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Tennessee Primary: Bill Lee wins GOP nod for governor; Blackburn, Bredesen advance in U.S. Senate race
Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff survives challenge in West Tennessee
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
NASHVILLE (CNN) — Bill Lee, a cattle rancher making his first bid for political office, came from behind to easily beat two politically connected rivals to capture the Republican nomination for Tennessee governor.
As expected, voters in the August 2 primary also set up what will be a pitched U.S. Senate battle between Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, who both easily won their primaries.
Republicans also settled primaries for four GOP-held U.S. House seats, including in West Tennessee’s 8th District, where freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff turned back a self-funding challenger after getting an endorsement from President Donald Trump.
In the governor’s race, Lee, 58, a businessman and rancher from Franklin, took 37 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam. Black finished third with 23 percent.
Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, Lee won the nomination with a plurality.
“How overwhelming is this?” Lee told jubilant supporters at a victory party in his hometown of Franklin. “I could stand right here and not say anything for a long time.”
Lee started the race a virtual unknown, crisscrossing the state in an RV and telling voters how he was called to public service by the death of his first wife in a horseback riding accident in 2000.
But what may have helped Lee the most were his outsider persona and his decision to refrain from negative attacks on his opponents, even as Black and Boyd both turned their fire on each other and him.
“I’m a man who is not a politician, but I do have a vision for Tennessee to lead this nation,” Lee said. “Thank you for choosing leadership over politics.”
In the fall, Lee will face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who easily won the Democratic primary.
Black, 67, had once been considered the front-runner in the race but faded as Lee surged from the back of the pack. In the final insult, she lost most of the counties in the 6th District in Middle Tennessee, which she represented in Congress for the last eight years.
Despite Black’s ardent support for Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, she did not receive a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.
Giving a concession speech to supporters in Nashville, Black noted that this was the first time she had lost an election in 19 races over a 30-year political career.
“Sometimes God just sets a different course for you than what you set for yourself,” she said.
While the primaries narrowed the Democratic and Republican fields, the fall race for governor will still be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.
In the U.S. Senate race, Blackburn took 85 percent in the Republican primary, while Bredesen took 92 percent of the Democratic vote. However, overall, she outpolled him by more than 260,000 votes statewide.
Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore won a second term. But recent polling shows a close race between Blackburn and Bredesen, and outside groups are expected to pour millions in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
The seat is being given up by Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who opted not to seek re-election after become one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.
Bredesen, 74, served two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011 after serving as mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999. A political moderate, he was the last Democrat to win statewide in Tennessee when he was re-elected governor in 2006.
When Corker announced his retirement in September 2017, Bredesen initially said he would not run for the Senate seat, only to reverse course two months later after lobbying by national Democratic leaders. His entry in the race turned what looked like a long-shot for Democrats into a competitive contest.
Blackburn, 66, from Brentwood, has served in the House since 2003 and is a deputy whip in the House leadership. In her announcement for the Senate, she described herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse. She has largely been supportive of Trump, who has endorsed her.
Both candidates have so far raised more than $8 million for the Senate battle, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
In U.S. House races, Kustoff was the only incumbent to face a significant challenge from George Flinn, a former Shelby County commissioner who poured more than $3 million of his own money in his fifth try for federal office. But Kustoff dispatched Flinn easily, taking 56 percent of the vote, 16 points ahead of his challenger.
In the Democratic race in the 8th District, the leader is Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues, who came in ahead of John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County. However, only 284 votes separated the candidates, too close to declare a final winner.
In the 2nd District, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett won the Republican primary with 48 percent of the vote, defeating State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City at 36 percent.
The seat opened when U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan retired. Burchett will be a prohibitive favorite in the heavily Republican district.
In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican winner was John Rose from Cookeville, a former state agriculture commissioner, who took 41 percent to defeat Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet, with 31 percent.
In November, Rose will face Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston who carried 55 percent in the Democratic primary.
In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, Democrats picked Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race. He will now face State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City, who was the only Republican to file.
In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).
Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets landslide win in GOP runoff for Georgia governor, will now face Stacey Abrams
Democrats pick nominees for two targeted GOP-held seats in Atlanta suburbs
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — With the backing of both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has won the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, winning a runoff by nearly 40 points after a stunning collapse by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.
Kemp’s win sets up one of the nation’s marquee governor’s races this fall against Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state, who won her nomination in May without a runoff.
Georgia Democrats have also settled on nominees for two Republican-held U.S. House seats in metro Atlanta being targeted this fall, picking Lucy McBath in the 6th District and Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th District.
In the GOP governor’s race, Kemp took 69 percent of the vote in the July 24 runoff to 31 percent for Cagle, who had finished 13 points ahead of Kemp in the first round of voting in May but saw his support collapse in the final weeks of the race.
“We have earned a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp told supporters at a election night rally in Athens. “We had the momentum in this race, and those endorsements by the president and vice president — they poured gasoline on the fire.”
Although both men had vied for the Trump vote, the president endorsed Kemp a week before the runoff, and Pence traveled to Georgia to campaign with him. Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, was endorsed by incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who is term limited.
During the campaign, Kemp drew criticism for a humorous ad in which he points a shotgun at a young man who wants to date one of his daughters and gets him to acknowledge “a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.” Kemp was unapologetic, saying in a statement that “liberal media and radical, left-wing activists — who have probably never even held a firearm — are freaking out and creating fake controversy.”
The National Rifle Association had earlier endorsed Cagle after the lieutenant governor proposed stripping a lucrative tax exemption from Atlanta-based Delta Airlines to retaliate against the company for ending a discount program for NRA members in the wake of the massacre of high school students in Parkland, Florida.
The turning point in the race may have been release of secretly recorded audio in June in which Cagle admitted that he had supported “bad public policy” in the legislature to undercut one of his primary rivals and complained that the Republican primary had devolved into a contest of “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”
In a concession speech to supporters in Atlanta, Cagle promised his “full, undivided support” for Kemp in the general election.
“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it, but at the end of the day, I can promise you my life is so rich,” he said.
Democrats, who have not won a governor’s race in Georgia since 1998, are hoping to turn those fortunes around with Abrams, 44, a Yale-educated Atlanta lawyer who served six years as minority leader of the Georgia House.
During the Democratic primary, Abrams had argued that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to energize and expand the electorate, rather than trying to appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands. That strategy will be put to the test against Kemp, 54, a conservative businessman from Athens who has been secretary of state since 2011.
Kemp went after Abrams in his victory speech, calling her an “out-of-touch radical liberal who cares more for her billionaire backers than for you all.”
“This election is going to be for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “It is going to be about our values, and it is going to be literally a fight for the future of the great state of Georgia.”
While Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for nearly two decades, demographic changes — particularly an influx of new minority voters — have begun to shift the political calculus. In 2004, George W. Bush carried Georgia by 16 points; Trump only won by 5 points in 2016, and he lost two large suburban Atlanta counties — Cobb and Gwinnett — that had not gone Democratic in a generation.
Both of the U.S. House races where Democrats may have a shot this fall are anchored in those same suburbs. In the 6th District, which takes in Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, Trump won by just 1.5 points; in the 7th District, which includes Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, he won by just 6 points.
Handel won the 6th District seat in a special election in 2017 that became nationalized amid rising resistance to Trump. More than $50 million was spent on that race, making it the most expensive House election in history.
The Democrat who Handel defeated in that race, Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch, leaving her to face McBath, a retired flight attendant and gun control activist from Cobb County, who took 54 percent in the runoff to defeat Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who took 46 percent.
McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
In the 7th District, Woodall will face Bourdeaux, from Suwanee, a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. In the runoff, she took 52 percent of the vote to defeat Duluth businessman David Kim with 48 percent.
In the runoff, Republicans also settled on their nominees for the posts of lieutenant governor and secretary of state given up by Cagle and Kemp.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, former State Rep. Geoff Duncan from Cumming, a former professional baseball player, edged out State Senator David Shafer from Duluth. However, the two candidates were separated by less than 1,700 votes, which could trigger a runoff.
Duncan will now face the Democratic nominee, Kennesaw businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico.
In the secretary of state’s race, State Rep. Brad Raffensperger from Johns Creek defeated Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. He will now face former U.S. Rep. John Barrow from Athens, who was the last white Democrat left in Georgia’s congressional delegation until he was defeated in 2014.
Trump endorsement helps Roby overcome backlash for her criticism of him during 2016 campaign
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby has easily survived a Republican runoff in her southeast Alabama district, overcoming a backlash over her critical comments of then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 that threatened to bounce her out of Washington.
Roby took 68 percent in the July 17 runoff to 32 percent for Bobby Bright, a former Montgomery mayor who held the 2nd District seat as a Democrat before losing it to Roby in 2010. He switched to the GOP earlier this year to challenge her in the primary.
Roby will now face Democrat Tabitha Isner, a business analyst and pastor’s wife from Montgomery. Roby will be a prohibitive favorite in the heavily Republican district, which takes in much of Montgomery and its northern suburbs, along with the Wiregrass Country in the southeastern corner of the state.
In the first round of primary voting in June, Roby took just 39 percent of the vote, which was seen as a rebuke to Roby by Trump voters, who have been furious over her decision in October 2016 to rescind her endorsement of him after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in which Trump bragged about sexually accosting women.
At the time, Roby said she would not vote for Trump because his “behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president.”
However, she has since tempered her criticism of the president, and he gave her a coveted tweeted presidential endorsement ahead of the runoff, in which he pointedly noted that Bright was “a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat.”
Roby’s survival contrasts with the fate of another House member critical of Trump — U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina — who lost his primary in June. In that race, Trump endorsed his opponent, State Rep. Katie Arrington, on election day.
Roby, 41, is seeking her fifth term in Congress.
State House Minority Leader David Baria will face U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in the fall
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Republicans in Mississippi’s 3rd U.S. House District have chosen prosecutor Michael Guest as their party’s nominee, making him the favorite to become the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation.
Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, took 65 percent in the June 26 runoff to defeat Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour, who took 35 percent.
Guest will now take on Democratic State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston in the district, which stretches across southern Mississippi from Natchez to Meridian and also includes the northern Jackson suburbs. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is retiring after five terms.
Guest will be favored in the heavily Republican district, which has been in GOP hands since 1997.
The other major race on the runoff ballot in Mississippi was the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate, where State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis defeated Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward.
Baria took 59 percent to 41 percent for Sherman.
Wicker, elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered to be a heavy favorite for re-election in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1982.
The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
McDaniel had initially filed to run against Wicker in the primary but switched to the other race after Hyde-Smith was appointed to Cochran’s seat.
Harris, Hern advance to Republican runoff in metro Tulsa’s 1st U.S House District
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt topped a field of 10 candidates in the Republican primary for governor and will face each other in an August 28 runoff.
Cornett took 29 percent in the June 26 vote to 24 percent for Stitt, who edged out the third-place finisher, Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, by less than 3,500 votes.
The runoff winner will face former Attorney General Drew Edmonson, who cruised to an easy victory in the Democratic primary.
The seat was vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who resigned in April after he was confirmed as NASA administrator.
Harris took 28 percent to 23 percent for Hern, who narrowly edged out Andy Coleman, an attorney and minister from Owasso, with 22 percent. However, the margin between Hern and Coleman was just 840 votes, and media outlets did not make an immediate final call on the second runoff spot.
On the Democratic side in the 1st District, Tim Gilpin, a Tulsa attorney and former member of the state school board, will face a runoff with Amanda Douglas, an energy industry analyst from Broken Arrow.
The winner of the GOP primary will be favored in November in the heavily Republican district.
The GOP race for governor drew 10 candidates to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon. This was the first statewide election in Oklahoma since a teachers’ strike in April shuttered classrooms and roiled state politics.
Cornett, 59, is a well known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.
Stitt, a wealthy Tulsa businessman who founded Gateway Mortgage Group, ran on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City, a message that resonated in the wake of the teachers’ strike. He surged in polls in the latter stages of the race after pouring in $2.2 million of his own money, upsetting Lamb for second place.
“Oklahoma’s turnaround starts tonight, folks,” he told supporters at a watch party in Jenks.
In his election night speech to supporters, Cornett also struck a chord for reform, saying “no one in Oklahoma seems to be giving up on this state.”
“People want more transparency. They want more accountability,” he said. “We’re going to have to have higher standards in health and education going forward.”
In the first primary round, Cornett carried Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, while Stitt put up his best numbers in and around Tulsa. Lamb carried most of the rest of the state, where the runoff battle is likely to be fought.
While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011. He had raised $1.4 million heading into the primary, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
State Senator William Timmons gets GOP nod in 4th District U.S. House race
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — Buoyed by backing from President Donald Trump, Governor Henry McMaster defeated Greenville businessman John Warren in a Republican runoff for governor, clearing a major hurdle in his quest to keep the job he inherited last year when Nikki Haley left to become UN ambassador.
McMaster took 53 percent in the June 26 runoff to 47 percent for Warren, a political newcomer who came from the back of the pack in the first primary round to win the second spot in the runoff.
In November, McMaster will face the Democratic nominee, State Rep. James Smith from Columbia. Democrats have not won a governor’s race in the Palmetto State in 20 years.
Meanwhile, upstate in the 4th U.S. House District, State Senator William Timmons from Greenville defeated former State Senator Lee Bright from Spartanburg for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Timmons took 54 percent to 46 percent for Bright, who came out on top in the first round of voting June 12. Brown beat Turner 62 percent to 38 percent.
Timmons will be a prohibitive favorite in the fall in the heavily Republican district.
McMaster, while lieutenant governor, was the first statewide elected official in the country to endorse Trump in 2016. The president returned the favor by making a high-profile election-eve appearance on his behalf in Columbia. Vice President Mike Pence also came to the Palmetto State to campaign for McMaster.
In his victory speech, McMaster touted his special relationship with Trump.
“Our team extends from the White House to the Statehouse to your house, and that’s the most powerful team there is,” he said. “We going to keep on winning, winning, winning in South Carolina.”
McMaster, who has spent 11 years in statewide office as attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor, took over as the state’s chief executive in 2017 after Haley, who was then governor, was nominated and confirmed as Trump’s U.N. ambassador.
Warren, a former Marine officer who owns a mortgage company in Greenville, was making his first bid for office, casting himself as a conservative outsider.
Despite being endorsed by the third and fourth place finishers in the first primary round and running strong in the Upstate and Charleston, he could not overcome McMaster’s margins across the rest of the state.
Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.
In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.
The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.
In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.
The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.
The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.
The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.
But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”
“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.
In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.
The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.
The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.
While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.
Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.