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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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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace is lone Southern Republican to support Steve Bannon contempt vote

South Carolina lawmaker was one of just nine Republicans to support criminal referral for former Donald Trump aide

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

South CarolinaWASHINGTON (CFP) — South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace was the lone Southern Republican to vote to hold former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina

The House voted 229 to 220 on October 21 to hold Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas for documents and a deposition. Mace was one of just nine Republicans to support the contempt citation, which Republican leaders had lobbied their caucus to oppose.

Mace, a first-term lawmaker already facing three 2022 primary challengers in her Lowcountry district, cast her politically risky vote as a defense of the Constitution and warned Republicans that they are better off leaving the subpoena power intact in case they take the House majority next year.

“We will want this same tool in our toolbox to release the spigot, investigating the crises facing our nation: the southern border, the botched exit from Afghanistan, and Antifa, for starters,” she said in a statement after her vote. “We will need the same subpoena power upheld today.”

But Mace also took a swipe at the work of the January 6th committee, which she voted against when it was created by the House in June.

“I want us to imagine the positive impact on our country if Congress invested the same amount of time, energy and effort into investigating violent acts and domestic terrorism within groups such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We’d all be better and safer for it.”

Bannon has based his refusal to cooperate with the committee on a claim of executive privilege, which has been asserted by Trump. But Mace said Bannon needed to appear before the committee and make that claim himself, rather than ignoring the subpoena.

“Executive privilege protects the advice given to the President. That protection can be invoked when called before Congress,” she said. “When Congress issues a subpoena, that individual must appear before Congress and invoke that privilege.”

Mace was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6th attack, but she did not vote in favor of his impeachment. Her vote to hold Bannon in contempt is likely to fuel complaints from Trump supporters in her district that she is insufficiently supportive of the former president.

All of her three current Republican challengers — T.J. Allen, Ingrid Centurion or Lynz Piper-Loomis — are political newcomers, and none have raised significant money. But the filing deadline isn’t until March, leaving time for another big-name candidate to join the field with Trump’s blessing

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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.

Screen Shot 2021-09-27 at 4.49.06 PM

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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Georgia businesswoman launches GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Jennifer Strahan comes out swinging in 14th District race with broadside against “unserious” politicians

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Saying “this is not the time for unserious politicians who just want to hear themselves talk,” Georgia health care consultant Jennifer Strahan has launched a Republican primary campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose tumultuous tenure in Congress has trailed clouds of controversy.

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Congressional candidate Jennifer Strahan, R-Georgia

“I’m a no-nonsense conservative who believes our country and our culture have gotten off track,” Strahan said in her announcement video released September 15. “Like a lot of you, I’m tired of out-of-touch people in Washington putting what’s good for themselves ahead of what’s good for the country.”

Strahan’s entry in the race will sets up what is likely to be one of the most contentious GOP primary contests of the 2022 cycle, with the polarizing Greene a magnet for campaign cash from both her detractors and her admirers.

Four Democrats have also entered the race to unseat Greene but would be long shots in the overwhelmingly Republican 14th District, which takes in the state’s northwest corner.

Strahan, who lives at the southern edge of the district, holds a doctorate in health care leadership and runs a health care consulting company. This is her first bid for political office.

Watch Strahan’s announcement video at end of article.

Responding to Strahan’s entry into the race, Greene released a statement calling herself “the most effective member of the GOP conference this session because I’ve stood on the House floor and demanded roll call votes on the Democrats’ Communist agenda and the rest of the party has joined my efforts.”

Greene said she has led efforts “to Impeach Joe Biden, Fire Tony Fauci, Expel Maxine Waters, Eliminate The ATF, and Ban Vaccine Mandates” and that if Republicans want to regain control of the House in 2022, “we aren’t going to do it with pathetic empty campaign promises written by DC consultants.”

Greene was elected to the open seat in 2020 after parachuting into the 14th District, where she did not then live, after Republican incumbent Tom Graves retired. During the campaign, she had to explain her previous dalliance with the QAnon conspiracy theory and suggestions that the Parkland school shooting in Florida was a hoax.

Arriving in Washington with a take-no-prisoners style, she led objections to President Joe Biden’s Electoral College certification, advancing unsupported claims that Donald Trump actually won the election. The House Democratic majority voted to boot her from her committee assignments after she was accused of threatening Democratic members.

Greene has also been fined twice for refusing to wear a mask on the floor of the House and raised eyebrows by telling attendees at a political event in Alabama that people might shoot Biden’s “police state friends” trying to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. Twitter has suspended her repeatedly for posting vaccine disinformation.

She also repeatedly compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and even voted against giving the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who protected the Capitol during the January 6th attack by a pro-Trump mob.

But Greene has also spun all of that controversy into campaign gold, raising nearly $4.8 million for her re-election contest and giving her a head start over Strahan and her other challengers.

In addition to Strahan, Republican Mark Clay is also running in the 14th District, along with Democrats Lateefah Conner, Wendy Davis, Marcus Flowers and Holly McCormack.

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Texas State Rep. Jake Ellzey wins U.S. House runoff, defeats Trump-backed Susan Wright

Ellzey will replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died from COVID-19 in February

TexasARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — State Rep. Jake Ellzey claimed Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat in Tuesday’s all-Republican runoff, defeating Susan Wright, who was trying to keep the seat of her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright.

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U.S. Rep.-elect Jake Ellzey, R-Texas

The result was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Wright and publicly supported her candidacy in the final stretch. His super PAC also dropped $100,000 in a last minute advertising buy.

Ellzey took 53% in the runoff to 47% for Wright to win a district that includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

The all-party special election was called after Ron Wright’s death from COVID-19, while undergoing cancer treatment in February.

In the first round of voting in May, Wright and Ellzey claimed both spots in the runoff. Democrats were boxed out when the party’s 2018 nominee for the seat, Jana Lynne Sanchez, came in third, just 350 votes behind Ellzey.

Democrats had hopes of flipping the seat in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth, which Trump carried by just 3 points in 2020. But two other Democrats in the race took 10,000 votes from Sanchez, securing the seat for the GOP.

Tuesday’s runoff was something of a rematch from the 2018 election for the post, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to win an open seat.

The district’s previous long-time congressman, Joe Barton, endorsed Ellzey, as did Governor Greg Abbott and former Governor Rick Perry. But Trump went all in for Wright.

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