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Sound and Fury: Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s impassioned speeches impact voting rights results?

White House chooses historic, symbolic setting in Atlanta to draw line in the sand with Republicans, Democrats hesitant about changing filibuster

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — The setting was both symbolic and historic. To promote their push for federal voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris chose Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and spoke on the campus shared by three historically black colleges with a rich legacy of activism.

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President Joe Biden gives major address on voting rights in Atlanta (From YouTube)

Georgia is also the state where Republicans undertook a wholesale revision of state election laws after Biden carried the state in 2020 and Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats, based on claims of voting fraud for which no evidence has yet to emerge.

However, whether Biden and Harris’s dramatic exhortations will affect the outcome of the Senate vote in the coming days remains very much up in the air.

While that result could have impact nationwide, it will be of particular interest in three Southern states – Georgia, Florida and Texas – where Republicans control the political machinery and are striving to thwart any Democratic advance by reworking the rules to their advantage.

If the 50 Democrats in the Senate don’t unite to find a way around united Republican opposition to the bill, Democrats in Georgia fear their 2020 breakthrough will be short-lived, and the uphill task Democrats face in Texas and Florida will be even steeper.

The headline from Biden’s January 11 speech was his most full-throated endorsement yet of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to advance the voting rights legislation on a simple majority vote.

Biden argued that if state legislatures, in the South and elsewhere, can pass laws restricting mail and in-person voting, ballot drop boxes, and even handing out food and water to voters stuck in long lines, then senators should be able to stop them with the same simple majority.

But U.S. senators, perhaps above all else, enjoy their perks and traditions, and the filibuster, which allows a small number of senators to thwart the will of a majority, is one of the most cherished.

In essence, it makes every senator a king, which can go to some of their heads.

From a small “d” democratic perspective, the filibuster is indefensible; indeed, no state legislature anywhere in the country operates this way.

But its supporters – currently led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – argue that it acts as a check on the untrammeled will of a majority.

Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney even advanced an argument to support the filibuster that is the stuff of Democratic nightmares — what if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have no tools to stop them from doing whatever they want?

Support for the filibuster is not just a Republican view – it is also held by some Democrats, including most notably, but not exclusively, by West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Until recently, it was held by Biden himself.

Manchin, who as a former secretary of state once oversaw elections in his home state, has expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. Indeed, the version the Senate is now considering, the Freedom to Vote Act, was written by Manchin as part of a quixotic quest to find a bipartisan way forward.

But Manchin has made it clear that even though he wrote the bill, he won’t blow up the filibuster to get it passed, and he wants any change in Senate rules to be made on a bipartisan basis, which McConnell has made clear isn’t going to happen.

Biden apparently believes that his Atlanta speech – which cast the senators’ filibuster vote not in institutional Senate terms but as a moral issue of right or wrong, justice or injustice – will change Manchin’s mind, even though the West Virginian has given little indication he’s receptive to that argument.

Biden and Harris drew a rhetorical line in the sand, with sharp language; Biden went so far as to liken opponents of moving forward with voting rights legislation to George Wallace and Jefferson Davis. The president and vice present took an unambiguous, firm stand that will no doubt please the Democratic base and voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech to protest what they see as lack of action from the White House.

But the line having been drawn, it is also unclear what the next steps might be if Manchin and other Democrats balk at the filibuster reform needed to get the bills through. There can be political benefit in trying and failing; there’s much less political wisdom in trying something when there isn’t a clear way forward.

In his speech, Biden also castigated Republican senators for unanimously opposing this voting rights legislation, contrasting that position with the actions of Republican senators in the past (including Strom Thurmond) and Republican presidents who supported extensions of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet, that denies the reality that some Republican senators’ objections are not to voting rights per se but specific parts of this legislation, including limits on partisan gerrymandering, greater federal oversight of state elections, changes to campaign financing laws, and a fund to match donor contributions to political campaigns.

Opposing creation of a vehicle to lavish more money to the political grifter class, or defending the primacy of states in election administration as set out in the Constitution, does not make someone Bull Connor. Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins are not opposing this because they are power-mad racists bent on the destruction of democracy, and, one might argue, casting them as such isn’t likely to change their minds.

Democrats have a strong argument here that Republican efforts to change voting laws aren’t necessary because the rationale on which they are based – that the 2020 election was rife with fraud – is specious. It is also the case that the changes will make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas and elsewhere, which Democrats should oppose out of plain common sense.

But the ultimate success of Biden and Harris’s sound and fury — casting the fight over this legislation as a black-or-white moral imperative and its opponents as maliciously misguided — is rather less clear.

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Hot or not, in or out: Our forecast of 2022’s most interesting Southern political races

Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.

Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.

Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.

Reapportionment Primary-Palooza

The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.

In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.

The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.

One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.

In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.

However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.

The Power of Trump

The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.

And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)

Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.

Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.

Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.

Adding to the MAGA Squad

Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)

Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.

Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?

No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.

Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.

A victory by either in November will make history.

Palmetto State “RINOs”

The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.

Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.

Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.

As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.

Thinking Outside The Box

After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.

Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.

Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.

Beto O’Crist for Governor

The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.

But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.

But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.

Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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West Virginia’s Jim Justice is South’s most popular governor; Georgia’s Brian Kemp the least

Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.

The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.

The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.

Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.

Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.

The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.

Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.

Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.

Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.

However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.

Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt also appear to be in strong shape for 2022, with Lee’s approval at 55% and Stitt’s at 54%.

The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.

Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.

Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.

Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.

Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.

Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.

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Democrat Beto O’Rourke launches run for Texas governor

Former congressman from El Paso decides to challenge Republican Governor Greg Abbott after failed bids for U.S. Senate, president

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TexasEL PASO (CFP) — Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced he will run for governor of Texas, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate in their quest to unseat Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

In a video announcing his candidacy posted November 15, O’Rourke charged that “those in a position of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to, and trusting the people of Texas.”

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Texas Democratic governor candidate Beto O’Rourke

“They’re not focused on the things we want them to do,” he said. “Instead, they’re focused on the kind of extremist policies around abortion, or permitless carry, or even our schools that really only divide us.”

O’Rourke, 49, represented El Paso in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019, giving up his safe seat to make a run against Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.

In that race, he proved to be a prodigious fundraiser, raising $80 million, almost twice as much as Cruz. But he lost by more than 200,000 votes in what was a stellar year nationally for Democrats.

Based on the national profile he built in the Senate race, O’Rourke ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. But his campaign sputtered, and he pulled out of the race months before the Iowa caucuses.

During his White House run, O’Rourke made a comment that may come back to haunt him in gun-loving Texas, telling a debate audience that, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

Indeed, shortly after O’Rourke announced his run for governor, Abbott took to Twitter to charge that O’Rourke wants to “take your guns,” ending with a two-word retort to his candidacy: “Bring it.”

Abbott, 64, is seeking his third term as governor of Texas, a state where governors are not term limited. While he won by more than 1 million votes for years ago, this time around he is now facing a competitive primary against two candidates running at him from the right, former GOP state chair Allen West and former State Senator Don Huffines from Dallas.

Abbott has run into political resistance for COVID-19 mitigation measures he imposed during the worst phases of the pandemic. However, more recently, he has led the charge against mask wearing in public schools and vaccine mandates for public agencies and even private businesses.

The wildcard in the race is Hollywood actor and native Texan Matthew McConaughey, who has been publicly toying with a run for governor. At this point, it remains unclear if he would run as a Democrat or an independent or enter the Republican primary, where nine candidates are already running.

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First Texas U.S. House map redraw reduces number of majority-minority districts

GOP’s initial redistricting proposal also reduces number of competitive districts

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TexasAUSTIN (CFP) — Texas is getting two new seats in the U.S. House because of the state’s explosive population growth, most of which was because of increasing numbers of black, Hispanic and Asian residents over the last decade.

But the first legislative plan to redraw the state’s congressional maps, released September 27, actually reduces the number of majority-minority districts, drawing immediate howls of protest from advocacy groups and promises of protracted litigation.

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First new Texas U.S. House map proposed by GOP (From Texas Legislative Council)

The first draw of the state’s map — proposed by State Senator Joan Huffman of Houston, who heads the Senate’s redistricting committee – is the starting point of the fight over new maps, taking place in a special session that began September 20.

And while those maps are likely to change as legislative continues, the plan reflects the thinking of Republican leaders — who have total control over the reapportionment process.

Overall, the map would make life much easier for House incumbents of both parties by vastly reducing the number of competitive districts statewide.

To accomplish this, Republicans mapmakers have shifted lines to make GOP-held marginal districts more Republican friendly; as a result, however, safer Democratic seats have also been created.

The two new seats are split between the parties, with creation of a new Democratic district in liberal-leaning Austin. Overall, under this map, Republicans are likely to control 25 of 38 seats, a net gain of two seats, and have a chance at a 26th seat in South Texas, which saw a shift to the GOP in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the highlights of the new map:

  • Texas is getting two additional seats because of the state’s population growth, raising the total number of seats from 36 to 38. The new map puts one of those seats in the Austin area, which will be Democratic, and another in the Houston suburbs, which will be Republican.
  • In 2020, Donald Trump carried 22 districts and Joe Biden 14; the new map has 25 districts that Trump would have won and 13 that would have gone for Biden.
  • In 2018 and 2020, there were as many as 10 districts in the Lone Star State that were somewhat competitive between the two parties. The new map makes these marginal GOP-held seats more Republican, with just one district where the margin between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2020 was less than five points. (The swing district, CD 15, is in South Texas and currently held by Democrat Vicente Gonzalez.)
  • The current map includes 22 districts where a majority of voters are white; the new map has 23. The number of majority Hispanic districts falls from eight to seven, and the state’s lone majority black district is eliminated. However, the number of districts where no racial or ethnic group has a majority will rise from five to eight.
  • In 2018, Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred in Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher in Houston flipped long-held Republican seats, and they survived fierce GOP challenges in 2020. However, the new map makes both of their districts more Democratic by moving Republicans to adjacent districts to help GOP incumbents, which will leave Allred and Fletcher in safe seats.
  • The new map puts Democrat Sylvia Garcia in the same district with Republican Dan Crenshaw in Houston and Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green in the same district, also in Houston. However, House members aren’t required to run in the districts where they live, so all four would be able to shift to safe districts where they won’t have to run against each other.
  • Texas is covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires mapmakers to optimize electoral opportunities for minority voters, which means the reduction in majority minority districts in this map will almost certainly trigger a legal challenge if it survives the legislative process. However, because of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the state no longer has to get Justice Department approval for its political maps, forcing advocacy groups to use the courts to stop implementation.

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