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Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville running for U.S. Senate

Tuberville gives Trump a shout out in his announcement; Sean Spicer reportedly set to work in his campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville has announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in football-happy Alabama in 2020.

U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville

“After more than a year of listening to Alabama’s citizens, I have heard your concerns and hopes for a better tomorrow,” he said in a brief statement posted on a new campaign website and on Twitter. “I am humbled to announce the next step — I will be a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.”

In his tweet, Tuberville used the hashtag #MAGA, President Donald Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again.”

Politico reported the Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, plans to work for Tuberville’s campaign.

Tuberville, 64, coached Auburn for nine seasons from 1999 to 2008, ending with an 85-40 record. He won  an SEC championship in 2004, when his team went undefeated but wasn’t invited to play in the national championship game.

Among Tuberville’s biggest achievements at Auburn — beating in-state rival Alabama six straight times. Now, he’ll need to appeal to those same rabid Alabama fans to make his political dreams come true.

The man now sitting in the Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones, is an Alabama graduate.

Tuberville will face U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who went to law school at Alabama, in the Republican primary next year.

At least two other GOP candidates, State Auditor Jim Zeigler and State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, are also looking at the race.

Jones won the Senate seat in a special election in 2017 after the campaign of Republican Roy Moore imploded amid allegations of sexual contact with underage girls.

Given Alabama’s strong Republican tilt, Jones is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic senator facing re-election in 2020.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham launches re-election bid with full-throated embrace of Donald Trump

Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Carolina for 2020 campaign kickoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has become one of President Donald Trump’s most vigorous and unlikely defenders in the Senate. And now, he’s reaping the rewards.

Graham officially launched his 2020 re-election bid on March 30 with Vice President Mike Pence by his side at stops in Myrtle Beach and Greenville. And Pence brought greetings from the commander-in-chief.

“South Carolina and America need Lindsey Graham in the United States Senate, and I’m not the only one who thinks that where I work,” Pence told a rally in Greenville. “We’re standing next to this man because of the way he stood next to us.”

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham campaign in Greenville (From WSPA via YouTube)

Graham also put his relationship with Trump front-and-center in his re-election campaign.

“Purpose No. 1 is to help President Trump in his second term, to be an ally of this president who has kept his word, who is making America great again and will continue to do so,” Graham said. “I want to help him because I believe in what he’s doing.”

It was not always thus. During the 2016 campaign, when he was running against Trump for president, Graham called him a “kook” who was “unfit for office.” In the general election, he voted for third-party candidate Evan McMullin, rather than embracing his party’s nominee — and openly admitted his apostasy to the press.

Graham had long been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, the polar opposite of Trump’s stance on immigration policy. And his closest friend in the Senate was the late John McCain, Trump’s most persistent Senate critic.

But over the last year, Graham and Trump have warmed to each other, frequently playing golf together, and his previous criticism has been replaced with praise. And he has sided with the president in some very visible fights, most notably his defense of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I’ve come to find common ground with him,” Graham said of Trump in Greenville. “I like him, and he likes him, and that seems to be working for both of us.”

“Every day with President Trump is like Christmas. You don’t know what’s under the tree, but you know there’s something under it,” Graham said. “Some days it’s a good shotgun you’ve been wanting, and other days it’s a sweater. But it all works.”

Graham, 63, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is seeking his fourth term in the Senate in 2020. In his last two campaigns in 2008 and 2014, he faced primary challenges from opponents on the right who criticized him for being insufficiently conservative, particularly on the immigration issue.

Graham won both of those primaries, but in 2014 was held to 56 percent of the vote, not the strongest of showings for an incumbent senator.

If Graham needed a lesson in the perils of getting sideways with the president’s followers, it came last summer when then-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a Trump critic who represented the Lowcountry in Congress, was bounced in a Republican primary in which the president endorsed his opponent.

Having Trump on side in 2020 will make it much more difficult for successful challenge to Graham from within the party.

Graham has already drawn three Republican challengers, but none of them are well known and are unlikely to be a threat.

In his three previous Senate elections, Graham won the general election easily in a state where Republicans are dominant. But he could face a Democratic challenge in 2020 from Jamie Harrison, a Columbia attorney and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who has formed an exploratory committee for the 2020 race.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Palmetto State since 1998.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne first to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in 2020

Byrne’s past criticism of President Donald Trump could become an issue in the GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff. Video below story.

MOBILE (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne has become the first Republican to enter the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama, drawing a contrast between what he called “bedrock” Alabama values and the priorities of Washington — and between his positions and those of the  Democrat now holding the seat, Doug Jones.

“Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there,” Byrne said at his campaign kickoff February 20 at an oyster house in Mobile. “Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne kicks off Senate campaign in Mobile (From WKRG via YouTube)

Byrne drew a contrast with Jones over his opposition to Brent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, his stand in favor of legal abortion, and his opposition to the president’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When the people we charge with patrolling our Southern border, with protecting you and me, tell us we need to build some more border wall, we build a border wall,” Byrne said, to applause from his supporters.

Byrne also warned his supporters that “the people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it, and they will stop at nothing.”

Byrne, 64, from Baldwin County just across the bay from Mobile, was elected to Alabama’s 1st District U.S. House seat in a 2013 special election and has won re-election easily three times. He had previously served in the State Senate and as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

While Byrne offered full-throated support of Trump in his campaign kickoff, his previous comments about the president could come back to haunt him in a Republican primary in a state where the president remains popular.

During the 2016 campaign, after a video surfaced in which Trump was heard describing how he groped women’s genitals, Byrne withdrew his endorsement and called on Trump to exit the race, saying he could not defeat Hillary Clinton. However, he later made it clear that he did not support Clinton and would vote for the Republican ticket.

Byrne was joined by two of his House colleagues from Alabama, Martha Roby and Mo Brooks, in criticizing Trump during the campaign — and both of them discovered, as Byrne might, the political consequences of running afoul of the Trump faithful.

Brooks came in third place in the Republican primary in a 2017 special election to fill the Senate seat Jones now holds against two candidates who criticized him for his comments about Trump. Roby was forced into a primary runoff in 2018 for the same reason, although she survived.

Jones, 64, won a special election to the Senate in 2017 after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls, allegations which Moore denied. Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2020, in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 28 points.

During his time in the Senate, Jones has not tried to tack to the right to appeal to Alabama’s conservative electorate. He has supported the Democratic leadership on key votes, which included voting against the Republican tax cut plan and the Kavanaugh nomination, and he also supports same-sex marriage and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants.

Jones ended 2018 with $2.1 million in cash on hand for the 2020 race, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Given Jones perceived vulnerability, the race is expected to draw an number of Republican challengers into the primary with Byrne. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has formed an exploratory committee, and others considering the race are U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover and State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh from Anniston.

The Senate race in Alabama is one of 13 Southern Senate races in 2020. Only two of those seats are held by Democrats, Jones and Virginia’s Mark Warner.

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Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff:

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander will retire in 2020

Decision sets up a open Senate race in Tennessee for the second election cycle in a row

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, bringing down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and setting up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state,” Alexander said in a statement announcing his retirement. ” I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.”

“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”

Alexander’s decision means that Tennessee will have an open Senate contest for the second election cycle in a row. His longtime seatmate, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, did not seek re-election this year.

The contest will likely draw a large field, particularly on the Republican side. Among candidates being mentioned are outgoing Republican Governor Bill Haslam and two unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor in 2018, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and Randy Boyd.

Given the result of the 2018 Senate election — which Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won by 11 points — the GOP candidate will be heavily favored. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990.

Alexander, 78, is serving his third term in the Senate and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he has been a key player in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Alexander’s service in political office began in 1978, when he was elected governor on his second try. During that campaign, he walked more than 1,000 miles across the entire length of Tennessee to meet voters, wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt that became his trademark.

After leaving the governorship in 1987, Alexander became president of the University of Tennessee, a post he left in 1991 when he was named education secretary by President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Senate and was easily re-elected in 2008 and 2014.

He is the only Tennessean ever elected as both governor and senator, and his 2008 vote total — 1.58 million votes — still stands the largest ever recorded by a statewide candidate.

In the Senate, Alexander had a conservative voting record but was also willing to work with Democratic colleagues on bipartisan measures. He drew a Tea Party challenger in his primary in 2014, Joe Carr, but won easily after getting the backing of the entire state GOP establishment.

Unlike Corker, Alexander has not been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, although he did publicly criticize the president’s executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries and opposed a program to separate migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alexander is also a trained pianist who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Tennessee seat will be one of 12 Southern Senate seats open in 2020, 10 of which are held by Republicans. Alexander is so far the only Southern incumbent to announce his retirement.

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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.

No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.

In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.

In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.

In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.

In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.

The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.

So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.

If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.

Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.

Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.

Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.

Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.

That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?

Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.

The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.

Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.

If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.

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Decision ’18: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith wins special election runoff in Mississippi

Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat in April, defeats Democrat Mike Espy

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith

With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.

“The reason we won is because Mississippians know me and they know my heart,” Hyde-Smith told supporters in Jackson. “This victory, it’s about our conservative values.”

In his concession speech at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Espy told supports that his showing — the best by a Democrat in a Senate race in the state in 30 years — was “the beginning, not the end” of efforts to change Mississippi’s politics.

“When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” he said.

Hyde-Smith and Espy were facing in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters picked a permanent replacement in the special election.

During both the primary and special election, Hyde-Smith enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who tweeted on her behalf and made two appearances in the state on the day before the runoff vote.

Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.

Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993.

During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.

Given the state’s overwhelming Republican tilt, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate. However, she became ensnared in a series of controversies during the runoff campaign that gave Democrats hope for an upset.

Five days after the first election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.

During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.

“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.

Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.

Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting on a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is seen donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle while visiting Jefferson Davis’s home in Biloxi.

The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools.

Hyde-Smith’s campaign accused news organizations of practicing “gotcha” journalism in an attempt to paint her as a racist. But the controversies put race front and center in the campaign, in the state with the largest African-American population in the country.

The election results illustrated those racial divisions. Espy easily carried Jackson and the majority African-American counties in the Mississippi Delta; Hyde-Smith won lopsided victories in majority white areas — up to 80 percent in some counties in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.

With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans will hold 24 out of the 28 Senate seats in the South, to just four Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.

Only one Senate seat changed hands in 2018 — in Florida, where Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.

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RACE CALLED: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith re-elected in Mississippi; REP HOLD

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