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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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Voters in Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina vote Tuesday in rescheduled primaries

Democrats will pick a U.S. Senate nominee in Georgia and a gubernatorial candidate in West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Voters in three Southern states — Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina — will vote Tuesday in primaries that were rescheduled from earlier in the year due to the coronavirus crisis.

In Georgia, Democrats will be picking a nominee to oppose Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in November, while Republicans will begin sorting out their nominees for two open U.S. House seats in safely Republican districts that have both drawn a gaggle of candidates.

In West Virginia, Democrats will pick an opponent to face Republican Governor Jim Justice — who won four years ago as a Democrat before switching parties and embracing President Donald Trump — and will also decide on a nominee to face U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito.

In South Carolina, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham faces three little-known challengers in his primary, while his expected Democratic opponent in the fall, Jaime Harrison, is running unopposed.

Republicans in the Lowcountry will also pick a candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who is one of the GOP’s top 2020 targets.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, mail and early voting has been expanded for the primaries, with a smaller portion expected to vote in person on primary day with reduced numbers of polling stations.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Georgia and South Carolina and from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in West Virginia.

In Georgia, the marquee race is the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate. The polling leader in the race has been Jon Ossoff, who benefits from the statewide name recognition he built in 2017 by spending $30 million in a special election for the 6th District House seat, a race he narrowly lost.

Ossoff’s primary challengers include Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman who was the party’s unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Polls have given Ossoff a large lead but short of the majority he would need to win the nomination outright and earn a spot against Perdue in November. If he does not clear that threshold, he’ll face an August runoff against Tomlinson or Amico.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican Kelly Loeffler,  is also up for election in 2020; however, because that contest is to fill the remainder of a term, a special election won’t be held until November, in which Loeffler will run against candidates from all parties, including Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has launched an intra-party fight to push Loeffler out of the seat.

Peach State Republicans will also start the process for picking nominees for two of their safest U.S. House seats — the 9th District in the north Georgia mountains, which Collins is giving up to run for the Senate, and the 14th District in northwest Georgia, where Tom Graves is retiring. Nine Republicans have entered the primary for both of those seats, making runoffs a near certainty.

In the 7th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs, seven Republicans and six Democrats are running in their respective primaries for the seat Republican Rob Woodall kept by a scant 413 votes in 2018. He decided to retire rather than to contest the seat again.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat whom Woodall barely beat two years ago, is back, but she faces a primary battle against five challengers including State Senator Zahra Karinshak, a lawyer and former Air Force officer; State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, the first Latina to serve in the Georgia legislature; and John Eaves, the former chairman of the Fulton County Commission and former Atlantan who decamped for the suburbs in a bid to get to Congress.

On the Republican side, State Senator Renee Unterman, a former mayor who has served 22 years in the legislature, is facing off against six competitors, including Lynne Homrich, a former Home Depot executive, and Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot.

The only House incumbent in either party facing a significant primary challenge in Georgia is Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, who is being challenged in the 13th District in the southern and western Atlanta suburbs by Jannquelle Peters, the former mayor of East Point; former State Rep. Keisha Waites; and Michael Owens, the former chair of the Cobb County Democratic Party who challenged Scott unsuccessfully in 2014.

Scott, 74, is seeking his 10th term in the House and has held elected office continuously for 46 years. The majority black 13th District is strongly Democratic, which means whoever emerges from the primary will likely win the seat in November.

In West Virginia, Democrats are itching for a grudge match against Justice, who infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage with the president at a Trump rally.

Five Democrats are running for the nomination to oppose the governor, led by Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who has the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions. He was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass.

Also running are State Senator Ron Stollings from Madison; Jody Parker, a former journalist from Madison; and Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, who is running what he describes as a grassroots, progressive campaign.

A fifth candidate who filed to run, Doug Hughes, later announced on Facebook that he was pulling out and endorsing Smith.

In the Senate race, 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 — is the best-known of the three candidates vying to take on Capito, whose seat is not currently considered to be jeopardy.

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

In South Carolina, the marquee race is the U.S. House contest in the 1st District, where Republicans have their sights set on Cunningham, who flipped the seat in 2018.

The race for the GOP nomination includes State Rep. Nancy Mace from Daniel Island, a real estate agent and businesswoman who was the first female graduate of The Citadel; Kathy Landing, a businesswoman who serves on the town council in Mount Pleasant; Chris Cox, a chainsaw artist who was one of the founders of the Bikers for Trump group; and Brad Mole, a housing administrator from Bluffton.

Mace and Landing have led the race in fundraising and advertising, with Mace raking in more than $1.3 million for the race to $630,000 for Landing, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The question will be whether either woman will be able to clear the majority needed to avoid a runoff with Cox and Mole also in the race.

Mace has gotten the backing of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the conservative business groups Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth. But Landing has her own conservative backers, including the House Freedom Fund, a campaign group associated with House Freedom Caucus, as well as conservative stalwart and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.

In the U.S. Senate race, Republican primary voters will decide whether to reward Graham for his enthusiastic embrace of Trump.

Six years ago, he faced a slew of candidates who ran at him from the right and criticized him as inauthentically conservative. But this time around, Graham faces only token opposition from three little-known candidates, none of whom has raised enough money to compete with his $26 million war chest.

Harrison, who hopes to be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in South Carolina since 1998, faces no opposition on the Democratic side of the ballot. He has so far raised $19 million, according to the latest FEC filings.

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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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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards defeats Republican Eddie Rispone

Edwards’s victory is a blow to Republicans and President Donald Trump after earlier GOP loss in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards has narrowly won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

The win by Edwards in Saturday’s runoff gives Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, despite fervent interventions in all three races by President Donald Trump in states he carried handily in 2016.

Governor John Bel Edwards speaks to supporters in New Orleans after winning second term (WWL-TV via YouTube)

Edwards took 51 percent of the vote in the runoff to 49 percent to Rispone, one of Louisiana’s wealthiest businessmen who was making his first bid for political office.

“How sweet it is,” Edwards said in his victory speech to supporters at a New Orleans hotel. “You didn’t just vote for me. You voted for four more years of putting Louisiana first.”

Edwards is the first Democrat to win a second term as Louisiana’s chief executive since Edwin Edwards (no relation) won re-election in 1975.

In the other statewide office on the ballot Saturday, Republican incumbent Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin easily defeated Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone, who had tried to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he had split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Trump — who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016 — visited the state three times during the campaign, most recently on Thursday night when he implored a rally in Bossier City that “you’ve gotta give me a big win” by electing Rispone.

Edwards responded to Trump’s involvement in the race with a classic Southern putdown in his victory speech.

“And as for the president — God bless his heart,” Edwards said. “If this campaign has taught us anything, it’s that the partisan forces in Washington, D.C. are not strong enough to break through the bonds that we share as Louisianans.”

Rispone led most of the night as the votes were counted, but Edwards caught and passed him as the vote came in from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, where the governor rolled up large margins of victory — more than 90 percent in Orleans Parish.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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Louisiana voters will decide governor’s race in Saturday runoff

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.

“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.

Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.

One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.

Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.

However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.

Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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