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Texas U.S. Senate debate: Cruz, O’Rourke clash on immigration, energy policy, taxes and Trump

Final face-off comes with President Donald Trump poised to head to Texas to campaign for Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Watch full debate on Twitter

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Meeting to face-to-face for the second and likely last time, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sparred over immigration and border security, energy, health care, abortion, tax cuts and, no surprise, President Donald Trump, who is about to bring his rally roadshow to Texas on Cruz’s behalf.

O’Rourke and Cruz meet in Oct. 16 debate (Courtesy KENS)

Throughout the October 16 debate in San Antonio, Cruz painted O’Rourke as an extremist beholden to “left-wing national activists” who supports “socialized medicine” and whose views are out of step with most conservative Texans.

O’Rourke, in turn, accused Cruz of being “all talk and no action” and more interested in his national political ambitions and the welfare of corporate interests than representing the people of his state in the Senate.

The sharpest exchanges came when Cruz charged that O’Rourke had voted for a $10-a-barrel tax on oil, which he said would negatively impact the state’s oil and gas industry, and the congressman insisted that the senator was mischaracterizing his record.

“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted’ and why that stuck.”

Cruz fired back with a quote from John Adams that “facts are stubborn things” and said he would post proof of O’Rourke’s oil tax vote on his website.

“If you work in oil and gas, Congressman O’Rourke’s record on this is extreme,” Cruz said.

Cruz also said O’Rourke, if elected, would push for Trump’s impeachment, which he said would lead to a “partisan circus” that would create chaos in Congress and stymie action on other issues.

O’Rourke shot back that it was “really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the United States Senate.”

Cruz also touted his work on the tax cut bill recently passed by Congress, saying it had brought marked improvement to the Lone Star State’s economy.

“Texas is booming. We’ve got the lowest unemployment we’ve had in 49 years,” he said. “We’re seeing record growth.”

But O’Rourke, who opposed the tax cut plan, said it would add $2 trillion to the deficit. He said he supported a partial raise in the corporate tax rate, which could be used to improve universal access to health care through expanded access Medicare and Medicaid.

Cruz dismissed O’Rourke’s health care plan as “socialized medicine” and said income tax rates would have to be tripled  to pay for it. He also noted his consistent support for repeal of Obamacare, although he pushed back when O’Rourke charged that he wanted to take away coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions mandated in the current health care law.

On abortion, Cruz said O’Rourke was on “extreme pro-abortion side” by not supporting restrictions on late-term abortions and supporting taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid. He also said the congressman would push for confirmation of “left-wing judicial activists who impose their own policy positions from the bench” on issues such as abortion and gun control.

O’Rourke did not back away from his support for legal abortion, telling the debate audience that would only vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who will support a woman’s right “to make her own decisions about her own body.”

The candidates also differed on Trump’s proposed physical border wall on the U.S-Mexico border, with Cruz in support and O’Rourke in opposition.

“No wall is going to solve legitimate security concerns,” O’Rourke said, calling for increased spending on customs infrastructure to improve the flow of goods and people across the border.

Cruz responded that O’Rourke “not only opposes a wall … he wants to tear down the ones we have.”

The candidates’ second encounter in San Antonio is the last scheduled debate between them before the November 6 election.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised a staggering $51 million for the race, including $38 million in the last quarter, which set an all-time quarterly record for fundraising by a Senate candidate. Cruz has so far raised $35 million for the entire race.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. A Democrat has not won a Senate race since 1988; Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

The last five public polls in the race have shown Cruz with a lead, but none of those leads have been outside the poll’s margin of error, which indicates that the race is still too close to definitively say either man has a lead.

Despite an often contentious relationship between Cruz and Trump during the 2016 presidential race, the White House has announced that the president will travel to Houston on October 22 for a campaign rally with the senator.

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Blackburn, Bredesen clash over immigration, guns and Kavanaugh in U.S. Senate debate

Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Click photo to watch full debate (Courtesy: Nexstar Broadcasting)

KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.

Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.

Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”

“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”

Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”

“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.

The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.

“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”

Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.

“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”

Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”

“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”

At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”

On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”

“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.

But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.

“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”

Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.

“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.

But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”

“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.

Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.

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Taylor Swift sends bad blood Blackburn’s way in Tennessee U.S. Senate race; GOP shakes it off

Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.

Taylor Swift

“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”

“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.

President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”

“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.

Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.

Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.

She did not mention the Democratic candidate for governor, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is running against Republican businessman Bill Lee.

Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”

In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”

Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.

Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.

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Phil Bredensen says he won’t support Chuck Schumer for Democratic leader if elected

Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat makes announcement during debate with Republican rival

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Former Governor Phil Bredesen has announced that if elected to Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, he will not support Chuck Schumer of New York to continue as his party’s Senate leader.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen, locked in a close race with Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, told the audience at a September 25 debate that he thinks Congress needs “new leadership.”

“I think a lot of the problem in Washington is with the leadership that we have there now. Whether it be (House Speaker Paul) Ryan or (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi or (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell or Schumer, they’re not doing the job,” Bredensen said.

Bredensen took specific issue with charges by Blackburn and other Republicans claiming that he would be a rubber stamp for the current Senate Democratic leader.

“You’ve heard a lot recently of this campaign about me, about these crazy ideas about if somehow I’m elected and go to Washington, suddenly I’m going to turn my back on a whole lifetime of thinking for myself and being independent and suddenly become some kind of a political lackey,” Bredesen said. “That’s not going to happen.”

But Blackburn continued to press the line of attack, saying Bredensen’s campaign had been “bought and paid for” by Schumer.

“We all know that Phil had a choice. He could have run as a Republican or independent,” she said. “He’s running as a Democrat, so he will be with Chuck Schumer if he were to go to Washington.”

Bredesen, a former two-term governor, is trying to become the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Volunteer State since 1990. The four most recent public polls have shown the race within the margin of error, indicating the closeness of the race.

The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

Bredesen’s stance on Schumer’s tenure is unlikely to threaten the New Yorker’s grip on the Democratic leadership, which requires support from a majority of the Democratic caucus in a non-public vote. Only one other Democratic Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, has come out against Schumer.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats in the Senate to take control, which would make Schumer majority leader. Four GOP-held seats being targeted include Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Watch the full Bredesen-Blackburn debate:

Poll: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke

New Quinnipiac survey finds Cruz up by 9 points, more than the margin of error

AUSTIN (CFP) — On the eve of the first debate in the Texas U.S. Senate contest, a new poll of likely voters shows that Democratic hopes — and Republican fears — of a competitive race this November may be overblown.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

A Quinnipiac University poll, released Sept. 18, found that Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had a lead of 54 to 45 percent over his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke , a statistically significant lead in a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

An August poll by Quinnipiac had found Cruz’s lead within the margin of error and his support under 50 percent. However, that was a survey of registered voters, rather than likely voters; likely voter polls are designed to weed out respondents who are unlikely to vote.

The poll found that women and voters who classify themselves as independents were evenly divided between the two candidates. But men favored Cruz by 15 points, and he led by 34 points among white voters.

O’Rourke’s support is stronger among Latinos, where he leads Cruz by 9 points, and among African Americans, where he leads by 94 points.

The biggest hurdle for O’Rourke may be that Cruz is viewed favorably by most likely voters in Texas, with 53 percent approving of his job performance, according to the poll.

His approval numbers are better than those for President Donald Trump, who is viewed favorably and unfavorably by 49 percent.

Cruz and O’Rourke are scheduled to meet in their first debate on Friday, Sept. 20.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised $23.6 million for the race, according to the latest Federal Elections Commission reports, slightly more than Cruz. The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

Despite an often contentious relationship during the 2016 presidential race, Trump has announced that he would be “picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find” for a rally for Cruz in October. No date has been announced.

The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.

Four of those races are shaping up to be potentially competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats to take control of the Senate.

Florida Primary: DeSantis wins GOP governor’s nod; Gillum is surprise winner among Democrats

Three Democratic U.S. House incumbents survive; Donna Shalala wins race for Miami seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — November’s election for Florida governor will pit a Donald Trump acolyte against a Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat trying to become the first African-American ever elected to lead the Sunshine State.

In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily defeated State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who started the campaign as the front-runner but saw his chances fade after DeSantis got Trump’s endorsement.

But the biggest surprise of the August 28 vote came on the Democratic side, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from behind to defeat two self-funding millionaires and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who comes from a prominent Florida political family.

Meanwhile, three Democratic incumbent U.S. House members who faced primary challenges survived, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who easily defeated former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand trying to make a political comeback.

Also, Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, won her primary in a GOP-held district likely to flip in November.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

In the Republican race for governor, DeSantis, 39, from Palm Coast, beat Putnam by 20 points, carrying all of the state’s large cities.

“I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here as long as we have the courage to lead,” he told supporters at a victory party in Orlando. “And I pledge to you as governor to work my but off to accomplish great things for this state.”

DeSantis also offered his thanks to Trump “for viewing me as someone who can be a great leader for Florida.”

The result was a significant stumble for Putnam, 44, who spent 10 years in Congress and two terms as agriculture commission with his eye on the governor’s mansion.

Putnam

Speaking to supporters in Lakeland, Putnam said he would do “any and everything we can” to help DeSantis win in November.

“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help,” Putnam said.

On the Democratic side, Gillum, who was vastly outspent and did not lead in a single public pre-election poll, took 34 percent to 31 percent for Graham. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine came in at 20 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 10 percent.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so Gillum won the nomination without a runoff.

Combined, Levine and Greene put more than $20 million of their own money into the race, to no avail.

Gillum was outspent by all of his major competitors, although he did get an infusion of cash near the end of the campaign from liberal megadonorrs George Soros and Tom Steyer. He was also endorsed by Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who ran an insurgent presidential campaign in 2016.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum

“There were just a few people who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told cheering supporters in Tallahassee. “And then there were a few more who believed this day was possible.”

“This thing is not about me. It never has been. It never will be,” he said. “This race is about every single one of you.”

Gillum’s victory upsets the political equation on both sides. Democrats had been hoping for a DeSantis win, seeing him as a weaker candidate against Graham, who had a moderate record during her one term in Congress. Now, both campaigns will have to adapt to a race pitting the most conservative candidate in the race against the most liberal.

Gillum is also the first African American candidate in either party to win a gubernatorial nomination in Florida and would become the state’s first black governor if he beats DeSantis in November.

One cloud on the horizon for Gillum is an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government. He has insisted that he is not implicated in the probe, although photographs have surfaced of the mayor traveling with two FBI agents who were working undercover.

Gillum, like DeSantis, won all of the state’s major cities. The key to his victory was a collapse in Graham’s vote in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she didn’t break 20 percent.

Graham

Speaking to her supporters in Orlando, Graham pledged her support to Gillum, relating a phone call she had with the primary winner.

“I said, ‘Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing because this is too important to the state of Florida,” said Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.

In the U.S. Senate race, both Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott easily won their party’s nominations for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

In U.S. House races, three Democratic incumbents also easily turned back primary challengers.

In the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee took 60 percent of the vote to defeat former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Soto easily dispatched Grayson, 66 percent to 44 percent. Grayson was trying to make a comeback after giving up the seat in 2016 to make an ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy crushed Chardo Richardson, an attorney who was running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, taking 86 percent of the vote.

Tuesday’s primaries also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House.

In the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, Shalala, a Clinton cabinet secretary and former president of the University of Miami, took the first step in her quest to launch a political career at age 77, winning with 32 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates.

She will face Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV news anchor, who won the GOP race with 41 percent of the vote.

The district, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by nearly 20 points in 2016, making this one of the Democrats best pickup opportunities nationally.

However, the population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. Salazar is a Cuban-American born in Miami; Shalala, of Lebanese descent, was born in Ohio and moved to Miami in 2001.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. He will face Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer who easily won his party’s nomination.

Shapiro has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports. However, Buchanan has raised $2.2 million.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, the Democratic nominee will be Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She will now take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats chose Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, to face Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Republicans also picked nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, Republicans chose Mike Waltz, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In November, he will face Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Bill Clinton aide who served as deputy U.N. ambassador.

In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, State Rep. Ross Spano won the Republican nomination and will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson, former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus.

And the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, Republicans chose State Senator Craig Steube, while Democrats chose April Freeman, a TV producer and political consultant from Cape Coral.

Southern primary season concludes with contests in Florida, Oklahoma

Wide-open governor’s races top ballot in Florida; Republicans pick governor nominee in Oklahoma

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — The Southern primary season draws to a close Tuesday with competitive races in both parties for Florida’s open governor’s seat and a runoff for Oklahoma Republicans to pick their gubernatorial nominee.

Adam Putnam

Ron DeSantis

The marquee race in Florida is the GOP contest for governor between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who carries the imprimatur of President Donald Trump, and State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was considered the front-runner in the GOP race until DeSantis announced his run in January and got Trump’s endorsement.

The Democratic race for governor features a three-candidate battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from Tallahassee, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so the first-place finisher on Tuesday will get the nomination.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott are expected to easily win their party’s nomination for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

Also in Florida, three sitting Democratic U.S. House members are trying to survive primary challenges, while Republicans will pick their nominees for three open GOP-leaning seats.

Tuesday’s primaries will also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House, including in the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, where Donna Shalala, President Clinton’s health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to launch a political career at age 77.

In Oklahoma, the GOP runoff pits former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett against Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt. The winner will face Democratic former Attorney General Drew Edmonson in the fall to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon.

Kevin Stitt

Mick Cornett

Cornett came out on top during the first round of voting in June, although he carried just 29 percent of the vote. However, more recent public polling has shown Stitt, making his first bid for public office, with the lead.

Stitt ran on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City, a message that resonated in the wake of a teachers’ strike in April that shuttered classrooms and roiled state politics. His campaign has surged after he poured in more than $3 million of his own money.

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.

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.

In Florida U.S. House races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is trying to turn back a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Two years ago, Lawson, from Tallahassee, ousted former U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown after she was indicted on corruption charges. Brown is now trying to return the favor and bring the seat back to Jacksonville, which is the largest population center in the district.

Lawson has criticized Alvin Brown for his past association with Corinne Brown (no relation), who is now serving a federal prison sentence.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is being challenged by former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand who held the seat until giving it up in 2016 to make an ill-fated U.S. Senate run.

In an illustration of how much Grayson’s former colleagues don’t relish his attempted comeback, all 10 Democratic House members representing Florida districts have endorsed Soto, along with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Soto, the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to represent the Sunshine State in Congress, will also benefit from a growing number of Puerto Ricans who have settled in Central Florida since the island was hit by economic problems and Hurricane Maria.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is facing a primary challenge from Chardo Richardson, an attorney who is running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, who flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic hands in 2016.

Florida Democrats are also picking nominees in four Republican-held districts that they hope to flip in November.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay area, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. But Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer, has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports.

Shapiro is facing Jan Schneider, an attorney who holds a Ph.D. in political science, in the Democratic contest.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, two Democrats are competing to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens, who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, is facing Pam Keith, an attorney and U.S. Navy veteran. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has picked sides in this race by supporting Baer, who has raised three times as much money as Keith.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats are going after Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who has been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Two Democratic political newcomers are competing to face Curbelo: Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, and Demetrius Grimes, a retired Navy commander. Murcasel-Powell holds a wide fundraising advantage in the primary, having taken in $1.9 million, although Curbelo has raised twice that amount.

The seat in the 27th District, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. This district, where Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 points, is considered to be perhaps the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity nationally.

Five Democrats are running, with Shalala the biggest name on the Democratic side. However, she has been outraised by one of her rivals, State Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, who is the first openly gay man elected to Florida’s legislature. Matt Haggman, a foundation executive and former journalist from Coconut Grove, has also raised more than $1 million for the race.

On the Republican side, leading candidates include Maria Elvira Salazar, a Spanish-language TV news anchor; Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro; and Michael Ohevzion, a businessman and Brazilian immigrant.

The population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. However, none of the leading Democrats are Latino, while all of the leading Republicans are.

Republicans are also picking nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, three Republicans and three Democrats are running. In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, five Republicans and three Democrats are fighting for nominations.

In the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, three Republicans and two Democrats are running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney.

 

 

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