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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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Democrats taunt Mitch McConnell with Russia signs, chants at Kentucky political picnic

Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.

Robert Kellums lampoons Mitch McConnell at Fancy Farm picnic

Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.

A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.

Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.

“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”

McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”

Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”

“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”

McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.

McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”

McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.

McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.

The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.

The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.

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Democrats taunt Mitch McConnell with Russia chants at Kentucky political picnic

Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.

Robert Kellums lampoons Mitch McConnell at Fancy Farm picnic

Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.

A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.

Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.

“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”

McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”

Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”

“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”

McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.

McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”

McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.

McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.

The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.

The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.

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McBattle 2020: Amy McGrath will run against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

Race pits retired Marine fighter pilot with fundraising chops against the most powerful Republican in Congress

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON (CFP) — After nearly unseating a sitting Republican congressman in 2018, Democrat Amy McGrath has set her sights on a much bigger target in 2020 — the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The retired Marine fighter pilot announced July 9 that she will challenge McConnell next year, setting the stage for a marquee Senate battle with national implications that will submerge 4.5 million Kentuckians in a sea of negative advertising.

McGrath announces Senate race on Twitter

McGrath pulled no punches in her opening campaign video, saying the senator “was elected a lifetime ago and has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise … a place where ideals go to die.”

“There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass, where each of us is heard,” she said. “But to do that, we have to win this.”

McConnell’s campaign responded in kind, launching a website. “WrongPathMcGrath.com,” and posting a video on Twitter featuring comments McGrath made in her 2018 race, including saying that “I am further left, more progressive than anybody in Kentucky” and comparing her feelings after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to how she felt after seeing the towers fall on  9/11.

“Welcome to the race, Amy,” read the McConnell campaign’s tweet atop the video.

McGrath’s decision to take on McConnell was a win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democratic leaders who had been recruiting her for the race. But she will face the most formidable force in Kentucky and national politics, who easily swatted away both primary and general election challenges in 2014.

McGrath, 44, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine fighter pilot. After retiring in 2017, she returned to Kentucky to seek the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.

She raised more than $8.6 million for that race, thanks in part to a video about her life story that went viral, and dispatched a better-known candidate in the Democratic primary before losing to Barr in November by less than 10,000 votes.

Her decision to run for the Senate is good news for Barr, who won’t face a rematch. He has yet to draw another major Democratic challenger.

McConnell, 77, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate; when he was first elected in 1984, McGrath was just 9 years old. He has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and became majority leader in 2015 after the GOP took control.

McConnell, a frequent object of wrath from Trump partisans and some Tea Party groups, has drawn a GOP primary challenge from former State Rep. Wesley Morgan, from Richmond, who has said McConnell “embodies everything that is perverted in Washington D.C.”

However, it is unlikely Morgan — who endorsed a Democrat for his House seat after losing a Republican primary in 2018 — will be able to mount a substantial primary challenge against McConnell, who in 2014 swatted away a much more serious challenge from now-Governor Matt Bevin.

In 2014, Democrats had high hopes of unseating McConnell with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But in the end, McConnell won by 15 points.

Given McConnell’s stature and McGrath’s fundraising prowess, the 2020 race is likely to feature an avalanche of outside advertising in a small state with just two large urban areas and four television markets.

In 2014, McConnell and Grimes spent a combined $50 million, or about $11 for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. And those figures don’t include spending by outside groups.

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Former GOP U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor will try to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner

Taylor enters Senate race amid criminal investigation of his 2018 House race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Click here to watch full Taylor announcement video

VIRGINIA BEACH (CFP) — Just six months after being ejected from Congress by voters, former U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor has announced he will try to make a comeback by running against Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner in 2020.

“There is a leadership crisis in Virginia,” Taylor said in a YouTube video posted July 8 announcing his candidacy. “Washington is broken, and we need a fresh start in the Senate.”

Virginia GOP U.S. Senate candidate Scott Taylor

Taylor’s announcement, which didn’t mention Warner by name, was heavy on biography, particularly his service as a Navy SEAL and his single term in House. He said he was running “for the disadvantaged, for those stuck and those left behind.”

The video also didn’t mention his unsuccessful 2018 re-election campaign, which was rocked by charges that Taylor operatives were behind a sham independent candidate designed to draw votes away from his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria.

Taylor has insisted he knew nothing about efforts to forge petition signatures to get independent Shaun Brown on the ballot. A special prosecutor is still investigating the case, and a Taylor campaign operative has been indicted for election fraud.

Luria defeated Taylor in southeastern Virginia’s 2nd District by just 6,100 votes, one of three House seats in the Old Dominion that flipped to the Democrats.

Taylor told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that he considered a rematch against Luria but decided the Senate seat would be “the best position where I can get things done.”

Warner’s campaign welcomed Taylor to the race by noting that he was an “experienced campaigner” who had “run or explored running for five different offices in the past decade.”

Taylor, 40, spent eight years as a SEAL, including service as a sniper in Iraq. He lost races for Virginia Beach mayor and the U.S. House before finally winning a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013. He was elected to Congress in 2016.

Warner, 64, is seeking his third term in the Senate after a term as governor. He is currently the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating links between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Taylor hit Warner for being “a false prophet of Russia propaganda and the illusion of collusion.” However, he could have his own issues with the president’s fervent base voters after publicly blaming Trump’s “divisive rhetoric” for the GOP’s loss of the House in 2018.

Given Virginia’s recent Democratic tilt, Warner starts the race as the favorite. However, he had a surprisingly close call in 2014 when he defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by less than 20,000 votes, in a race that had not been on anyone’s radar screen.

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