, Gillespie was at 44 percent, just ahead of  Stewart, chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, at 43 percent. State Senator Frank Wagner from Virginia Beach brought up the rear at 14 percent.

Unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections put Gillespie’s margin over Stewart at just 4,200 votes out of nearly 366,000 votes cast. The margin would have to be within 1 percent of the total votes cast — 3,660 — in order to trigger a recount under state law.

Because Virginia does not have primary runoffs, Gillespie only had to win a plurality to advance to the general election.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Northam, a pediatric neurologist from Norfolk who has spent a decade in state politics, had the backing of most of Virginia’s Democratic political establishment and appeared to be cruising to an easy nomination until Perriello jumped into the race in January.

Perriello’s campaign was endorsed by 2016 presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with a slew of former officials from Barack Obama’s administration, in which Perriello served after losing his House seat in 2010.

While Obama did not offer an endorsement, Perriello frequently reminded voters of his connection to the former president. But in the end, Perriello’s insurgent passion could not overcome Northam’s organizational and fundraising advantages.

Ed Gillespie

The Republican race also featured an outsider-versus-insider narrative, with Stewart wrapping himself in the mantle of Trump and vowing to “take back Virginia from the establishment” — a not-so-veiled shot at Gillespie, who served as a White House aide under President George W. Bush before leading the RNC.

One curious feature of the campaign was the decision by Stewart — an native of Minnesota — to publicly decry efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces, which have sparked controversy in Charlottesville and other cities in the South.

The governor’s race in the Old Dominion is one of only two being held this year; the other is in New Jersey. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is barred from seeking re-election.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia is the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and it has now gone to the GOP in three successive presidential elections.

Three of the commonwealth’s last four governors have been Democrats, and it is is among just three of the 14 Southern states with a Democratic chief executive, the others being West Virginia and Louisiana.

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