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Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation

Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.

Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.

In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”

Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.

“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”

The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.

In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”

Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.

“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.

Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”

“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”

Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.

The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave

The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.

But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.

Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”

“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”

Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart,  House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.

If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.

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Meltdown in Richmond: 3 top Virginia Democrats all snared in crises over conduct

Woman claims lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her; attorney general admits to wearing blackface

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — The turmoil in the top echelons of Virginia politics took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a women publicly accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a teen, echoing a controversy already swirling around Governor Ralph Northam.

A little more than a year after Democrats swept to victory in all three statewide races, party leaders are reeling, as their three top state officeholders battle for political survival.

With Northam under pressure to resign, Fairfax and Herring are next in the line of succession to the governorship. Should all three be forced to depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

The most serious charges have been raised against Fairfax, 39, a rising star in Democratic politics who was elected to lieutenant governor in 2017.

Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor in California, released a statement putting on the record her allegations against Fairfax, which were first published on a conservative website, Big League Politics, based on a private Facebook post.

Tyson said she decided to go on the record after Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, said the sex was consensual and threatened legal action against news organizations pursuing the story.

“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions,” she said in the statement, issued through her attorneys. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”

Tyson said that during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room, where he forced her to perform oral sex after “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”

“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me,” she said. “I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”

At the time of the convention, Fairfax was an aide in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry; Tyson was working at the convention.

Tyson, who holds a doctorate and is a tenured professor at Scripps College near Los Angeles, said the news that Fairfax might replace Northam “flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.”

She said she began sharing the story of her encounter with Fairfax in 2017, when she learned that he was seeking office in Virginia.

She also spoke with the Washington Post, and, when the post decided not to run the story, “I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained.”

The Post has said it did not pursue the story because it could not corroborate either Fairfax or Tyson’s versions of event.

In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued a statement of his own again insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.

“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly,” he said. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

Tyson’s statement came just hours after Herring apologized for wearing blackface back in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

“Some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” he said in a statement. “That conduct shows clearly that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

He also said that “the shame of the moment has haunted me for decades” and “that I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

Despite having this episode at UVA in his background, Herring had called on Northam to resign last week after a photo published on Northam’s yearbook page showed a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the 1984 photo and did not see it until it surfaced on Big League Politics. While he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he also admitted that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

Northam has come under increasing pressure from Republicans, civil rights groups and even fellow Democrats — including both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and much of the 2020 presidential field — to step aside. He has so far refused.

After Herring’s admission, the Republican Party of Virginia called on him to resign as well, although the party has not yet issued a similar call for Fairfax.

“Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable,” said Jack Wilson, GOP state chair, in a statement.

“As we renew our call for Governor Northam’s resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring’s name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.”

Herring, 57, was elected as attorney general in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. Both he and Fairfax had been considered as possible candidates to succeed Northam as governor in 2021.

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Virginia lieutenant governor pushes back against sexual assault allegation

Justin Fairfax threatens legal action over encounter that his attorneys tell Washington Post was consensual

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam fights to stay in office amid a raging controversy over a racist photo, the man who would take over if Northam departs, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is pushing back against a sexual assault allegation.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

Fairfax came out swinging after Big League Politics — the same conservative website that published a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page — reported on a private Facebook post from a woman who claims she was assaulted during the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The woman does not explicitly name Fairfax as her attacker in the post but describes her attacker as someone elected to statewide office in 2017 who is about to “get a very big promotion” — a description that fits Fairfax.

After Big League Politics posted the story, Fairfax’s office issued a statement denying the allegation, insisting that the Washington Post investigated the woman’s claim after Fairfax was elected in 2017 and declined to publish a story after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies.”

That prompted the Washington Post to publish a story in which the newspaper denied finding “significant red flags and consistences.” It said no story was published because Fairfax and the woman “told different versions” about their encounter, neither of which could be corroborated.

The Post also reported that Fairfax, through his attorneys, described his encounter with the woman as consensual.

In 2004, Fairfax was working for the campaign of then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president that year. He was single at the time; he married in 2006.

Big League Politics said it obtained the private Facebook post from a friend of the woman, who said she had the woman’s permission to share it. The website identified the woman making the assault allegation but said it had not spoken with her.

ChickenFriedPolitics does not identify sexual assault victims who have not gone on the record with their story.

Fairfax’s denial came in a statement attributed to his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, and his communications director, Lauren Burke.

“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” the statement said. “Not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been made.”

His spokespeople also said the lieutenant governor “will take appropriate action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”

Fairfax, 39, has been in the spotlight since Friday when the racist photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page appeared on Big League Politics. The photo shows two men, one in blackface and the other dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

The governor says he believes he is not one of the men pictured in the photo, but he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his yearbook page. He also admitted to darkening his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.

Leading Democrats and civil rights leaders, as well as Virginia Republicans, have been pressuring Northam to resign, but he has so far resisted.

Should Northam step down, Fairfax would serve out the remaining three years of his term. If both offices were vacated, under state law Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, would take over.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he is not in racist photo, refuses to resign

Northam’s amended narrative comes after growing number of Democrats pressure him to step down

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — A day after saying he was “deeply sorry” for a photo on his medical school yearbook page in which two men are shown wearing racist costumes, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he believes he is not pictured in the photo and will not resign.

But while addressing reporters Saturday with his political career hanging by a thread, Northam admitted to another incident that could compound his difficulties — that he darkened his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984, the same year the offensive photo was published.

Northam address reporters with wife, Pam (From NBC News via YouTube)

After the news conference, during which the governor offered a frequently disjointed narrative under questioning from reporters, his political position deteriorated further.

Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, called for his resignation, saying they “no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia.”

And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax — a Northam ally who would take over if he departs — issued a statement that stopped just short of calling on the governor to go.

“I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation,” said Fairfax, who is African American. “At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature.”

The Democratic governor said his initial statement on Friday — made after the photo appeared on a conservative website, Big League Politics — was an apology directed at people who were offended by the photo, not an admission that he had participated in it.

“When my staff showed the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Northam said the news conference in the Executive Mansion, standing next to his wife, Pam. “When I was confronted with these images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo.”

“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content,” he said. “It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”

Photo from Northam’s page in 1984 yearbook

The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.

The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of him, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam said that after looking more closely at the photo and talking to his medical school classmates overnight, he does not believe he is the man in blackface and that “there is no way I have ever been” in a KKK uniform.

He also said he had no recollection of attending the party where the photo was taken.

The governor conceded that he understands “that many people will find this difficult to believe.”

Northam has come under intense pressure to resign, not only from Republicans but from within his own party. But he said he would stay as governor and try to repair relationships with those offended by the photo.

“If I were to listen to the voices calling on my to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”

However, Northam indicated he might revisit the issue of resignation if the controversy affected his ability to serve as governor.

The lengthening list of Democrats calling for Northam to step aside includes his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe; Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee; and six Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African Americans.

Missing from that list are Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

During the news conference, Northam said in 1984, while an Army doctor in San Antonio, he “darkened” his face with shoe polish while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he said he won because he could moonwalk.

He said he recalled the episode years later while talking about blackface with an African-American aide, which made him realize how offensive his conduct had been.

“In the time and place where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognized as abhorrent today were commonplace,” he said.

Northam — who ran for state office four times without anyone making the yearbook photo an issue — also said “there was an agenda involved” with whomever provided the yearbook page to Big League Politics, although he declined to speculate on a possible motive.

The website did not reveal the source of the photo.

The photo’s release came amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Northam over comments he made in support of a bill easing restrictions on late-term abortions, which led conservative critics to accuse him of endorsing infanticide.

Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, he served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.

He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate.

Fairfax, 39, an attorney from the Washington D.C. suburbs, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.

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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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Election Preview: Four Southern U.S. Senate races are key in battle for control

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.

Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.

O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.

Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.

In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.

After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.

But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Republicans currently have  a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.

In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has served as the Sunshine State’s chief executive for the past eight years.

Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.

Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.

The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.

In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.

The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.

Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.

In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.

When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. Senate races

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Virginia Primary: Stewart gets GOP Senate nod; Comstock will face Wexton in D.C. suburbs

Republicans pick Confederacy defender Corey Stewart to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats picked nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in the June 12 primary election, including a high-stakes race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs that will pit GOP U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock against Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton.

Also in the primary, Republicans picked Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s onetime Virginia campaign chair, as their nominee to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in November.

Stewart’s win was greeted with dismay by GOP leaders in Virginia, who will now have a candidate at the top of their ticket who has defended preservation of Confederate symbols and once made a public appearance alongside one of the organizers of last summer’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, took 45 percent to edge out State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper at 43 percent and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist from Chesapeake at 12 percent.

In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.

Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.

Jennifer Wexton

Barbara Comstock

The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.

The six Democrats running raised $6.5 million in the primary; Comstock has raised $3.3 million.

Wexton, a state lawmaker from Leesburg who was the choice of  Governor Ralph Northam and other party leaders, took 42 percent of the primary vote, followed by Alison Friedman at 23 percent and Lindsey Davis Stover at 16 percent.

Meanwhile, Comstock easily batted down a Republican primary challenge from Shak Hill, who attacked her as insufficiently conservative. She took 61 percent to Hill’s 39 percent.

In the 2nd District, Democrats picked Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016. Luria took 62 percent to 38 percent for Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.

In the GOP primary, Taylor defeated Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, with 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Jones.

In the 7th District, Democrat Abigail Spanberger a retired CIA operative from Glen Allen, won the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November, winning 72 percent to defeat Daniel Ward, who took 23 percent.

Spanberger has raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.

The one Democrat-targeted seat where there wasn’t any suspense on primary night was the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.

Corey Stewart

Tim Kaine

In the Senate race, polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over Stewart, in a state where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in 10 years. Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and two-term governor seeking his second term, is not considered a top-tier GOP target this year.

Stewart was Trump’s Virginia campaign co-chair in 2016 until late in the campaign, when he was fired after leading a protest in front of Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.

The incident happened shortly after the Access Hollywood videotape surfaced of Trump bragging about groping women. Stewart, upset about reports that GOP leaders might distance themselves from Trump, organized the protest, saying he wanted to start a “rebellion against GOP establishment pukes who betrayed Trump.”

Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.

During the primary, Freitas had criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”

Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”

After Stewart’s win, Virginia’s former Republican lieutenant governor unleashed a blistering tweet: “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”

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