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Atlanta mayor’s race highlights city elections across the South

Voters will also pick mayors in St. Petersburg, Miami and Durham

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — Voters in four large Southern cities will decide elections for city offices Tuesday, with a highly competitive mayor’s race in Atlanta the marquee race of the night.

In addition to Atlanta, mayoral elections will be held in St. Petersburg and Miami, Florida, and Durham, North Carolina.

In Atlanta, where incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not seek re-election, her predecessor as mayor, Kasim Reed, is trying to make a comeback in a 14-person race. His main competitors are City Council President Felicia Moore and City Councilman Andre Dickens.

If no one wins a majority, the top two candidates will compete in a November 30 runoff.

The race has focused on rising violent crime in the city and Reed’s previous time as mayor, with several former aides convicted or facing corruption charges. Reed himself has not been charged, but critics say the ethical problems in his previous administration should be disqualifying.

Bottoms, who led the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Joe Biden last year, surprised the political world in May when she announced that she would not seek another term as mayor.

In St. Petersburg, where Mayor Rick Kriseman is term limited, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch faces City Council member Robert Blackmon, who advanced to Tuesday’s vote after coming out on top the first round of voting in August.

While city elections in St. Petersburg are officially non-partisan, Welch is a Democrat and Blackmon is a Republican, and the race has taken on a partisan hue, with endorsements from party leaders on both sides..

Welch led during the first round of voting, with 39% to 28% for Blackmon.

In Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez is a heavy favorite to win re-election against four little known candidates.

In Durham, where Mayor Steve Schewel did not seek re-election, Elaine O’Neal, a former judge and law professor, is expected to become the first black woman elected to lead the city.

She won 86% in the first round of voting in October, prompting the second-place candidate, City Council member Javiera Caballero, to suspend her campaign. However, both will still be on Tuesday’s ballot.

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Virginians decide statewide, legislative races in Tuesday vote

Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in tight race for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Voters in Virginia will cast ballots Tuesday in an off-year election for statewide offices and the House of Delegates, with Republicans trying to reclaim power in a state that has been trending Democratic over the past decade.

Virginia governor candidates Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe

Topping the ballot will be the race for governor, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe is trying to reclaim the office he held from 2014 to 2018 in a race against Republican Glenn Youngkin, an multi-millionaire private equity executive making his first run for political office. Late polling has shown the race as a statistical dead heat.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democratic State Delegate Hala Ayala from Prince William County will be facing off against Winsome Sears, a Republican businesswoman and former legislator from Winchester. The winner will be the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in state history; Ayala would also be the first Hispanic candidate to win the job.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a third term against Republican State Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach, the son of a Cuban immigrant who would be the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.

Also at stake Tuesday is control of the House of Delegates, where Democrats currently hold a 55-to-45 majority. The State Senate, which Democrats control 21-to-19, is not up for election this year.

In-person polling opens Tuesday at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.

This year’s election will be the first since Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature in 2019 and embarked on a series of policy changes that drastically altered the political complexion of the Old Dominion.

The Democratic majority abolished the death penalty, legalized recreational marijuana, imposed background checks for gun purchases, eliminated waiting periods for abortions, protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment and housing, and gave cities and counties the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Legislators even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

Republicans are hoping that a backlash to Democrats’ shift to the left in Richmond will allow them to flip the House and win the commonwealth’s three statewide offices, which Democrats have swept in the last two elections.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia has shifted toward the Democrats over the last decade. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are seven of its 11 members of Congress, and the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the commonwealth was George W. Bush in 2004.

Still, history may be on Youngkin’s side: The Virginia governor’s race is held in the off-year after presidential elections, and since the days of Richard Nixon, the party that won the White House has lost the governorship every time — except in 2013, when McAuliffe won a year after Barack Obama did.

A loss by McAuliffe would reverberate in Washington, where Democrats have been struggling to pass President Joe Biden’s agenda. McAuliffe has conceded during the campaign that Biden’s popularity has waned in Virginia, although he still brought both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in to campaign with him.

By contrast, Youngkin has not invited former President Donald Trump into the state to campaign with him in person, even avoiding a rally where Trump phoned in an appearance. Trump lost Virginia to Biden by 10 points in 2020.

Virginia governors are limited to a single term, and McAuliffe is trying to become just the second person to reclaim the office for a second time. (The first was Republican Miles Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 and 1974 to 1978.)

While the Senate will remain in Democratic hands after Tuesday, the lieutenant governor presides over the chamber, which could cause a wrinkle for Democrats if Sears defeats Ayala.

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Candidates for Virginia governor square off in first debate


Posted September 19 (From WUSA via YouTube)

Big Risk: Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott double down on mandates despite unpredictability of COVID crisis

Will short-term gain for leading charge against COVID-19 restrictions backfire if cases surge in schools?

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CFP Red Blue Circle(CFP) — A number of Southern Republican political leaders — most notably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott — have decided to take a huge gamble; namely, to lead the charge against new COVID-19 restrictions, despite the Delta variant ripping across their states, filling up hospitals and stretching front-line workers to their breaking point.

It’s an experiment — literally — that is particularly risky given that one of the populations being experimented are hundreds of thousands of school children, whose parents cannot get them COVID-19 vaccinations even if they want to.

desantis_abbott

Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas

If DeSantis and Abbott are right — that all of the doomsaying and caterwauling by public health officials is an overblown overreaction — their gamble is likely to delight their base and pay dividends when they come up for re-election next year.

But if they are wrong — if busloads of children start getting sick or dying — these current prohibitive favorites could find themselves in electoral trouble. Which begs the question, is it worth the risk?

To see the possible pitfalls of this strategy, one need only look at the school district in Marion, Arkansas, where, after just the first week of classes in August, 900 students and staff were in quarantine.

That was enough to convince Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson that his decision back in April to sign into law a ban on mask mandates, pushed through by Republican lawmakers, was a mistake. It was not, however, enough to convince those lawmakers to reverse the mask ban when Hutchinson summoned them back to Little Rock for a special session to do so.

To be clear, neither DeSantis and Abbott are anti-vaxxers. On the other hand, they are not merely taking a personal political stand against mask and vaccine mandates — they are aggressively pushing back against local officials and even private businesses who want to put these measures into place themselves.

Two hallmarks of traditional conservatism are giving power to local officials to make decisions they think best for their communities (particularly school boards) and giving businesses free hand to run their enterprises as they see fit. Both have gone out the window amid a conservative backlash to mask and vaccine mandates, a wave which DeSantis and Abbott seem eager to ride.

DeSantis has gone so far as to oppose hospitals requiring staff on the front lines of the pandemic to get vaccinations, and he has gone to court to block cruise lines from requiring vaccinations for passengers, which the cruise companies desperately want.

Given the devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 among cruise ship passengers during the early days of the pandemic, cruise companies want to err on the side of caution; DeSantis is coming down instead on the side of an expansive sense of personal liberty, even at the expense of public health.

Both Abbott and DeSantis are responding to a part of their base that is skeptical of vaccines and vehemently opposed to mask mandates and lockdowns. Some of these people even argue that masks are harmful for children, an assertion not supported by any reputable medical research.

The irony, of course, if that if these people had gotten vaccinated, the COVID-19 might now be mostly over, eliminating the possibility of mandates or lockdowns.

It makes sense, with perverted logic, for people who believe COVID is a hoax to support dispensing with restrictions even though most people are still unvaccinated. But if the last 18 months have taught Abbott and DeSantis anything, it is surely that COVID isn’t a hoax.

Abbott is facing primary challengers who already complain that he’s taken too many COVID precautions, perhaps explaining why he’s so resistant to more. DeSantis is not yet being primaried on this issue, so taking a hard line here is perhaps a way to stopping a challenge from getting off the ground — not to mention helping him with a possible 2024 presidential run.

Still, a recent Florida polled showed DeSantis’s job approval under water, in a state where the last three governor’s races were decided by 1 point or less. Texas is more Republican but not out of reach for Democrats if the public comes to believe people have died needlessly under Abbott’s stewardship.

Two other facts call into question the wisdom of DeSantis and Abbott’s big risk.

First, the fallout from the COVID pandemic likely cost Donald Trump re-election, something even the former president has been willing to concede. So, perhaps this is a lesson to which more attention needs to be paid.

And second, COVID has proven to not only be tremendously deadly but highly unpredictable. So, climbing out on a political limb and hoping that the worst public health crisis in a century will turn out all right in the end would seem a dubious long-term strategy, even if the base lustily cheers in the short term.

However, for better or worse, both DeSantis and Abbott have embraced this risk. So in that bed they will now have to lie.

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Taking Virginia back: State GOP hopes to ride liberal backlash back into power

Reclaiming control in Richmond in November could serve as template for Republicans nationally in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — After Democrats took over the entirety of Virginia state government in 2020, they got to work.

Photo ID requirement to vote — gone. Ultrasounds and waiting periods for abortions — gone. Death penalty — abolished.

New background checks are now required for gun purchases. LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment and housing,  and conversion therapy was outlawed. Undocumented students can get in-state tuition.

Marijuana was first decriminalized and then legalized for recreational use. Utility companies were told to retire their fossil fuel plants by 2045. Cities and counties got the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Democrats even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

What Democrats tout as progressive, long-overdue change, Republicans bash as a misguided, ill-advised liberal toot. In November, Virginia voters will be asked to render their verdict, with Republicans banking on a backlash among Virginia’s more conservative-minded voters to lead them back into power.

As the party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, put it in a Tweet after his victory at the recent state convention, “It’s time to get our Commonwealth back and put Virginia on the right track to make her the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.

If Republicans are successful in their quest to take Virginia back, it could serve as a template for Democrats nationally who are banking on a similar backlash against the Biden administration to break the Democrats’ lock on power on Washington — although Biden is, at least so far, not going nearly as far as his compatriots in Richmond.

What has happened during the last two years in Virginia is an illustration of a split that has also been seen nationally — Democrats from urban and suburban districts whose political interests have radically diverged from their more conservative neighbors in rural areas and small towns.

Once Democrats regained control of the legislature after 25 years out of power, the pent-up demand for liberal innovation could be indulged, to the significant chagrin of conservative Virginians who are angry because they increasingly don’t recognize their state, or at least its government.

Republicans, once dominant in Virginia, have seen their fortunes fade. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George W. Bush, and they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-18 margin in the Senate, which isn’t up for election in November. (Conservative firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, elected as a Republican, sits as an independent after a dispute with her party leadership.)

Most of the attention in November will be the battle for control of the House — which, because of COVID-related census delays, will be fought using districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 — and the governor’s race between Northam and his likely Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls for the June Democratic primary.

McAuliffe, 64, a Clinton confidante and prolific Democratic fundraiser, was forced from office by a rule unique to Virginia that doesn’t allow governors to run for a second term. If his comeback is successful, it will mark only the second time that a former governor has reclaimed the office (the other was Democrat Mills Godwin elected in 1965 and 1973).

Youngkin, 54, is a political newcomer who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and is running as a Christian conservative allied with Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. He made a fortune running a private equity company, allowing him to loan his campaign $5 million during the nomination campaign.

The governor’s race in Virginia is one of just two contests in the off-year election (the other is in New Jersey), making it a key early test for Democrats’ new tenure in Washington.

Four years ago, Democrats took both of those governorships, an early warning sign of the blue wave that would sweep Republicans aside in 2018.

Donald Trump remains a looming presence over this race. Youngkin spent much of the nominating contest dodging questions about whether he thought Joe Biden really won in 2020; after securing the GOP nod, he finally conceded Biden’s election was legitimate.

Democrats will try to tie Youngkin and other Republicans firmly to Trump; they will have to navigate those waters in a way that keeps Trump happy without unduly harming their prospects in the vote-rich suburbs.

The race for control of the House of Delegates will likely be decided in the Washington D.C. suburbs, where Democrats flipped a slew of seats in 2017 and 2019 amid a suburban backlash against Trump. Republicans need a net gain of just six seats to reclaim control.

One of the changes pushed through the legislature by Democrats was to shift redrawing of political maps from legislators to an appointed independent commission. But because 2020 census results have been delayed by the pandemic, the existing maps will be used.

That means House battles will be fought using maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, although Democrats already won a majority with those maps in 2019.

The Republican challenge will be to persuade suburban voters who gave Democrats the keys to the castle two years ago that they have gone too far — that what has been coming out of Richmond isn’t what they voted for.

For the other two statewide offices on the ballot in November, Republicans selected former Delegate Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach for attorney general

Sears, 57, who served a single term in the legislature nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t held office since, was the biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention, dispatching five rivals. A Jamaican immigrant and former Marine from Winchester, she served as national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump in 2020, and her campaign posters and Twitter feed showed her carrying an assault rifle.

Should she prevail in November, Sears would preside of the Democratic-controlled Senate, giving Republicans at least some leverage in the upper chamber.

Eight Democrats are competing in the primary for lieutenant governor, with no clear front-runner.

The attorney general race is the only statewide contest where the incumbent is running, Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. However, he is facing a stiff primary challenge from Delegate Jay Jones.

The survivor will face Miyares, 45, the first Cuban-American to serve in Virginia’s legislature.

The post of attorney general would be a perch which a Republican could try to use to thwart Democrats in the legislature by filing legal challenges. Republican attorneys general have also been leading the charge against Biden administration policies in Washington.

All of the statewide races, and the battle for control of the House, will get out-sized national attention, given the small number of contests this year and the bragging rights that will go to the victors.

As for 2022, November will set up this question: “As Virginia goes, so goes the nation?”

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