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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam won’t run for U.S. Senate; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is in

Haslam’s decision portends wide open, crowded GOP primary race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to seek Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2018, which means the chase for the GOP nomination will likely be fought out among a crowded slate of candidates without his statewide electoral experience.

As Haslam announced he wouldn’t run, a veteran member of the Volunteer State’s U.S. House delegation, Marsha Blackburn from Brentwood, announced that she was would seek the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated after two terms by the retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

U.S. Rep. Masha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

In her announcement video, Blackburn — describing herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse — offered a full-throated blast at sitting senators in her own party.

“The fact that our majority in the U.S. Senate can’t overturn Obamacare, or will not overturn Obamacare, it’s a disgrace,” she said. “Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse, and that’s what we have to change.”

Blackburn, 65, was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state. She served on President Trump’s transition team after his election in 2016.

After Corker announced his retirement on September 26, the attention in Tennessee political circles turned to Haslam, who is term-limited in 2016 but retains strong approval ratings after eight years in office. The governor is also a billionaire, thanks to his family’s truck stop business, which would have given him considerable personal financial resources to bring to a Senate race.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

But announcing his decision not to run on Twitter, Haslam said a Senate run “would be a distraction” during his last 15 months as governor.

“I want to remain completely focused on my job,” he said. “At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

Haslam, 59, was mayor of Knoxville before being elected governor in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote.

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Blackburn is so far the only member of the House delegation to jump into the Senate race, although former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who left the House in 2017 after serving three terms, is considering a run.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran, although Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke may also be considering a run. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has bowed out.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennessee — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018

Departure of former Chattanooga mayor sets off scramble for suddenly vacant Senate seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has announced that he won’t seek re-election to a third term in 2018, setting off what’s likely to be a high-octane battle between establishment and populist Republicans vying to succeed him, along with providing a possible opening for Democrats.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” Corker said in a statement announcing his retirement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.”

In his statement, Corker also made this oblique reference that will likely set off much rumination over what he meant: “The most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

Corker, 65, served four years as mayor of Chattanooga before being elected to the Senate in 2006 to replace the retiring Bill Frist, after a hard-fought race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. He was re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote, and became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015.

Had he sought re-election, Corker would have been the prohibitive favorite in 2018, but he would also have faced a primary challenge from the populist wing of the GOP, whose activists are expected to target a number of Senators in the Republican leadership in 2018.

Corker made headlines in August when he told a local television station in Chattanooga that President Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Trump responded with a Tweet: “Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!”

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Among the establishment Republicans being mentioned are U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, from Williamson County near Nashville, and outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam from Knoxville, who is term limited in the governorship in 2018.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has said he does not plan to run.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennesse — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black will run for Tennessee governor in 2018

House Budget Committee chair is now the third woman vying for her state’s top job

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Rep.  Diane Black will give up the chairmanship of the powerful House Budget Committee to make a run for Tennessee’s open governorship in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee

In an announcement video posted August 2, Black burnished her conservative bona fides as she prepares to battle two other Republican women also vying to be the first female governor in state history.

“In Tennessee, we’re conservative, and we do things the right way, no matter what Hollywood or Washington thinks about it,” Black said. “We believe in absolute truths — right is right, wrong is wrong, truth is truth, God is God, and a life is a life. And we don’t back down from any of it.”

And although, as a committee chairman, Black is part of the House GOP leadership team, she also touted her independence, insisting that “I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the weak-kneed people in my own party when I had to.”

“I believe in secure borders and tough choices in cutting spending and beating the liberals instead of caving in to them.”

Black, 66, who worked as a nurse before getting involved in politics, served in both houses of the Tennessee legislature before winning her seat in Congress, representing the Volunteer State’s 6th District. She became chair of the budget committee earlier this year when former chair Tom Price left to join President Trump’s Cabinet.

Her decision to run for governor opens up what is likely to be a lively Republican primary in the 6th District, which stretches from Nashville’s eastern suburbs across a swath of north-central Tennessee. The district is heavily Republican, making a Democratic pickup of the open seat unlikely.

The governorship is open in 2018 because incumbent Republican Governor Bill Haslam is term-limited.

For the last 220 years, every Tennessee governor has been a man. But Black is now the third prominent Republican woman in the governor’s race, joining State Senator Mae Beavers from Mt. Juliet, who has been in the Senate since 2002,  and State House Speaker Beth Harwell from Nashville, who in 2011 became the first female House speaker in state history.

Two businessmen are also in the GOP race: Randy Boyd from Knoxville, who owns two minor league baseball teams and served as an adviser to Haslam, and Bill Lee, a Franklin rancher who owns a home services company.

On the Democratic race, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is running and may face State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who is considering a run.

While Tennessee has trended Republican in recent presidential elections and Republicans dominate the state’s congressional delegation, neither party has been able to win the governorship for more than two terms in a row since Democrats did so in 1966.

13 Southern U.S. House Democrats bow out of Trump inaugural

All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.

Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”

“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.

However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.

As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”

Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.

Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.

The list of boycotting Democrats includes:

Georgia

Florida

Kentucky

Mississippi

North Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

Virginia

Trump, Clinton roll across the South on Super Tuesday

Trump carries five of seven Southern GOP primaries; Clinton takes six on Democratic side
SUPER TUESDAY SOUTHERN RESULTS
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lg(CFP) — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton rolled across the South on Super Tuesday, carrying 11 of the 14 primaries and the lion’s share of the delegates up for grabs.

The only outliers were Oklahoma, which both Trump and Clinton lost, and the Republican primary in Texas, which went for homestate U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

Trump and Clinton won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia in the March 1 vote. Clinton also won the Democratic primary in Texas

Super Tuesday was rough sledding for  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who came in second place in Virginia and Georgia but could only manage a third-place finish in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.

In addition to winning Texas and Oklahoma, Cruz finished second to Trump in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee. He was third in Georgia and Virginia.

While Trump won most of the Super Tuesday primaries on the Republican side, he cleared 40 percent only one Southern state, Alabama, which he swept by 18 points.

Trump also notched double-digit wins in Georgia and Tennessee. His victories in Arkansas and Virginia were narrow, 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Buoyed by her strong support among African-Americans, Clinton rolled up huge numbers across the South. With the exception of Oklahoma, which she lost by 10 points to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s support ranged from 64 percent in Virginia to 78 percent in Alabama.

Her margin of victory ranged from 29 points in Virginia to a staggering 59 points in Alabama.

The next Southern stops in the presidential race are:

  • Saturday, March 5: Kentucky (GOP caucus), Louisiana (primary)
  • Tuesday, March 8: Mississippi (primary)
  • Tuesday, March 15: Florida (primary); North Carolina (primary)
  • Tuesday, May 19: West Virginia (primary)

Southern Super Tuesday Results

ALABAMA
Trump—43%
Cruz—21%
Rubio-19%
Carson–10%
Kasich–4%

Clinton–78%
Sanders–19%

ARKANSAS
Trump—33%
Cruz—31%
Rubio-25%
Carson–6%
Kasich–4%

Clinton–66%
Sanders–30%

GEORGIA
Trump—39%
Rubio–25%
Cruz–24%
Carson–6%
Kasich–6%

Clinton–71%
Sanders–28%

OKLAHOMA
Cruz—34%
Trump—28%
Rubio–26%
Carson–6%
Kasich–4%

Sanders–52%
Clinton–42%

TENNESSEE
Trump—39%
Cruz–25%
Rubio–21%
Carson–8%
Kasich–5%

Clinton–66%
Sanders–32%

TEXAS
Cruz–44%
Trump–27%
Rubio–18%
Carson–4%
Kasich–4%

Clinton–65%
Sanders–33%

VIRGINIA
Trump—35%
Rubio–32%
Cruz–17%
Kasich–9%
Carson–6%

Clinton–64%
Sanders–35%

Southern Politics 2014: The Year In Review

2014 was a much better year for Republicans than for reality stars revamped as politicos

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smA congressman man caught kissing. Reality stars trying to remake themselves as politicians. A snowstorm that threatened to torpedo a sitting governor. A top U.S. House leader unceremoniously unseated in a primary. And a flap over a fan during a heated debate.

Those were just some of the strange and unlikely events in Southern politics in 2014, a year that ended with Republicans roaring through the region like Sherman in reverse. Here are some of the memorable moments:

Loose Lips Sink More Than Ships — Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, a married Christian conservative from northeast Louisiana, was caught on videotape passionately kissing a female staffer who was, ahem, not his wife. He refused to resign but decided not to run for re-election. Then, he changed his mind and ran again, with his wife’s vocal support. But his constituents were less forgiving than the missus, and he finished a distant fourth in the primary.

Snowmageddon — When a January snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, Republican Governor Nathan Deal took the heat for a sluggish state response and his initial attempt to shift the blame elsewhere. But Democratic hopes that this snowy debacle might bury Deal had melted by November, when he was comfortably re-elected.

Taking Aim At Obamacare — Alabama Republican U.S. House candidate Will Brooke posted a YouTube video, entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage,” in which he fired bullets into a copy of the Obamacare bill. The gambit gained him a bit of attention, though, alas, not enough to win the primary in his Birmingham-area district.

Strange Bedfellows — Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both waded into the Florida governor’s race this year, cutting ads for Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott, respectively. However, their shoes were on the other feet in 2006, when Crist was a Republican (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.) Back then, it was Crist who enjoyed Giuliani’s support, while Clinton backed his Democratic opponent.

Overheated Debate — Speaking of the Florida governor’s race, a televised debate between Crist and Scott came to an abrupt halt when Crist insisted on putting a small fan at his feet under the podium, in apparent violation of the debate rules. Scott first refused to take the stage until the fan was removed, but he eventually relented — after seven awkward minutes of scrambling by the debate moderators. In the end, Scott won a narrow victory.

Real Mean Politics — Three reality TV stars — American Idol Clay Aiken, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel — all vied for political office this year. But political reality proved harsh, as all three lost badly. However, Aiken is turning his unsuccessful U.S. House campaign in North Carolina into — wait for it — a new reality show.

Biggest Upset — In an outcome that shocked the political world, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his Richmond-area seat to Dave Brat, a little known college professor who ran at Cantor as a Tea Party insurgent. Weep not for Cantor, though. He bounced back with a job on Wall Street.

Worst Campaign — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis tried to parlay her filibuster against a bill restricting abortions in the Lone Star State into the governor’s mansion. But a series of gaffes — including questions about the veracity of her rags-to-riches story as a single trailer-park mom made good — sunk her chances, and she lost by a staggering 20 points.

Weirdest Campaign Appearance — Matt Bevin, who was challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary in Kentucky, appeared at a rally hosted by a group that supports legalizing cockfighting. While insisting he didn’t condone cockfighting, Bevin didn’t help himself when he told a radio reporter that the Founder Fathers were “very actively involved” in the blood sport. Perhaps not surprisingly, McConnell won rather handily.

Best Don Quixote Impression — Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel — peeved that he was defeated in a GOP U.S. Senate runoff by crossover votes from Democrats and independents — launched a three-month court fight to overturn the result. Alas, his windmill tilting came to naught, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran kept the seat.

Best Houdini Impression — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee faced voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from his bitter 2001 divorce during which he admitted a string of extra-marital affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his first wife to have two abortions. However, GOP voters in his district proved surprisingly forgiving, handing DesJarlais a narrow primary victory. He went on to win re-election in November.

If You Can’t Override, Indict — Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion over his veto of a funding bill for an Austin prosecutor who refused his demand that she resign after being arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. A defiant Perry vowed to fight the charges, noting that in America, “we settle our political differences at the ballot box,” rather than in criminal court.

Double Dipper — Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul announced he would run for re-election in 2016, even as he is also considering a White House bid. One pesky little problem, though: Kentucky law doesn’t allow somebody to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Paul’s supporters are trying to find a way to work around that technicality.

Democrat Dam Breaks in Upper South — While the general election was grim for Democrats across the South, the news was especially depressing in Arkansas and West Virginia, which had been places where the party of Jackson was still competitive. In Arkansas, Republicans took all seven statewide constitutional offices and every congressional seat for the first time since Reconstruction. In West Virginia, the GOP took all three U.S. House seats and captured control of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

“D” Is The New Scarlet Letter — Three sitting Southern Democratic U.S. senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — all went down to defeat, paving the way for Republicans to take control of the Senate. Republicans also took away an open seat in West Virginia that they hadn’t won since 1942.

Analysis: Midterms a show of woe for Southern Democrats

GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm

(CFP) — One look at a color-coded map of midterm election results in any Southern state tells the story – there’s a tsunami of red and a shrinking pool of blue.

Take Texas, for example, with its 254 counties. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn carried 236 of them; the Republican candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, carried 235. The only blue is found in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and along the Mexican border.

But that’s still more blue than in Oklahoma, where both Republican U.S. Senate candidates swept all 77 counties, and in West Virginia, where GOP Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito swept all 55, despite the fact that Democrats have a 350,000-person lead in voter registration.

A deeper look at the numbers from the midterm elections shows just how far Democrats have fallen from the halcyon days when they had an iron grip on the solid South. They’re not just losing; lately, they’re not even competitive.

And perhaps even more troubling for Democrats is the fact that the dam seems to have burst in states in the upper South, where the party had been holding its own at the state level.

This year, 13 of 14 Southern states — all but Florida — had a U.S. Senate election, and two states — Oklahoma and South Carolina — had two. Setting aside Louisiana, which is headed to a runoff, and Alabama, which Democrats didn’t even bother to contest, GOP candidates won by an average of nearly 21 points.

Democrats couldn’t crack 30 percent in either Oklahoma race. They failed to crack 40 percent in six others. In fact, Republicans won by double digits in 10 races. Only Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina were close, with the GOP taking the latter two.

Things were just about as bad in races for governor, where the GOP margin of victory was about 18 percent. Republicans won by double digits in six of the eight governor’s races. Only Florida and Georgia were even remotely close.

The news was particularly bad for Democrats in three upper South states that were politically competitive a decade ago – West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democrats not only lost the U.S. Senate race, but they lost all three U.S. House seats, and Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

With Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor’s loss, Arkansas will have an all-Republican congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. Heading into the election, Democrats held five out of the seven statewide constitutional officers. In the midterm, they lost all seven.

Tennessee used to be split between Republicans in the east and Democrats in the west. Now, the GOP is winning everywhere, holding seven of the state’s nine U.S. House seats. Both Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam, re-elected with 71 percent of the vote, carried Shelby County, which includes the Democratic bastion of Memphis.

Increasingly, Democrats seem to be doing better in the deep South, where they can rely on the support of black voters, than in the upper South, where black populations are smaller.

For example, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, despite being a long-time incumbent in a very red state, won by a smaller margin than did Republican Tom Cotton, who beat Pryor like a rug in Arkansas.

Some might attribute Graham’s narrower margin to his Tea Party problems. But Alexander — who faced a similar Tea Party dynamic — managed to win by 30 points in Tennessee.

What is clear from the midterms is that despite recent gains at the presidential level in states such as North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats are becoming less competitive across the region, and the South is becoming more monolithically red.

Indeed, the midterm results support the argument that in most of the South, the two-party system is becoming a relic of the past.

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