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Texas Democrats’ virtual convention full of optimism about finally turning red to blue

Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi rally the Lone Star party faithful with predictions of fall success

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — A Democrat hasn’t carried Texas in a presidential race since 1976, won a Senate race since 1986, or won the governorship since 1988. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the legislature and control every statewide partisan office.

But you wouldn’t know that from the tone at the week-long virtual Texas Democratic Convention that concluded on Saturday, where past woe was eclipsed by present optimism.

Whether that optimism is cockeyed or not will be decided in November after a political season completely disrupted by the coronavirus crisis.

Joe Biden gives virtual address to Texas Democratic Convention

“I think we have a real chance to turn [Texas] blue because of all of the work that you have done,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said in his address to delegates. “We’re building the diverse coalition to win up and down the ballot in the fall.”

The key to turning Texas blue, according to Biden, will be Latino voters, who make up a quarter of the state’s registered voters.

Donald Trump‘s anti-Latino, anti-immigrant agenda has targeted Latinos, with dire consequences,” Biden said, pledging to introduce immigration reform on “day one” if he’s elected president.

In her address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “Republicans in Washington know how strong and formidable our members and candidates are” which is why Republicans are “running for the exits” — a reference to the six GOP House members who are retiring in 2020.

“Know your power,” Pelosi said. “Your engagement in organizing today is more important than ever before.”

Republicans, of course, see such bravado from Democrats as wishful thinking. Responding to a debate during the convention between the two Democratic candidates in the U.S. Senate runoff, the Texas GOP chair, James Dickey, called it a “race to socialism, each vying to be the most leftist and most extreme.”

Biden, Dickey said, would lead Democrats “off a cliff” in November.

In 2016, Trump carried Texas by nine points, about 800,000 votes ahead of Hillary Clinton. That would be large margin to overturn in 2020, and, if as Biden says, Latino voters are the key, it is worth noting that Trump’s share of the Latino vote in 2016 nationally was comparable to what Republicans usually earn, despite his position in favor of tighter border controls.

Also, in Texas, about 30 percent of Latinos identify as Republican — higher than in any other state except Florida — and an analysis of polling in 2019 found that partisanship trumps immigration and other issues as a barometer of whether they are likely to shift allegiance.

However, the coronavirus crisis has pushed the entire election process into unpredictable territory, disrupting both conventional wisdom and conventional modes of campaigning — as witnessed by the fact that Texas Democrats opted for a virtual convention with speeches on Facebook, rather than gathering party activists together in a hall.

Texas Republicans, by contrast, are still planning to hold an in-person convention in Houston from July 16-18. Social distancing measures will be in place, although face masks will be optional.

In addition to the presidential race, Texas Democrats are also trying to defeat Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn and are targeting seven U.S. House seats, three where Republicans are retiring and four where Democrats are trying to unseat incumbents.

State Democrats also have hopes of flipping the nine seats in the Texas House they would need to win to take control for the first time in 18 years.

In the U.S. Senate race, the July 14 Democratic runoff pits MJ Hegar, 44, a former Air Force pilot who narrowly lost a House race in 2018, against State Senator Royce West, 67, one of Dallas’s leading African-American political figures who has served in the legislature since 1993.

Hegar, who has the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, came in first during the first round of primary voting in May but was well short of a majority in the crowded field with 22 percent. West earned a runoff spot with just 15 percent of the vote.

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4 Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump seats break with party on coronavirus vote

Georgia’s Lucy McBath is only Southern Democrat in a seat Trump carried to vote for $3 trillion spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four of the five Southern Democrats trying to hold seats from U.S. House districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 have voted against a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package pushed through the House by Democratic leaders late Friday.

The lone Southern Democrat in a Trump seat who voted for the measure was U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who represents a district in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs. She came under immediate fire from her leading GOP opponent for supporting “her San Francisco buddy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the vote.

Voting no were U.S. Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, both from Virginia.

Five other Democrats who in 2018 flipped Republican-held districts that Trump didn’t carry in 2016 voted for the measure, including Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas.

The measure, dubbed as the HEROES Act by its sponsors, passed the House on a mostly party-line vote of 208-199. It would provide nearly $1 billion to state, local and tribal governments that have seen their tax revenues plunge during the coronavirus shutdown, along with $100 billion for farmers who have faced market dislocations.

The measure would also provide another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans, including undocumented immigrants; extend supplemental federal unemployment payments until January; forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for every borrower; provide money for election security; and inject $25 billion into the U.S. Postal Service.

The $3 trillion price tag for the package — along with the provisions on student loan debt, election security, and including undocumented immigrants in stimulus payments — have drawn strong opposition from Republican leaders in the Senate, who have pronounced the plan dead on arrival.

By voting against the bill, the Southern Democrats in Trump districts were trying to avoid being tagged with support for a doomed, partisan spending plan that could be weaponized by their Republican opponents in the fall.

Cunningham, who represents the 1st District in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, called the bill “Washington politics at its worst.”

“While South Carolina families, small business owners, and workers are struggling, now is not the time to advance a partisan wish list or refuse to come to the negotiating table,” Cunningham said in a statement. “At a time when our country is in real trouble, we should not be spending precious time on one-sided solutions that aren’t going anywhere.

Horn, who represents the 5th District in and around Oklahoma City, called the measure “a messaging bill” that lacked bi-partisan support and was “a disservice to the American people, especially during a time of crisis.”

“This is not the time for partisan gamesmanship, this is the time to find common ground and deliver help where it is needed most,” Horn said in a statement.  “In response to COVID-19, our relief efforts must be targeted, timely, and transparent. The HEROES Act does not meet those standards.”

Luria, who represents Virginia’s 2nd district in the Hampton Roads area, noted that the bill would double federal spending this year “and spending of this scale requires careful consideration and input from all members, not just one party.”

“Relief legislation must address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as pave the path to economic recovery,” Luria said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there are many elements of the bill that are unrelated to addressing Americans’ most immediate needs associated with COVID-19, which distract from addressing our most urgent priorities during this pandemic.”

Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in and around Richmond, said some of her Democratic colleagues “have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need.”

“We must come together to build a targeted, timely relief package that avoids partisan posturing and instead prioritizes combating our nationwide public health emergency, addressing catastrophic unemployment rates, and protecting the security of the next generation,” Spanberger said in a statement.

After the vote, McBath released a statement in which she did not offer a detailed explanation for her support of the bill, beyond saying that she was “fighting” for more funding for hospitals, first responders and the unemployed.

“This pandemic has caused grief for thousands, financial difficulty for millions, and drastic changes to the lives of every American,” she said. “Families across the country agree that more must be done to protect the health and financial well-being of our loved ones.”

But her leading Republican opponent, Karen Handel, charged that McBath “voted with the far left of her party to approve a $3 trillion partisan spending spree on out-of-touch, liberal priorities.”

“Nancy Pelosi has a true and loyal friend in Lucy McBath,” Handel said in a statement posted on Twitter. “When faced with backing the Speaker’s extreme agenda or representing the interests of [her district], McBath chooses her San Francisco buddy every time.”

McBath unseated Handel in 2018 in the 6th District, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016. Handel will face four other GOP candidates in the June 9 primary for the right to take on McBath again in November.

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Texas U.S. House Primaries: Challenged incumbents survive, as does Donald Trump’s former doctor

But the latest Bush to try politics, Pierce Bush, falls short in suburban Houston

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Two veteran members of the Texas U.S. House delegation, Republican Kay Granger and Democrat Henry Cuellar, have turned back challenges from within their own party, as a wide-open primary night in the Lone Star State shaped the field for May runoffs and the November contests that will follow.

President Donald Trump’s controversial former White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, has advanced to a runoff in his House primary in the Panhandle, while Pete Sessions, a veteran Republican congressman who lost his metro Dallas seat in 2018, found more luck in Waco, where he too made a runoff.

However, the latest Bush family member to try to launch a political career, Pierce Bush, came up short in suburban Houston.

The primary competition in Texas House races was particularly intense Tuesday, as large fields of candidates entered open races triggered by the departures of five sitting Republicans, along with contests for seats that both parties are targeting in the fall.

Runoffs will be held in at least 13 of the state’s 36 congressional districts, including some of the seats expected to be most competitive between the two parties in November, which means the full state of the fall race won’t be known until after the runoffs on May 26.

However, Republicans did settle on opponents for the two Democrats who flipped seats in 2018. In the 7th District in Houston, Iraq War veteran Wesley Hunt will face Democratic incumbent Lizzie Fletcher, while in the 32d District, in Dallas, business executive Genevieve Collins was selected to challenge Democrat Collin Allred.

One candidate who also won without a runoff was former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention in a bid for governor in 2014. She moved from Fort Worth to Austin to run the 21st District and easily won the Democratic nomination to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy.

Kay Granger and Henry Cuellar survive primaries

In the 12th District, which includes Fort Worth, Kay Granger — the House’s senor woman Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee — easily beat back a challenge from Chris Putnam, a former Colleyville city councilman who called Granger “a creature of the swamp” and criticized her for calling on Trump to get out of the 2016 race after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.

Granger, however, countered Putnam’s criticism with the most powerful tool in modern Republican politics — an endorsement from Trump himself.

In the 28th District in South Texas, Democrat Henry Cuellar had a closer call, getting a 4-point win over Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney from Laredo who had 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.

The win is a blow for the Justice Democrats, a group affiliated with Ocasio-Cortez that targeted Cuellar and six other incumbent House Democrats they viewed as too conservative.

In the 13th District in the Panhandle, Jackson — who drew national notoriety after Trump nominated him to run the Veterans Administration and then withdrew the nomination in the face of Senate opposition and questions about his conduct — finished in second place and will face Josh Winegarner, a former congressional aide, in the runoff.

In the 22nd District in suburban Houston, Pierce Bush missed the runoff, placing third. He is the son of Neil Bush, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, and the nephew of President George W. Bush.

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. He came in first place and in the runoff and will face Renee Swann, a medical office manager who got the endorsement of U.S. Rep Bill Flores, the man who now holds the seat and served with Sessions in the Texas delegation.

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U.S. Senate: Sessions, Tuberville advance to Alabama runoff, with Trump front and center

Texas Democrat MJ Hegar makes runoff; Cal Cunningham wins Democratic nod in North Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville topped the field in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, setting up an March 31 runoff with the man who gave up the seat in 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And Trump, who opted not to endorse anyone in the first round of voting, was quick to demonstrate that he still carries a grudge against Sessions with a post-primary tweet attributing his second-place showing to a lack of loyalty: “This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt.

Meanwhile in Texas, Democrats will decide a May 26 U.S. Senate runoff between the pick of the Democratic Senate establishment, MJ Hegar, and State Senator Royce West from Dallas. The winner of the runoff will take on Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

And in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, easily won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, turning back a challenger who had been aided with more than $2 million in ads from a Republican-affiliated PAC.

Sessions and Tuberville declare victory (From WSFA, Fox 10)

In Alabama, where Republicans have high hopes of defeating Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November, Tuberville — making his first run for political office — won 33 percent to 31 percent for Sessions. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who gave up his House seat to make the Senate race, finished third at 26 percent.

Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, won just 7 percent. Moore has denied the allegations.

In their election night speeches, both Sessions and Tuberville made it clear that fealty to Trump will be front and center in the runoff race.

Referring to Tuberville as a “tourist from Florida,” Sessions noted that he was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016 and accused Tuberville of being a johnny-come-lately to the Trump cause.

“Where was [Tuberville] when President Trump needed him? What did he do for Trump? Never said a kind word about him that I can find. Never gave a single penny of his millions to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

But Tuberville pointed to Sessions’s abrupt departure from the Trump administration after the president repeatedly criticized him for recusing himself during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, ‘You’re fired,'” Tuberville said. “Only one candidate in this race will support Donald Trump down the line. Doug won’t, Jeff didn’t, but Tommy will.”

In Texas, where the Democratic primary drew 12 candidates, Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, took 23 percent to lead the field, with Royce at 15 percent.

West has been a fixture in Austin for nearly three decades and is one of the state’s most prominent African American political leaders. He edged out Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who ran as a “progressive,” garnering endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

In North Carolina, Cunningham took 56 percent of the vote to 36 percent for State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat Tillis.

The Senate races in North Carolina and Texas are at the top of the Democrats’ target list for 2020, while Jones is considered to be the country’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in dark red Alabama.

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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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