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Atlanta finance executive Kelly Loeffler picked for Georgia U.S. Senate seat

Governor Brian Kemp picks Loeffler for vacancy over objections of Trump partisans

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, will fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

Loeffler’s appointment to the Senate seat was announced by Governor Brian Kemp on December 4, despite a lukewarm reception of the idea at the White House and vocal opposition from some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent partisans.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Kelly Loeffler introduced as Georgia’s new U.S. Senator (From 11Alive via YouTube)

Taking direct aim at the opposition to her appointment, Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) described herself as a “lifelong conservative” who is pro-life, “pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-wall.”

“I make no apologies for my conservative values, and I look forward to supporting President Trump’s conservative justices,” she said.

In his introduction, Kemp described Loeffler as a “conservative businesswoman and political outsider.”

“Like our president, Kelly is ready to take on the status quo, the politically correct and the special interests,” Kemp said.  “She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken. She knows that we need to drain the swamp.”

Kemp picked Loeffler after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators. She was among the last to apply.

Kemp conceded that his approach was “unorthodox” but said he went into the search with “no favors to repay and no intention of making any backroom deals.”

Loeffler, 50, who had not previously sought elective office, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who, had he been appointed, would have become one of the president’s jurors in the looming Senate impeachment trial.

Kemp’s decision to choose Loeffler over Collins has been met with disdain by some of the president’s more vocal supporters, including Fox News host Sean Hannity, a one-time Atlantan who has been urging his followers to contact the governor to voice support for Collins.

Chief among the factors giving Trump supporters pause: In 2012, Loeffler gave $750,000 to a super PAC supporting the presidential candidacy of Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, who has been one of the few voices in the Senate to offer criticism of the president.

Kemp took Loeffler to the White House to meet Trump before he announced her as his pick, a meeting that was reportedly tense and brief.

Collins has said he might run for the Senate in the special election against Loeffler, a race that would pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

Loeffler is currently the chief executive officer of Bakkt, a bitcoin company that is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. She is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the founder and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange. The couple live in Tuxedo Park, one of Atlanta’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Isakson, 74, who has held the Senate seat since 2005, is retiring at the end of December due to health issues.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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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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Jeff Sessions wants his old job back as Alabama U.S. Senator

Sessions files to run in GOP primary to reclaim the seat he gave up to become Donald Trump’s attorney general

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — In 2017, Jeff Sessions gave up the U.S. Senate seat he had held for 20 years to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.

Now, after parting with the president on unhappy terms, Sessions wants that job back — but he’ll have to fight through Trump and a field of Alabama Republicans to get it.

Sessions, 72, who represented Alabama in the Senate from 1997 until 2017, announced November 7 that he will file the paperwork to run for his old seat, which is currently held by Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Jeff Sessions announces Senate run on Fox News

“It’s not ‘my seat’ in the Senate, but I believe I have something to give,” Sessions said during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show where he announced his Senate run. “I have some convictions that I think need to be pushed.”

“We need to get some of the Republicans moving. They haven’t been pushing hard enough to advance the Trump agenda,” he said.

Sessions also released a campaign ad which made it clear that he will try to run for the Senate as a pro-Trump candidate, despite his rocky tenure and messy split from the administration.

Watch Jeff Session’s campaign ad at the end of this story.

“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time,” Sessions said. “I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support.”

With Sessions in the race, the looming question is how loudly and often Trump might weigh in against a man he repeatedly dismissed as “weak” and disappointing before eventually firing him.

In the wake of Sessions’s interview with Carlson, Trump told reporters Friday that he has not decided whether to get involved in the race and that Sessions “said very nice things about me.” While not endorsing Sessions, he did not unload on him, either.

On Saturday, the president is visiting Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-LSU football game, putting the state’s Senate race top of mind, particularly for Sessions’s new primary rivals who may be vying for demonstrations of Trump’s favor.

Sessions’s last-minute decision to run — on the final day to file — shakes up a Republican primary race that had already attracted eight candidates, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne from Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill, and Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice who lost the seat to Jones in 2017 amid allegations of sexual conduct with underage girls.

Perhaps most affected is Byrne, who gave up his House seat to run for the Senate and could now end up out of office if he can’t beat Sessions, a proven vote-getter who has won five statewide races.

Byrne made it clear that Sessions’s fractured relationship with Trump will be part of the upcoming race.

“Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won’t run away and hide from the fight,” Byrne said on Twitter.

Tuberville made the same point, calling Sessions “a career politician” who “failed the President at his point of greatest need.”

“[President] Trump said it best when he called Jeff Sessions ‘a disaster’ as AG and an ’embarrassment to [Alabama],” Tuberville said on Twitter.

Trump forced Sessions out as attorney general in 2018 after criticizing him for months for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.  The president called Sessions “weak” and said he regretted elevating him to the post.

Sessions’s candidacy did draw a quick endorsement from Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who said Sessions would be “formidable candidate.”

“Jeff Sessions is a friend. I worked with him every day up here for 20 years,” Shelby said “He’s a man of integrity. Of course, he’ll have to run his own race, and that’s up to the people of Alabama.”

Sessions’s return is the latest twist in a topsy turvy political saga set off by his resignation to join Trump’s Cabinet.

Then-Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to the vacant seat. But when Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal, his successor, Governor Kay Ivey, ordered a special election to fill the vacancy, and Moore defeated Strange for the Republican nomination, despite Trump’s vocal support of Strange.

After Moore’s campaign imploded in scandal, Jones won a narrow victory, become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State in 25 years.

Trump weighed in on the race twice, first to try to help Strange beat Moore and then to try to help Moore beat Jones, neither of which worked.

If Jones loses, the new senator would be the fourth person in four years to hold the seat, in a state that previously had not had a Senate vacancy in 20 years.

Jones is considered to be the most endangered 2020 Senate Democrat, running in a state Trump carried by 28 points, but is likely to benefit from turmoil in the Republican primary.

Watch Jeff Session’s new campaign ad:

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Casting call: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp holding public auditions for U.S. Senate

Applicants include one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich’s daughter and a man who kills hogs for a living

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

Married white governor seeks senatorial companion who is interested but not too eager. Must enjoy gridlock and prickly egos. Prudes OK, but no Democrats. One-year commitment, may go longer if things work out.

OK, so Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp didn’t really place a personal ad to fill U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s soon-to-be vacant seat. But he did launch a process that perhaps unprecedented in Senate history — inviting any Georgian who is at least 30 years old (the constitutionally required age to be a senator) to apply for the job.

Clockwise from top left: Doug Colllins, Jan Jones, Tom Price, Martha Zoller

And apply they have — nearly 500 people have gone online and submitted their resumes, which have been posted on the governor’s website.

Kemp has not said when the application process will close, nor when he will name a replacement for Isakson, who is leaving at the end of the year due to ill health. The governor has also not committed himself to picking one of applicants.

It’s a good bet that the governor won’t bestow the prize on some of the more obscure candidates, including the front man for a band called Big Mike and the Booty Papas or the owner of a hog-killing business, who presumably knows a thing or two about pork-barrel politics.

A number of Democrats have also applied, bless their hearts, almost certainly to no avail.

Whoever is appointed will also have to hold the seat in a special election next year, which argues for a candidate who has the political and fundraising chops to win a statewide election on short notice. The winner in 2020 will also face election again in 2022, when Isakson’s term will be up.

Perhaps the most high-profile applicant is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who, as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has become one of the most zealous House defenders of President Donald Trump. None of the state’s other eight Republican House members has so far applied.

Another applicant with a Trump connection is Tom Price from Roswell, who left Congress in 2017 to become Trump’s health secretary, only to resign after less than seven months in office amid criticism of his high-flying travel practices.

Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, Randy Evans, a well-connected lawyer who has represented both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor Sonny Perdue, has also applied, as has Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Gingrich’s daughter who is (perhaps not coincidentally) also promoting a new book arguing for more civility in politics.

Also among the applicants are Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, two former House members who were defeated in the GOP primary the last time a Senate seat opened in Georgia in 2014. Kingston finished second in that race behind the eventual winner, U.S. Senator David Purdue; Broun finished fifth.

Another name to keep an eye on: Jack Markwalter, a politically connected Atlanta business executive who applied late in the process. While Markwalter has no political experience, his resume is very similar to that of Perdue, who came out of the business world to claim a Senate seat in 2014.

However, one salient demographic fact may shape the process — every previous U.S. Senator who has represented the Peach State in its long and illustrious history, save one, has been a white man, giving Kemp the opportunity to make history with his appointment. (The lone exception was Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was picked in 1922, at the age of 87, to serve just one day by a governor using the appointment to pique a political rival.)

Topping the list of female applicants is State Rep. Jan Jones from Milton, who as speaker pro tem, is the legislature’s highest-ranking Republican woman.

Another possibility is former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission who narrowly lost statewide races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. However, Handel has not applied, as she’s running to reclaim the House seat she lost in 2018.

While Handel has valuable statewide name recognition, her won-loss record in statewide races (one win, two losses)  and her 2018 defeat would likely give Kemp pause if he’s trying to pick someone who can hold the seat.

Another notable woman among the applicants is Martha Zoller, a former conservative talk show host from Gainesville who has worked as an adviser to both Perdue and Kemp. She lost a primary runoff to Collins in 2012.

Democrats have so far mostly held their fire on this race, waiting for Kemp’s appointment to be made before committing to running in the special election. The only Democrat who has jumped in so far is Mark Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.

Perdue’s term is also up in 2020, which means both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be on the ballot next year as Republicans try to preserve their three-seat majority.

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Democrat Jon Ossoff jumps into Georgia U.S. Senate race against David Perdue

Ossoff became a national political sensation in unsuccessful 2017 U.S. House race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Jon Ossoff, who raised and spent more than $30 million in an unsuccessful congressional bid in the wake of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, will return to the political stage to challenge Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in 2020.

Ossoff announced his run with a video on Twitter and local and national video appearances in which he cast himself as someone who will take on a “crisis of political corruption” in Washington.

Jon Ossoff on MSNBC

“[Perdue] is a guy who has not once in five years come down from his private island to hold a single public town hall,” Ossoff said in an interview on MSNBC. “He is a caricature of Washington corruption.”

Among the “corruption” Ossoff cited was the influence of money on politics, concentration of wealth and the refusal of Congress to pass gun control measures opposed by the National Rifle Association.

“We need now to mount an all-out attack on political corruption in America, or I’m not sure our democracy will survive, ” he said.

Ossoff’s decision gives Democrats a high-profile challenger with proven fundraising chops to run against Perdue as they try to overturn the GOP’s three-seat majority in the Senate.

He also got a quick endorsement from Georgia Democratic icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who in a statement said Ossoff’s 2017 campaign “sparked a flame that is burning brighter than ever, in Georgia and across the country.”

However, the National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly dismissed Ossoff as a “unaccomplished, far-left candidate” who “will stand in sharp contrast to David Perdue’s positive record of delivering results for all of Georgia.”

Ossoff, 32, is a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker. In 2017, shortly after Trump’s election, he ran for the 6th District U.S. House seat in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs, which turned into a high-octane relitigation of the presidential vote.

Although the 6th was long considered a safe Republican seat, Ossoff channeled national Democratic anger over 2016 into a fundraising behemoth, eventually raising and spending nearly $32 million to make the race competitive.

In the end, he lost by 3 points to Republican Karen Handel; however, Democrat Lucy McBath — running with the political infrastructure built by Ossoff’s campaign — defeated Handel in 2018.

With the retirement of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson at the end of this year, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in 2020.

Ossoff decided to pursue the Democratic nomination to oppose Perdue rather than running in an open contest for Isakson’s seat against candidates from both parties, likely including Isakson’s yet-to-be-announced temporary Republican replacement, who will be appointed by Governor Brian Kemp.

By choosing to run for Perdue’s seat, Ossoff will have to win a primary in which three other Democrats are already running. However, going after Isakson’s seat would have required him to defend it again in 2022 if he won it in 2020.

The last Democrat to win a Senate race in Georgia was the late Zell Miller in 2000.

Other Democrats in the race against Perdue include Sarah Riggs Amico, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018; Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

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Georgia Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson will resign at the end of the year

Decision means both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be up in 2020

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two days after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney, Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia has announced he will resign at the end of the year because due to poor health.

The decision means that both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be open in 2020, giving Republicans another seat to defend in as they try to maintain their three-seat majority in Congress’s upper chamber.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

Isakson, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease, underwent surgery on August 26 for removal of a renal carcinoma. In a statement announcing his resignation, he said, “I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff.”

“With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve,” he said. “It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”

Republican Governor Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement for Isakson to serve until a special election is held in November 2020 to fill the two years remaining on his Senate term.

The seat of the state’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, is also up for election in 2020, putting both seats on the ballot.

However, under state law, there will be no party primaries for Isakson’s seat. Candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

That last time that happened in Georgia, in 2017 in the 6th U.S. House district, it triggered a contentious nationalized race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff during which the candidates blew through $50 million. Handel won that race, although she lost the seat to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018.

One possible Democratic contender for Isakson’s seat, Stacey Abrams, the party’s unsuccessful candidate against Kemp in 2018, quickly announced that she would not be a candidate. She had earlier passed on challenging Perdue.

Isakson, 74, was first elected to the Senate in 2004 after losing campaigns for governor in 1990 and Senate in 1996. He was re-elected easily in 2010 and 2016, becoming the first Republican in state history to win three Senate elections.

His decision to retire brings to a close a storied career in Georgia GOP politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was among a small number of Republicans serving in the Democrat-dominated legislature, representing suburban Cobb County near Atlanta.

In 1990, Isakson gave up his legislative seat to run for governor against conservative Democrat Zell Miller, falling short but coming closer than any Republican had in decades — a portent of the rising fortunes for a GOP that now dominates state politics.

In 1999, Isakson was elected to the U.S. House to succeed former Speaker Newt Gingrich and went to the Senate five years later when Miller retired.

In 2013, Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but sought re-election in 2016 as he battled the illness. However, this summer he was seriously injured in a fall at his Washington home. After returning to Georgia for the congressional recess, he underwent surgery to remove what his office described as “a 2-centimeter renal cell carcinoma” from his kidney.

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Chasing Cornyn: Gaggle of Democrats vie to take on Texas’s senior U.S. senator

Wild card in Democratic primary remains Beto O’Rourke, although window to switch to Senate race may be running out

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — As he faces re-election in 2020, Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn can boast of nearly two decades of experience; he has more than $9 million tucked away in his campaign coffers, with millions more on the way; and he represents a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the days of Ronald Reagan.

And yet, Democrats are falling all over themselves to get into what appears to be, at least on paper, an enterprise with dubious chance of success.

Nine Democrats are already running, with a little more than three months to go before the filing deadline. And the question mark hanging over their primary is whether former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will abandon his campaign for president and return to the Lone Star Star state to try once again for the job that eluded him in 2018.

Indeed, it was O’Rourke’s 2018 race that has inspired the Democratic energy now aimed at Cornyn. O’Rourke didn’t beat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, but he came closer than any Democrat since the late Lloyd Bentsen won in 1988. After getting kicked in the teeth in statewide races for 20 years, Democrats have seized on that result as a sign of happier days ahead.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

However, there are some shadows over such a sunny assessment. For one thing, Cornyn is much less polarizing than Cruz and has a higher net approval rating. The vaunted “blue wave” — which, in the end, was unable to carry O’Rourke to victory — is unlikely to be replicated in an election with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, in a state where his approval ratings are better than they are nationally. And the Democrats will have to slog through a competitive primary, which was a hurdle O’Rourke didn’t face.

O’Rourke and his campaign team insist, with some vehemence, that he will stay in the presidential race and has no interest in switching to the Senate. And even if he were inclined to change his mind, his time may be running out.

Texas has an unusually early primary, in March 2020; the filing deadline is in December 2019, well before O’Rourke will know how he fares in Iowa or New Hampshire. Just six months remain to put together a credible campaign in the nation’s second-most populous state, and it is unlikely that the other Democrats in the race are going to abandon their campaigns to accommodate a failed presidential candidate settling for his second choice.

The candidate in the Democratic race who is perhaps the most O’Rourke-like is MJ Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force fighter pilot. Like O’Rourke, she excited the Democratic grassroots during 2018 with what was ultimately a losing campaign for a U.S. House seat in suburban Austin, and she got into the Senate race after O’Rourke decided to make a White House run instead of taking on Cornyn.

Hegar is the only Democrat who was in the race and raising money during the first half of 2019. According to Federal Elections Commission reports, she raised just over $1 million — about one-tenth of Cornyn’s haul over the same period.

The Democrat chasing Cornyn with the most robust political pedigree is State Senator Royce West, 66, who has represented a metro Dallas district for more than 25 years and is among the state’s most prominent African American leaders.

State senators in Texas actually represent more people that members of the U.S. House, giving him a strong geographical base, and the state now has the largest African-American population of any state, at more than 3.8 million.

The decision by West — a veteran lawmaker not given to tilting at political windmills — to challenge Cornyn was seen as an indication of Cornyn’s perceived vulnerability. However, West doesn’t have to give up his seat in Austin to run.

African Americans and Latinos together make up a majority of Texas Democratic voters, which is reflected in the Senate primary field, where seven of the nine candidates come from those two communities.

Three African-American candidates are running in addition to West, including Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. The race has also drawn three Latino candidates, including Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, 36, a Latina community activist who founded the civil rights group Jolt Texas.

Rounding out the top tier of candidates is Chris Bell, a former congressman from Houston who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.

Geography also plays a role in Texas politics. West has the Dallas lane mostly to himself; Bell and Edwards will compete in Houston, and Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez are both based in Austin.

Fundraising totals for the third quarter, due in October, should provide more clarity about which of these candidates are actually going to be viable. But none of them are going to come anywhere close to the $80 million O’Rourke raised in 2018, for a race he didn’t win.

Cornyn has not drawn a primary opponent, which will allow him to aim all of his financial firepower at whomever survives on the Democratic side

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