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Insight: What do 2019’s election results in the South tell us about 2020?

Wins in Kentucky and Louisiana aren’t nirvana for Democrats, but they do show limits to GOP strategy of socialist pigeonholing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Now that the dust has cleared from elections in four Southern states earlier this month, what are the lessons, if any, for 2020 elections in which both the presidency and control of Congress will be on the line?

Some pundits in the chattering class and Democratic politicians have looked at victories by Democrats in governor’s races in deep red Kentucky and Louisiana and gleefully found evil portends for their GOP rivals next year.

That would be overreach.

Editor Rich Shumate

In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear won because the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, was as popular as a skin rash after four years of gratuitous insults and irritation. In Louisiana, Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards — that rarest of creatures, a pro-life Democrat — had strong job approval numbers and ran as far away as he could from the Elizabeth Warrens and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes in his party.

Trump couldn’t push Republicans over the finish line in either race, but Republicans carried all of the other statewide contests in both states and had a clean sweep in of state offices in Mississippi. So it would be a mistake to see these Democratic wins as a referendum on Trump, and Democrats shouldn’t find much solace in what was otherwise a rather dismal showing.

Still, the wins by Beshear and Edwards showed that the Republican strategy of calling Democrats socialists and ginning up the faithful with Trump rallies has its limits, even in states that the president carried by more than 20 points. In states with more even strength between the parties — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina — that strategy could be even less effective next year, particularly at the presidential level and in U.S. Senate races in the latter three states.

What should be of more concern to Republicans is the fact that the Democratic vote in cities and suburban areas was unusually strong and decidedly Democratic in 2019, mirroring a trend seen in 2018 when Democrats took control of the U.S. House.

Beshear won in Kentucky by carrying Louisville and Lexington and their suburbs by a margin of 135,000 votes, swamping Republican margins in the rest of the state. In Louisiana, Edwards won by carrying Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans by almost 165,000 votes, including winning almost 90 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and carrying suburban Jefferson Parish — home of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise — by 14 points.

The news for Republicans was even worse in Virginia, where Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature — in elections that used maps drawn by Republicans to protect Republicans — by gaining more ground in the suburbs around Washington, Richmond, and Norfolk. Among the casualties was the last Republican House member representing a district in the inner Washington suburbs, which 20 years ago was undisputed GOP territory.

In 2018, newfound Democratic strength in the suburbs allowed the party to take competitive U.S. House seats in Atlanta, Richmond, Miami, Dallas and Houston — and get surprise wins in Oklahoma City and Charleston. If that trend, also seen in 2019, continues into 2020, it could potentially put more seats into play in Little Rock, Tampa, Lexington, San Antonio and across North Carolina, where a court recently forced Republican legislators to redraw gerrymandered maps.

Over in the Senate, Republicans are defending two seats in Georgia and seats in Texas and North Carolina where Democrats now have a plausible path to victory, if they can push the urban/suburban vote past the pro-Trump margin in small towns and rural areas as they did in 2019. And the eyes of the nation will be on Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be defending his seat in the wake of Beshear’s breakthrough.

McConnell’s job approval numbers are 13 points underwater in Kentucky, according to the latest Morning Consult survey, making him one of the nation’s least popular senators. However, McConnell has substantially more political acumen than Bevin and a much better political machine, and he could benefit if he faces a Democrat whom he can pigeonhole as a leftist.

McConnell’s campaign is already taking aim at his only announced Democratic rival, Amy McGrath, who raised $8.6 million in an unsuccessful congressional race in 2018 but started the campaign with an embarrassing flip-flop on whether she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (First she said yes, then she said no.)

Rocky Adkins, a folksy, pro-life state legislator from Eastern Kentucky who ran second to Beshear in this year’s gubernatorial primary, is also considering entering the race and could prove a much more slippery target for McConnell’s ad makers.

Democrats need a net gain of four seats to take control of the Senate; three seats will be enough if a Democrat also carries the White House. That task will be very uphill if they don’t make breakthroughs in the South.

In the presidential race, the question will be if any the Democrats in the 2020 field can survive in the South in a binary match-up against Trump and his faithful followers.

Virginia is probably a lock for the Democrats, and Florida and North Carolina are always in play. The wild cards will be Georgia and Texas, where the heavy urban-suburban Democratic vote seen in 2018 and 2019 could make things interesting if it materializes again in 2020. (Trump carried Georgia by just 5 points in 2016; the margin was 9 points in Texas.)

However, it should be noted that if either Beshear or Edwards were in the presidential race, they would be far and away the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field. So could a presidential candidate who is highly likely to be substantially to their left duplicate the success they had locally in 2019, particularly in states where the president remains more popular than he does nationally?

Mmmm … don’t bet the rent.

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5 Southern U.S. House Democrats from pro-Trump districts support impeachment bill

Vote on bill outlining procedures for impeachment process breaks down along party lines

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democrats who hold seats from districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016 voted with their party Thursday to approve procedures for his possible impeachment, a vote they’ll have to defend as they fight to keep their seats next year.

The Democrats from Trump districts who voted yes included Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina.

Cunningham, Horn and McBath had not previously expressed support for the impeachment inquiry; Spanberger and Luria had.

Five other Democrats who also flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 — Colin Alled and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida — also voted for the resolution. Those districts were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

These 10 seats are at the top of the GOP target list for 2020, with the impeachment vote certain to be an issue in those races.

Two other GOP 2020 targets — Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist from Florida — also voted in favor of the impeachment measure.

The lone Republican in a Southern seat Clinton carried, Will Hurd of Texas, voted no, as did eight other Southern Republicans who have announced they won’t seek another term in 2020.

The overall vote among Southern House members on the bill broke down entirely along party lines. Across the whole House, no Republicans supported the measure, while two Democrats —  Collin Peterson from Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted no.

Thursday’s vote was the first formal move by House Democrats to advance the impeachment of Trump over his overture to the president of Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Cunningham told the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston that he was voting for the bill in order to make the investigation into Trump more transparent, as Republicans have been demanding.

“Overall it’s a good measure to shine some light on these hearings and make sure that we respect due process,” Cunningham told the Post and Courier.

Horn, announcing her support for the bill on Twitter, stressed that she was only supporting an investigation, not Trump’s actual impeachment.

“It is a vote to create clear rules for effective public hearings and ensure transparency for the American people,” she said.  “As I’ve said all along, I always look at the facts in front of me and vote in the best interests of Oklahomans.”

Even before the vote, McBath had felt the potential sting of the impeachment fight when unhappy Trump supporters picketed her district office in suburban Atlanta earlier this month. In response, McBath took to Twitter to say she refused “to be intimidated, I will do what is right,” and included a fundraising solicitation in her post.

Three Southern House members did not vote on the impeachment bill — Jody Hice of Georgia, John Rose of Tennessee, Don McEachin of Virginia.

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Call it a “Texodus”: 6th Lone Star U.S. House Republican bows out of 2020 race

Departures follow exits of 8 Texas House Republicans in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With a sixth U.S. House Republican from Texas opting not to run for re-election in 2020, the pending departures have earned a new nickname in Washington — a “Texodus.”

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry — one of the few Republicans left who rolled into Washington in the party’s “Contract with America” sweep in 1994 — announced his retirement September 30, joining five home-state colleagues who had earlier announced they would not see re-election.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of the 13th District of Texas as their congressman for the last 25 years,” Thornberry said in a statement announcing his retirement.  “We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change.”

While Thornberry’s district, which sprawls from the Dallas Metroplex to the Panhandle, is heavily Republican and unlikely to fall into Democratic hands, his departure is the latest in a string of retirements that have reshaped the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation.

Thornberry and the five other Texas House Republicans who have announced their retirements this year have, together, more than 80 years of seniority. And of the 25 Republicans elected to the state’s delegation in 2016, only 11 will be left standing after 2020 — if no one else retires or loses. Eight retired or lost their seats in 2018.

The other GOP members retiring in 2020 are Mike Conaway, Bill Flores, Pete Olson, Will Hurd, and Kenny Marchant. All but Hurd had been in the House for more than a decade.

Thornberry had chaired the House Armed Services Committee before Republicans lost their majority in 2018 and currently serves as ranking member. However, term limits imposed by the Republican conference would have forced him out of that role after 2020, which means he would not have reclaimed his chairmanship even if Republicans took back the House.

Conway faced the same situation on the House Agriculture Committee.

Of the six seats being vacated, Conaway and Thornberry’s are safely Republican, and the next occupant will be decided in the GOP primary next March. But the other four are on the target list for Democrats, who hope to build on the two-seat gain they made in Texas in 2018.

Two other Texas House Republicans, both representing Austin-area districts, are on the retirement watch list — Michael McCaul and John Carter, who are also being targeted by Democrats. However, both men have been raising money for their re-election campaigns.

Candidates have until December 9 to decide whether to run for re-election — or ride off into the Texas sunset.

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Republicans hold 9th District U.S. House seat in North Carolina

State Senator Dan Bishop defeats Democrat Dan McCready with last-minute help from Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Republican State Senator Dan Bishop has squeaked out a victory over Democrat Dan McCready in a special election to fill North Carolina’s vacant 9th District U.S. House seat, keeping the seat in GOP hands.

U.S. Rep.-elect Dan Bishop, R-North Carolina

Bishop — bolstered by an election-eve campaign appearance on his behalf by President Donald Trump — took 51 percent in the September 10 vote to 49 percent for McCready.

Although McCready beat Bishop decisively in the part of the district in suburban Mecklenburg County in and around Charlotte, Bishop rolled up a 20-pont margin in exurban Union County, which was enough to put him over the top.

McCready’s defeat extinguishes Democratic hopes of making a breakthrough in the Tar Heel State, where they failed to flip a single U.S. House seat in 2018.

In another special election in the 3rd District, Republican State Rep. Greg Murphy defeated Democrat Allen Thomas, the former mayor of Greenville. The seat became vacant when longtime incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Walter Jones died in February.

Murphy took 62 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Thomas.

The 9th stretches from the suburbs of Charlotte east along the South Carolina state line toward Fayetteville. The 3rd is a mostly rural district that takes in the counties along the state’s Atlantic coast.

Last November, McCready fell 900 votes short in a race against Republican Mark Harris, but the State Board of Elections ordered a rerun of the election after allegations of absentee ballot fraud were raised against a contractor working for Harris.

The contractor is now facing criminal charges; Harris dropped out of the race, clearing the way for Republicans to pick Bishop as a replacement.

The seat has been vacant for nine months as the dispute over the seat lingered.

Bishop, 55, is a social conservative who has served in both houses of the legislature. He is best known as one of the authors of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” a law passed in 2016 which required transgendered people to use the restroom assigned to their birth gender in public facilities. After a public outcry and organized boycotts of the state, the law was repealed in 2017.

Trump held a rally in Fayetteville Monday in which he heaped praise on Bishop and went on the attack against McCready, whom he accused of wanting “open borders,” “sanctuary cities” and gun control.

In 2016, Trump won the 9th District by 12 points, but the district swung toward the Democrats in 2018, part of a similar shift seen in suburban areas across the South.

While that shift allowed Democrats to make breakthroughs in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Richmond, Charleston and Oklahoma City, they came up short in all four targeted House races in North Carolina.

With the results Tuesday, Republicans will hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the Tar Heel State’s House delegation.

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Voters decide Tuesday who fills disputed North Carolina 9th District U.S. House seat

Donald Trump heading to Tar Heel state to rally Republicans ahead of vote

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Voters in two North Carolina congressional districts will go to the polls Tuesday to fill vacant seats, with Democrats hoping to make a breakthrough by flipping the 9th District into their column.

In a sign of the national implications of the vote, President Donald Trump is heading to Fayetteville Monday to campaign for Republican State Senator Dan Bishop, who is in a tight race with Democrat Dan McCready in the 9th District.

Dan McCready and Dan Bishop

A McCready win would flip a House seat to the Democrats and add to the majority they won in 2018. The seat has been vacant for nine months after a narrow GOP win last November was overturned amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the 3rd District, Republican State Rep. Greg Murphy is heavily favored to win over Democrat Allen Thomas, the former mayor of Greenville. The seat became vacant when longtime incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Walter Jones died in February.

The 9th District stretches from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayetteville. The 3rd District takes in the counties along the state’s Atlantic coast.

Polls point to a close race between McCready, a political newcomer who came close to winning in last November’s disputed election, and Bishop, a veteran state lawmaker whom Republican picked to replace their previous tarnished nominee.

In November, McCready fell 900 votes short in a race against Republican Mark Harris. But the State Board of Elections ordered a rerun of the election after allegations of absentee ballot fraud were raised against a contractor working for Harris.

The contractor is now facing criminal charges; Harris dropped out of the race, clearing the way for Republicans to pick Bishop in an effort to keep the seat.

Bishop, 55, is a social conservative who has served in both houses of the legislature. He is best known as one of the authors of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” a law passed in 2016 which required transgendered people to use the restroom assigned to their birth gender in public facilities. After a public outcry and organized boycotts of the state, the law was repealed in 2017.

McCready, 36, is a Marine Corps veteran and solar energy entrepreneur making his first bid for political office.

Trump won the district by 12 points in 2015, but the district swung toward the Democrats in 2018, part of a similar shift seen in suburban areas across the South.

While that shift allowed Democrats to make breakthroughs in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Richmond, Charleston and Oklahoma City, they came up short in all four targeted House races in North Carolina. Winning Tuesday would be a bit of redemption.

Republicans currently hold a 8-to-3 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, with two seats vacant.

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Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd bowing out of the House

In a surprise move, the chamber’s lone black Republican and sometime Trump critic says he plans “to help our country in a different way”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Just two weeks after voting with Democrats to condemn President Donald Trump over his tweets about four liberal House members, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2020, opening up a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats in West Texas.

Hurd, a former undercover CIA agent who had been considered a rising star among House Republicans before his surprise announcement, said in a statement that he was leaving “in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security.”

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

While his statement did not indicate any future plans, Hurd told the Washington Post that he did intend to run for office again in the future — and that despite his criticism of the president, he planned to vote for Trump if he is the GOP nominee as expected in 2020.

“It was never my intention to stay in Congress forever, but I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America,” he said in his statement.

Of his six years in Congress, Hurd said. “There were times when it was fun and times when it wasn’t. When people were mad, it was my job to listen. When people felt hopeless, it was my job to care. When something was broken, it was my job to find out how to fix it.”

Hurd is the third Texas House Republican to forgo re-election next year, joining U.S. Reps. Pete Olson and Michael Conaway. Hurd’s seat, in Texas’s 23rd District, which he won by a mere 926 votes in 2018, is by far the most vulnerable.

Hurd, 41, was something of a political unicorn in Congress. Not only was he the only African-American Republican in the House — and one of only two in Congress — he was also a Republican representing a district that is more than 70 percent Latino, which he said gave him the opportunity to take “a conservative message to places that don’t often hear it. ”

“Folks in these communities believe in order to solve problems we should empower people not the government, help families move up the economic ladder through free markets not socialism and achieve and maintain peace by being nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys,” he said in his statement. “These Republican ideals resonate with people who don’t think they identify with the Republican Party.”

Hurd was also the last Southern Republican left in Congress representing a district Hillary Clinton carried, albeit narrowly, in 2016.

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Hurd questioned special counsel Robert Mueller during his July 24 appearance to discuss his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, offering a less confrontational line of questioning than many of his fellow Republicans on the panel.

Last month, Hurd was the only Southern Republican — and one of only four in the House — who broke ranks to support a resolution condemning Trump over tweets he made about four far-left congresswomen known as “The Squad,” which were widely denounced as racist by the president’s critics.

The 23rd District is the largest geographically in Texas, stretching from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas toward El Paso, and one of the most consistently competitive seats anywhere in the country.

Hurd’s victory in 2014 marked the fourth time in a decade that the seat had switched between parties. He managed to hold it for three election cycles, although never winning by more than 3,000 votes.

The Democratic candidate for the seat in 2018, Gina Ortiz Jones, is running again in 2020, and Hurd was facing another difficult election fight to keep the seat, including, after his criticism of Trump, a possible primary challenge.

Conaway’s district, the 11th, which includes Midland, Odessa and San Angelo, is strongly Republican and will likely not change hands with his retirement. Olson’s district, the 22nd, in the suburbs of Houston, is more vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.

And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.

That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.

In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.

“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“

Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light

In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.

Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.

Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.

State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.

The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.

Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.

Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.

Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.

Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.

The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.

Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.

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