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Hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate race highlights Thursday’s primary ballot in Tennessee
Voters in East Tennessee will also pick a successor for retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Phil Roe
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Tennessee Republicans will decide a contentious battle for an open U.S. Senate seat in Thursday’s primary election, settling what has become a proxy battle between libertarian and establishment voices within the national GOP.
Also, Thursday, 14 Republicans are competing for the nomination in the 1st U.S. House District in East Tennessee, with the winner a prohibitive favorite to take over the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
Poll opening times in the Volunteer State vary by county; polls close in the Eastern time zone at 8 p.m. and at 7 p.m. in the Central time zone.
In the Senate race, Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, is locked in a tight race for the Republican nomination against Manny Sethi, a Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon.
Thirteen other Republicans are also in the race, including former Shelby County commissioner and unsuccessful 2018 U.S. House candidate George Flinn, who has poured $5 million of his own money into the contest.
The seat is open because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who has held it for the past 18 years.
Hagerty, the establishment choice, has put together a collection of disparate endorsements that includes not only President Donald Trump, his son Donald Jr., and Fox News host Sean Hannity, but also support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Sethi has countered with endorsements of his own from U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, Gun Owners of America, and the anti-abortion Tennessee Heartbeat Coalition.
Hagerty’s campaign has branded Sethi as a “Never Trumper” and highlighted the fact that he was a finalist for a White House fellowship under former President Barack Obama. Sethi has returned the favor by noting that Hagerty gave large campaign contributions to Romney’s presidential campaigns and served as a delegate for Jeb Bush during his 2016 race against Trump.
Tennessee does not have primary runoffs, so whichever candidate emerges from Thursday’s vote with a plurality will be the party’s nominee.
The Democratic contest features six candidates, with Nashville attorney James Mackler, who is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, seen as the favorite.
Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, and the nominee who emerges from the Republican will be a prohibitive favorite in November, although Mackler has raised more than $2 million so far.
In the 1st District, which stretches from the Tri-Cities west toward Knoxville, the Republican primary has turned into a 14-candidate free-for-all.
The fundraising leader in the race is Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport pharmacist who has raised nearly $1.5 million. She’s followed by Josh Gapp, a Knoxville pathologist who had initially run in the Senate primary until Roe announced his retirement, and former Kingsport Mayor John Clark.
Also in the race are State Senator Rusty Crowe from Johnson City; State Rep. David Hawk from Greeneville; State Rep. Timothy Hill from Blountville; and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden.
The winner of the Republican contest will face Democrat Blair Walsingham, a farmer from Hawkins County. The Republican nominee will be the prohibitive favorite in the state’s most Republican district, which the party has held continuously for 140 years.
Uniquely among states, Tennessee holds its primary elections on Thursdays, rather than Tuesdays, although the general election in November will be held on a Tuesday as it is in the rest of the country.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden rolls across the South in Super Tuesday primaries
Biden wins all 7 Southern states; Mike Bloomberg drops out after failing to break through in his campaign debut
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled to wins in all seven Southern Super Tuesday primaries, cementing his status as the new front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and handing a string of defeats to Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg
Tuesday’s triumphs across the South — including the biggest prize, Texas — marked a remarkable four-day swing by the Biden campaign, fueled by a stronger-than-expected win on Saturday in South Carolina that prompted three other candidates to exit the race, two of whom then endorsed Biden.
In the wake of the Super Tuesday results, Bloomberg, too, exited the race and endorsed Biden.
Speaking to jubilant supporters in Los Angeles as the scope of his victories became clear, Biden noted that “just a few days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this campaign dead.”
“We were told, well, when it got to Super Tuesday, it would be over. Well, it may be over — for the other guy,” he said.
Biden won Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas by double digits. He won by more than 40 points in Alabama, where a majority of the Democratic voters were African American, and by 30 points in Virginia, buoyed both by a strong result among black voters and in the suburban counties around Washington, D.C.
His margin over Sanders was much smaller in Texas, at 4 percent.
In the race to pile up delegates, the size of Biden’s victories in the South allowed him to build a 130-plus margin over Sanders and overtake him as the delegate leader nationwide.
Bloomberg, making his campaign debut after skipping South Carolina and three other early states, came in a distant third in all of the Southern states except Virginia, where he finished fourth. He won just 21 delegates.
On election night, Bloomberg had sounded a note of optimism, saying the results showed his late-starting campaign was viable. But by Wednesday morning, he announced that he had concluded he had no viable path to the nomination and endorsed Biden.
The Super Tuesday results continue a tale of woe for Sanders in the South, where he was buried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Oklahoma was one of only two Southern states Sanders won in 2016, along with West Virginia, but this time around, Biden beat him in the Sooner State by 13 points. And as in 2016, Biden’s won across the region by beating Sanders by large margins among African American voters.
Sanders used his election night speech to supporters in his home state of Vermont to exude confidence — and to draw a contrast between what he described as his “movement” for fundamental change and the status quo represented by the former vice president.
“We’re going to win because the people understand it is our campaign, our movement, which is best positioned to defeat Trump,” he said. “You cannot defeat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics. What we need is a new kind of politics that brings working class people into our political movement, which brings young people into our political movement.”
The next Southern stop on the presidential campaign trail is Mississippi, which votes March 10, followed by Florida on March 17 and Georgia on March 24.
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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.
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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Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada resigns over text message scandal
Casada, top aide reportedly exchanged explicit, misogynistic messages about various women
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Bowing to mounting pressure to depart after two weeks of lurid headlines about bad behavior by his top aide, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada has announced that he will resign his leadership post.
In a brief statement issued May 21, the Franklin Republican said he would meet with his party’s House leadership in early June “to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition.”
The move comes after House Republicans approved a vote of no confidence in Casada and Republican Governor Bill Lee threatened to call the legislature into to special session to remove him as speaker.
Casada, 59, who has served in the legislature since 2003, became speaker in January. He plans to remain a member of the House.
The current speaker pro tempore, Bill Dunn of Knoxville, will become speaker upon Casada’s departure.
Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Gannett newspapers gained access to copies of text messages from a cell phone number used by Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff.
In those messages, sent between 2014 and 2016 when Cothren served as press secretary for House Republicans, he bragged about his sexual exploits, referred to women with obscene and derogatory terms, and solicited sex and nude photos from an intern.
The records obtained by the newspapers showed that Casada was a participant in some of those conversations.
Cothren, 32, who made nearly $200,000 a year working for Casada, told the newspapers that he was “young and dumb and immature” when he sent the emails between three and five years ago.
Cothren also admitted to Nashville TV station WTVF that he had used cocaine at work and sent racist text messages. He said he had “turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms” because of job stress.
The station reported that Casada received at least one of the racist text messages. After first accusing WTVF of using fabricating messages, the speaker later backed away from that claim but said he did not remember receiving the message.
Casada told WTVF that Cothren had sought treatment in 2016 and that he had kept him on his staff because Cothren “deserved a shot at redemption.”
Cothren resigned on the same day the Gannett newspapers published their investigation. Casada resisted calls to step aside, at one point calling his exchanges with Cothren “locker room talk,” but saw his support crumble as national news outlets picked up on the scandal.
Republicans hold a 73-26 majority in the Tennessee House.
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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president
Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.
Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.
However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.
The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.
Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.
In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.
“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.
Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.
“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.
“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.
Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”
“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.
Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”
Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.
“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.
Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.
Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.
“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.
But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.
“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.
Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.
Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.
Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.