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Northam, Gillespie face challenges from anti-establishment rivals
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Any hopes Democratic and Republican leaders in Virginia had of avoiding contentious primaries in the governor’s race this year have been dashed, with both parties facing the same establishment-versus-insurgent battles that characterized the 2016 presidential contest.
With two months to go before the filing deadline for the June primary, the Democratic race has already drawn two major contenders, while the Republican race has four. All are vying to replace Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is barred by state law from seeking re-election.
On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam appeared to be cruising to his party’s nomination unmolested until January, when former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello jumped into the race and began casting himself as anti-establishment, in contrast to the well-connected Northam.
On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who ran a surprisingly strong race for U.S. Senate in 2014, is being challenged by Donald Trump’s former Virginia campaign chairman, a veteran state senator who also worked for Trump, and a Tea Party-aligned distillery owner who has hired the campaign manager who helped take down Eric Cantor in 2014.
A poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, released February 2, shows both primary races are fluid, with Gillespie and Northam leading but most voters undecided.
The governor’s battle takes place amid changing political currents in the Old Dominion. Once reliably Republican, Democrats have carried the state in the last three presidential elections and hold both U.S. Senate seats. Three of the last four governors have been Democrats.
Virginia also doesn’t have primary runoffs, which means that on the Republican side, the winner is likely to have garnered significantly less than 50 percent of the vote.
Gillespie, 55, from Fairfax County, is a former top lieutenant to President George W. Bush who has run both the national and state GOP. In 2014, he came within 18,000 votes of unseating Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, in what was considered one of the biggest surprises of that election cycle.
Standing in Gillespie’s road to the nomination are Corey Stewart, 48, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who ran Trump’s campaign in Virginia until being fired a month before the 2016 election; State Senator Frank Wagner, 61, from Virginia Beach, a former U.S. Navy officer who has served in the the state legislature for 25 years; and Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer from Afton.
Stewart, who instigated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants as county chairman, has boasted that “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” However, he was removed from the Trump campaign last October after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made sexually suggestive comments.
A key question in the GOP primary will be the extent to which Trump might assist Stewart — and how much good that would actually do in a state Trump lost.
Stewart will also have competition for the pro-Trump banner from Wagner, who was co-chair of Trump’s campaign in southeast Virginia. He has remained a Trump defender, endorsing the president’s controversial ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries and criticizing Gillespie for not following suit.
In his campaign, Wagner is also touting his legislative experience and the fact that he is the only Republican candidate who is a native Virginian.
Riggleman, the least well-known among the Republican candidates, has hired the campaign manager used by U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in his upset win over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary 2014. Backed by Tea Party activists and talk radio hosts, Brat tossed the powerful Cantor from Congress, in what is now seen as a prelude to the political earthquake that brought Trump to power two years later.
The Wason Center poll found that Gillespie was the choice of 33 percent of Republican or Republican-learning voters, with Wagner at 9 percent, Stewart at 7 percent and Riggleman at 1 percent. However, 50 percent remain undecided.
On the Democratic side, Northam, 57, a doctor and former U.S. Army major from Norfolk, served in the state senate before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2013. He has the backing of most of the commonwealth’s Democratic leadership, including McAuliffe, Warner and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
Perriello, 42, from Charlottesville, served a single term in Congress before being swamped in the Tea Party wave of 2010. His tenure was noteworthy for his vote in favor of Obamacare, which didn’t go down well in the more conservative parts of his central Virginia district.
After leaving Congress, Perriello worked at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and was appointed by President Obama as a State Department envoy to Africa.
While Perriello’s voting record in Congress was moderate for a Democrat, he has been staking out ground on the progressive left in the governor’s race, saying he wants to make Virginia “a firewall against hate, corruption and an assault on the Virginia values of decency and progress.” He has also changed his position on using federal funds to pay for abortions, which he once voted against but now supports.
Northam’s most prominent backer, McAufliffe, is a close confidant of the Clintons, and Northam endorsed Clinton over Sanders in the commonwealth’s presidential primary. That could provide an opening for Perriello, who is also close to Obama and members of the former president’s political brain trust.
The Wason Center poll shoed Northam at 26 percent and Perriello at 15 percent among Democratic and Democratic leaning voters, with 59 percent undecided.
Virginia is one of four Southern states that hold gubernatorial elections in off years but is the only one voting in 2017. Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi will have elections in 2019.
All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”
“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.
However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.
As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”
Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.
Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.
The list of boycotting Democrats includes:
- John Lewis, D-Atlanta
- John Yarmuth, D-Louisville
- Bennie Thompson, D-Jackson
- Steve Cohen, D-Memphis
- Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax County
Trump carried 165 of the region’s 180 votes; two ‘faithless’ electors in Texas vote for Kasich, Ron Paul
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
(CFP) — Members of the Electoral College have met at 14 Southern statehouses and, as expected, gave the overwhelming majority of the region’s electoral votes to President-elect Donald Trump, ignoring calls by anti-Trump protestors to stop his elevation to the nation’s highest office.
Trump carried 165 of the South’s 180 electoral votes in the December 19 vote. Hillary Clinton won the 13 electoral votes from Virginia, which was the only Southern state she carried.
The only place where Republican electors broke ranks was in Texas, where the defections of two Republican electors did not stop Trump from securing the 270 votes he needed to win the White House.
Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who had previously announced he would not vote for Trump, cast his ballot for Ohio Governor John Kasich. Elector Bill Greene, who represented the 34th District, which takes in the Gulf Coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, voted for former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
Afterward, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted his support for a bill that would preclude so-called “faithless” electors by requiring them to vote for the candidate who carried the state on election day, in this case, Trump.
“This charade is over.,” Abbot said. “A bill is already filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.
Twenty-nine states have laws binding electors to the popular vote winner in their states, including the Southern states of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Currently in Texas, state law doesn’t bind electors, although the Texas GOP required them to take an oath pledging to vote for the popular vote winner.
The Electoral College vote is usually a formality to which scant public attention is paid. However, Trump’s surprise win on November 8, coupled with his loss to Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes in the popular vote, galvanized anti-Trump protests at state capitols around the country.
Small groups of protestors gathered in Tallahassee, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Austin, Oklahoma City and Montgomery.
In Austin, shouts from protestors were audible inside the State House chamber where electors met, according to local media reports.
In Little Rock, anti-Trump activists took many of the seats in the old Supreme Court chamber in the State Capitol, where the vote took place. According to local media reports, one protestor was removed, although the electors also chatted amiably with the demonstrators before the vote took place.
Kaine tells Richmond newspaper he is content representing Virginia in the Senate
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia says he is through with presidential-level politics and will not run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Kaine made those remarks in a November 17 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his first in-depth interview since he and Hillary Clinton went down to defeat on November 8.
“I want to run and serve in the Senate for a long time,” Kaine said. “I was really honored to be asked by Hillary, and it was a history-making race to be the first woman nominated. And for her to do well in Virginia and win the popular vote, that is all to her credit. And I was really proud to be part of it. But I think the Catholic in me likes to go to the place where there is the most work to be done.”
Kaine told the newspaper that he would like to emulate the career path of former U.S. Senator John Warner, who represented Virginia in the Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2009. Warner never sought the presidency.
Had Kaine been willing to seek the presidency in 2020, he would have been a leading contender on the Democratic side, given his name recognition from the 2016 race.
Kaine is up for re-election in 2018. While Republicans would likely make a charge at him, Virginia has been trending Democrat in statewide races, with the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats in Democratic hands.
The Clinton-Kaine ticket carried Virginia by 5 points. It was the lone Southern state that they won.
Kaine was the only Southerner to make the ticket of either major political party this year, although 10 Southerners unsuccessfully sought their party’s nomination, including two Virginians, former Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Webb and former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore.
Charlie Crist makes a comeback in Florida, but John Mica falls; Republicans keep open seats in Florida, Louisiana
(CFP) — Democrats made a slight, two-seat net gain in Southern Republican U.S. House seats in the November 8 election, taking down two Republican incumbents in Florida but coming up short in targeted GOP-held seats in Virginia and Texas.
Republicans also picked up an open seat along Florida’s Treasure Coast and kept an open seat in Louisiana, where two Republicans will face each other in a December 10 runoff.
Republicans still hold a commanding lead over Democrats in House seats in the South, 113 to 40, with another seat in Louisiana still to be determined.
The night’s most prominent casualty was Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, who lost his bid for a 12th term to Democrat Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th District, which takes in central Orlando and the city’s northern suburbs.
Murphy, making her first bid for office, beat Mica by a margin of 51-49 percent.
A redraw of Florida’s U.S. House map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court added Democratic voters to Mica’s district, forcing him to run in a constituency in which 30 percent of the voters were new.
The new map also had an effect in Florida’s 13th District, in Pinellas County, where Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist resurrected his political career by knocking off Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
Crist, who served as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican, won by a 52-48 percent margin after the Supreme Court added Democratic areas of St. Peterburg into what had been a swing district.
Jolly had initially decided to abandon a re-election bid in the new district and run for the U.S. Senate. But he changed course after U.S. Senator Marco Rubio changed his mind about running for a second term.
Hurd managed to survive in this majority Latino district, even with Donald Trump at the head of his party’s ticket. In fact, Hurd managed to increase his victory margin by about 1,300 votes over 2014.
Curbelo defeated former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia by a 53-41 percent margin in Florida’s 26th District, which includes part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
His margin of victory was a significant improvement from 2014, when Curbelo defeated by Garcia by just 5,800 votes.
Comstock defeated Democrat LuAnn Bennett by a 53-47 percent margin in Virginia’s 10th District, which starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia.
Democrats had hoped that Trump’s candidacy would be a drag on Comstock in this suburban district in a state Hillary Clinton won. But Comstock had no difficulty.
In Florida’s 18th District, a swing seat that includes parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, Republicans picked up the seat vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who made an unsuccessful run for the Senate.
Republican Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan, defeated Democrat Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach. Mast’s margin of victory was 54-43 percent.
Republicans also kept one of their two seats in Louisiana that opened up when the incumbents ran for the Senate. In the 3rd District, which takes in the southwest part of the state, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle from Breaux Bridge and Clay Higgins, a law enforcement officer from Lafayette, both cleared the field in the state’s all-party “jungle” primary and will face off in the December 10 runoff.
In Louisiana’s 4th District, which takes in the northwest part of the state, Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson of Bossier Parish will face Democrat Marshall Jones, an attorney from Shreveport, in the runoff, which will be the last pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Court-ordered redraws of congressional maps affected a number of races in both Florida and Virginia.
In Florida, Republicans picked up the 2nd District seat in the Panhandle, which became more Republican under the new map. Panama City urologist Neal Dunn defeated Democrat Walt Dartland by a margin of 67-30 percent.
However, the GOP lost the 10th District seat in Orlando, which became more Democratic. Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings carried this seat for the Democrats over Republican Thuy Lowe by a margin of 65-35 percent.
However, the GOP hung on to another redrawn seat in the 5th District, where Republican State Senator Tom Garrett from Buckingham County defeated Democrat Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albermarle County Board of Supervisors, by a margin of 58-42 percent.
Clinton takes just one Southern state, Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
Trump won 13 of 14 Southern states, with a combined 167 electoral votes, a better performance than Mitt Romney had in 2012, when he took 12.
Trump’s haul of Southern electoral votes made up 58 percent of his national total.
Clinton’s only Southern victory came in Virginia, where she defeated Trump by a margin of 50-46 percent, thanks to a late vote surge from the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
Trump defeated Clinton by a margin of 49-48 percent in Florida and 51-47 percent in North Carolina.
Across the rest of the South, Trump rolled up double-digit margins, including winning by a whopping 43 points in West Virginia. 36 points in Oklahoma and 30 points in Kentucky.
Trump outperformed Romney’s totals in every Southern state except Georgia and Texas. In Georgia, the GOP result was down 3 points; in Texas, 6 points.
Democrats looking for pickups in Florida, Texas and Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Heading into the November 8 election, fewer than a dozen U.S. House seats across the South are in play, and most of those are the result of court-ordered redraws of congressional maps in Florida and Virginia.
If the night goes well, Democrats could pick up a net total of seven GOP-held seats — three each in Florida and Virginia and one in Texas. But if Republican incumbents manage to pull out close races, the shift could be just one seat, the 4th District in Virginia that seems certain to change hands because of the new map.
Either way, the Republican advantage over Democrats in U.S. House seats, now 116 to 38, should not budge much.
In Florida, the redraw of the map (click here to see map) should allow Republicans to pick up the 2nd District, based in the Panhandle and now held by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who opted not to run after the district became substantially more Republican.
But Democrats are almost certain to counter that GOP gain by taking the Orlando-based 10th District, which under the new map is more Democratic.
Republican fortunes in Florida will come down to three incumbents facing tough fights for re-election — John Mica in the 7th District, which includes parts of Orlando and its northern suburbs; David Jolly in the 13th District in and around St. Petersburg; and Carlos Curbelo, in the 26th District, which includes part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
Democrats are defending a seat in the 18th District, along the Treasure Coast, which U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy gave up to run for the U.S. Senate.
In Virginia, the new map affected two Republican-held districts, the 4th and the 5th. The 4th is expected to go Democratic, but Republicans are hoping to keep the 5th.
In addition to those seats, Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock , whose 10th District seat meanders from the Washington, D.C. suburbs toward West Virginia, has become a top Democratic target.
In Texas, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is also in a tough fight in the 23rd District, which includes a vast expanse of West Texas from the San Antonio suburbs to near El Paso. In a district with a 55 percent Latino population, Hurd is facing significant headwinds with Donald Trump at the top of his party’s ticket.
Here is a rundown of the key U.S. House races around the South:
Florida 5: This seat opened up after the incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was defeated in the primary by Al Lawson, a former state lawmaker from Tallahassee. This district was radically redrawn and now starts in Jacksonville and heads due west to Tallahassee, making it less black and more Republican. Still, Lawson is a heavy favorite over Republican Glo Smith.
Florida 7: Mica is running again in this district in suburban Orlando. But he now has some of the Democratic voters who used to be in Brown’s 5th District, making this district much less safe that it was. He faces political newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a college professor and former national security professional who has benefited from more than $3 million in outside funding poured into the race by Democrat-aligned groups.
Florida 10: This Orlando-area district, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was made substantially more Democratic in the redraw–so much so that Webster opted to run for re-election in the adjacent 11th District, where U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent is retiring. Democrats nominated former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who should carry this seat over Republican Thuy Lowe.
Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area features a high voltage smackdown between David Jolly and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who is trying to make a political comeback after losing the governor’s race in 2014. The redraw of Florida’s map added a portion of St. Petersburg with a large minority population to this district, making it more Democratic. Facing long odds, Jolly first opted to run for the U.S. Senate before deciding to try to keep his seat.
Florida 18: This seat, which includes part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is a classic swing district. With Murphy out, Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan. Both are political newcomers.
Florida 26: Like the 18th District, this seat, which includes southwest Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, has gone back and forth between the parties in recent cycles. The incumbent, Curbelo, faces a rematch against the man he beat by less than 5,800 votes in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
Texas 23: This massive district, which stretches across a vast expanse of West Texas from the San Antonio suburbs to near El Paso, has changed hands in the last three elections. The incumbent, Hurd, is that rarest of creatures, a black Republican representing a majority Latino district. His Democratic challenger is the man Hurd beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego. Hurd’s winning margin last time was just 2,400 votes, indicating just how equally divided this district is.
Virginia 4: A new map drawn by a federal court added Richmond and Petersburg to this southeast Virginia district, making it substantially more Democratic. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, left this seat to run unsuccessfully in the redrawn 2nd District, leaving an open seat that’s ripe for a Democratic pick-up. Republican Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade will face off against Democratic State Senator Donald McEachin, also of Henrico County. A win by McEachin would add a second African-American congressman to the state’s delegation.
Virginia 5: Democrats have hopes of taking this seat, which is open because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt. But this district, which stretches through central Virginia from the North Carolina border to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, has a Republican lean. GOP State Senator Tom Garrett from Buckingham County is facing Democrat Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albermarle County Board of Supervisors.
Virginia 10: This district starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia. Although Comstock won handily in 2014, this is a district full of suburban swing voters who Democrats are hoping will be turned off by a Trump-led GOP ticket. She faces Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.