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Veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren leaves Republican Party to become independent

Decision by Hendren, nephew of Governor Asa Hutchinson, sparks speculation about 2022 bid for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Saying he was disturbed by the corrosive effects of hyper-partisanship and the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren announced Thursday that he was leaving the Republican Party, becoming an independent and forming a new centrist political organization, Common Ground AR.

The move prompted speculation that Hendren could launch an independent bid for governor in 2022, setting up a general election showdown with a Donald Trump-aligned Republican candidate.

State Senator Jim Hendren, I-Arkansas, announces party switch (From YouTube)

In a statement posted to YouTube, Hendren said the attack on the Capitol was the “final straw” that prompted him to leave the GOP, which he has represented for nearly 15 years as a legislator, including four years as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2019.

“I asked myself what in the world I would tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it?” Hendren said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell my family, my friends, and the people I serve that I did everything I could to do right by them.”

“I’m still a conservative. But I’m one whose values about decency, civility and compassion I just don’t see in my party anymore,” he said. “I haven’t changed. My party has.”

Watch video of Hendren’s full statement at end of story.

Hendren, 57, who represents a district in Northwest Arkansas, comes from a prominent and politically connected Arkansas political family. His father, Kim, is a former legislator, and he is the nephew of Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson.

While not mentioning Donald Trump by name, Hendren made it clear that his decision to leave was prompted by Trump’s impact on the Republican Party.

“I watched the former president actively fan the flames of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies, and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business,” Hendren said. “As he did this from the highest office in the land, I realized that my daughters and granddaughters were hearing it, too. And I worried about the example this set for my sons and grandsons.”

“And I watched as this behavior went on with nobody holding him to account and our party leaders too often taking a back seat rather than leading,” he said.

As for a run for governor in 2022, Hendren told the Arkansas publication Talk Business & Politics that he was putting that on the “back burner,” although he said he believes there would be a “hunger” among state voters for such a candidate.

The Republican contest for governor is shaping up as a battle between former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has also been a staunch Trump supporter.

Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin announced last week that he was dropping out of the governor’s race and would instead run for attorney general.

Responding to Hendren’s decision to leave the GOP, Republican state chair Jonelle Fulmer said Hendren had never voiced his concerns to party leaders and noted that he had welcomed support from the party, including during his re-election race in November.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to garner press for a future independent candidacy for governor, knowing that he cannot compete with the conservative records” of Sanders and Rutledge, she said.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders running for governor of Arkansas

Former White House press secretary will face battle in competitive Republican primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained national prominence battling reporters from the White House podium in defense of President Donald Trump, is running for governor of Arkansas.

Sanders, 38, whose father Mike Huckabee, served as the Natural State’s chief executive from 1996 to 2007, announced her entry into the 2022 governor’s race in a video released Monday.

Watch Sanders’s full announcement video below

Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces run for Arkansas governor

“Everything we love about America is at stake, and with the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense,” Sanders said. “Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”

While Sanders will take the Trump brand with her into her run for governor, she faces what is shaping up to be a contentious Republican primary against two current statewide officeholders, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Sanders acknowledged the tough primary ahead, saying “my opponents will do everything in their power to destroy me, but I will not apologize for who I am or who I’m fighting for.”

Griffin, in a statement, welcomed Sanders to the race, saying he looked forward “to comparing our experience, track record and vision for the future of Arkansas.” He served as a federal prosecutor and two terms in Congress before being elected as lieutenant governor in 2014.

Rutledge, in a tweet, noted that she has been friends with the Huckabee family “for a long time, and will continue to be after this election.” But she added that the race is “about who has a proven record and not merely rhetoric.”

Rutledge is in her second term as attorney general and served as legal counsel to Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Republican incumbent Governor Asa Hutchinson is term-limited in 2022. No Democrats have yet announced for the post.

Sanders served two years as White House press secretary before stepping down to return to Arkansas in 2019. Her tenure was marked by frequent battles with reporters in the Washington press corps, who challenged her truthfulness — which she pointed to as a badge of honor in her announcement video.

“I look on the media, the radical left and their cancel culture, and I won,” Sanders said. “I’ve been tested under fire, successfully managing one crisis after another in one of the most difficult, high-pressure jobs in all of government.”

During the investigation into Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Sanders admitted to investigators that she lied to reporters in the White House briefing room in 2017 by telling them that she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who supported Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. She later described the episode as a “slip of the tongue.”

If Sanders wins in 2022, she will return to the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock where she spent her teenage years when her father was governor. She would also be the first woman to serve as Arkansas governor.

Sanders was national political director for Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008. She joined Trump’s campaign in 2016 and was named as deputy press secretary, before ascending to the top spot in 2017 when Sean Spicer left after a stormy six months.

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Decision 2020: Democrats’ Lone Star hopes dashed as they come up bone dry in Texas

Dreams of turning Texas purple subsumed in a red wave in Tuesday’s vote

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Heading into Tuesday’s election, Texas Democrats were hopeful that 2020 would finally be the year that the Lone Star State would turn purple.

They had targeted 10 U.S. House seats and had hopes of flipping a U.S. Senate seat and grabbing control of the state House — and perhaps even winning the state’s presidential electoral votes for the first time since 1976.

Exactly none of that happened.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, re-elected

President Donald Trump carried Texas by 6 points; U.S. Senator John Cornyn won by 10 points over Democrat MJ Hegar; none of the targeted U.S. House incumbents lost; and the balance of power in the Texas House will be about where it was before the election began.

The only bright spot for Democrats was that they kept the two U.S. House seats they flipped in 2018, as Collin Allred won re-election in Dallas, and Lizzie Fletcher won in Houston.

Perhaps nothing symbolized Democrats’ night of woe as much as what happened in the 23rd U.S. House District, which stretches across a vast expanse of West Texas from San Antonio toward El Paso.

This district is always hard fought, changing hands four times in the last 20 years. Two years ago, Republican Will Hurd won it by a mere 926 votes over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones.

After Hurd retired, Ortiz Jones ran again and was expected to pick up the seat. But she lost to Republican Tony Gonzales by 9,300 votes, a worse showing than two years ago.

Democrats had also expected to pick up the Dallas-area seat that had been held by Kenny Marchant, but former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne appears to have won a narrow victory over Democrat Candace Valenzuela, although the race has yet to be called.

Valenzuela had attracted national attention after winning the Democratic primary, picking up endorsements from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.

Republican House incumbents who survived included Mike McCaul in central Texas (+7), Van Taylor in the northern Dallas suburbs (+12), Chip Roy in the Austin suburbs (+7), Dan Crenshaw in Houston (+14), Ron Wright in suburban Dallas (+9), Roger Williams in metro Austin (+14) and John Carter in the northern Austin suburbs (+9).

Roy’s victory was particularly sweet for Republicans, as he defeated former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who gained a national following in 2013 after filibustering to kill a bill restricting legal abortion, which she parlayed into an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014.

Davis moved from Fort Worth to Austin to run against Roy and raised nearly $9 million. But in the end, it was not enough to overcome Texas’s Republican tendencies.

Which was the story of the night for Texas Democrats.

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Decision 2020: Has Georgia finally arrived at a political tipping point?

Democrats are in contention in presidential, U.S. Senate races, poised to pick up another U.S. House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — When the smoke clears from the 2020 election, a whole new political day may have dawned in Georgia.

Democrats appear ready to capture another U.S. House seat, which would give them six out of 14 seats in the state delegation, nearly at parity with Republicans. They also have a shot at both U.S. Senate seats and an outside chance of capturing a majority in the Georgia House.

And, in perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Joe Biden could become the first Democrat to carry the Peach State in 28 years.

That’s a best case, rosy scenario for the Democrats, one which Republicans would no doubt dismiss as wishful thinking. But even if this optimistic scenario doesn’t all pan out, 2020 is likely to go down as the best year state Democrats have had since they suffered a collapse in 2002, losing the governorship and control of the legislature after a decade in which they had lost their grip on the state’s federal offices.

Trump, Biden neck-and-neck in Georgia polls

In 2016, Donald Trump carried Georgia by 5 points–enough to get the state’s 16 electoral votes but the weakest showing by a Republican since Bob Dole in 1996. The biggest shock in that race was Hillary Clinton carried both Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which had for decades been impenetrable Republican redoubts in the Atlanta suburbs.

These suburbs, which continued to swing toward the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, are key in the presidential race. Trump should get a sizable win in rural areas and small towns; Biden will easily carry the urban cores of the Atlanta and the state’s other cities; so the suburbs will be where this contest is won or lost.

Polls now show the race between Biden and Trump within the margin of error. The biggest sign the state is truly competitive: Both Trump and Biden are making October campaign stops in Georgia, which rarely gets a glimpse of presidential candidates outside of the primary season.

U.S. Senate

Because of the retirement of Republican Johnny Isakson at the end of last year, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are up this year. Republican David Perdue is seeking a second term, and Republican while Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman and political newcomer appointed to fill Isakson’s seat by Governor Brian Kemp, will try to keep it in an all-party special election.

Perdue is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, who rose to national prominence in an expensive but ultimately unsuccessful U.S. House race shortly after Trump’s election. At the beginning of the race, Perdue wasn’t thought to be in much trouble, but Ossoff has closed the gap, with polls showing the race within the margin of error.

A major source of contention in the race has been the coronavirus epidemic, with Ossoff hitting Perdue for downplaying the severity of the disease during the early days of the pandemic and voting to dismantle Obamacare, which Ossoff says has provided a lifeline to virus victims.

Perdue has hit Ossoff over his fundraising from out-of-state sources, charging that Ossoff’s contributors support a “radical socialist agenda” that he would pursue as a senator.

Ossoff has raised nearly $33 million, much of it in small dollar online contributions from Democratic donors across the country. Perdue has raised about $21 million.

Because of a quirk in Georgia law, if neither Perdue or Ossoff break 50%, they will face each other in a January runoff, which could happen if a Libertarian candidate also in the race draws off enough support.

In the special election, 20 candidates are running, and polls show three are competing for spots in a January runoff: Loeffler; Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who has been trying to run at Loeffler from the right; and Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, a pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr.

Warnock has surged to the front in the latest polls, consolidating Democratic support with an ad blitz. Loeffler and Collins are running neck-and-neck for the second spot, in a race that has divided state Republicans into two camps.

Collins, one of Trump’s most vocal defenders during last year’s impeachment fight, decided to challenge Loeffler after Kemp passed him over for the Senate appointment. But he has so far not gotten the president’s endorsement, and Loeffler has been battling him for supremacy on the right by firmly embracing Trump and taking conservative stands on social issues.

One key metric to look at on election night will be whether the Republicans in the race collectively attract more votes overall that the Democrats, which could be a sign of things to come in the runoff.

Warnock has raised the most money, at $22 million, but Loeffer has more money to spend, after tapping her considerable personal fortune for $23 million in loans. Collins trails at $6 million.

Depending on results in other states, control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on two runoff elections in Georgia in January — a circumstance that would attract massive amounts of money and national attention to the Peach State.

U.S. House

The focus in the U.S. House races with be the 6th District, in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs, and the 7th District, in the near northeast suburbs.

Two years ago, Democrat Lucy McBath flipped the 6th District seat, defeating Republican Karen Handel, Handel is back for a rematch, but McBath — like other freshmen Democrats defending seats in districts Trump won in 2016 — has raised a mountain of money, nearly $8 million, to less than $3 million for Handel

Trump won this district by less than 2 points in 2020. Demographic changes, including more minority voters, are also contributing to its shift from red to purple, and most election handicappers are giving McBath the edge.

Handel will need a strong margin from East Cobb and North Fulton counties to offset McBath’s strength in more diverse areas such as Sandy Springs and Doraville.

In the 7th District, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost this race by just 400 voters in 2018,  is back for another try, facing Republican Rich McCormick, a physican and retired Marine pilot. (The Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, retired.) Bourdeaux also enjoys a fundraising advantage, $4.7 million to $2.4 million.

The largest population center in this district is Gwinnett County, where Democrats have been winning legislative seats and county offices in recent years. White voters are also now a minority here, which should help Bourdeaux.

If both McBath and Bourdeaux win, the Georgia delegation will be split 8R and 6D, closer than it has been since 1994.

State Legislature

In the battle for the state House, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the 180-member House to gain control, after picking up 11 seats in 2018. The party is targeting seats in the Atlanta suburbs, where Democrats have been making gains in recent years, although it is unclear if enough flippable seats remain to get to 15.

Democrats would need to pick up eight seats in the 56-member Senate to take control, which is considered much less likely.

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West Virginia Primary: Democrats pick Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango to take on GOP Governor Jim Justice

 Environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen wins Democratic U.S. Senate nomination

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — West Virginia Democrats have selected Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango to take on party-switching Republican Governor Jim Justice in November.

Salango won Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with 39 percent to 33 percent for Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. State Senator Ron Stollings came in third with 14 percent.

Salango addresses supporters in Charleston (From WOWK via YouTube)

“Tomorrow morning, we get to work, and we’re going to win the general election,” Salango told supporters at his victory rally in Charleston. “I’ll be a governor who gets things done. I’ll be a governor who shows up and puts public service ahead of self-serving.”

Justice easily won the Republican primary, carrying 63 percent of the vote against three challengers.

The race against Justice will be a grudge match for Democrats, after the governor infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office in 2017 — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage at a rally with President Donald Trump.

Salango had the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions and was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass. Smith ran a more grassroots campaign, using the slogan “WV Can’t Wait.”

Also on Tuesday in the primary for U.S. Senate, Democrats selected environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen, to face Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Swearingen took 38 percent to 33 percent for former State Senator Richard Ojeda, an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction. Coming in third was Richie Robb, the former mayor of South Charleston, at 29 percent.

In 2018, Swearingen ran in the Democratic primary against the state’s other senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, taking 30 percent of the vote. That campaign was profiled in a Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”

Capito will be a heavy favorite in November, given the Mountain State’s strong GOP tilt in federal elections.

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

Also on Tuesday, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated in the GOP primary by Amy Nichole Grady, a teacher from Leon. Legislative leaders have been at odds with state teachers over pay and education funding, which led to two strikes by teachers.

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