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Hot or not, in or out: Our forecast of 2022’s most interesting Southern political races

Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.

Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.

Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.

Reapportionment Primary-Palooza

The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.

In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.

The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.

One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.

In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.

However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.

The Power of Trump

The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.

And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)

Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.

Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.

Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.

Adding to the MAGA Squad

Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)

Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.

Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?

No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.

Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.

A victory by either in November will make history.

Palmetto State “RINOs”

The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.

Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.

Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.

As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.

Thinking Outside The Box

After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.

Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.

Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.

Beto O’Crist for Governor

The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.

But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.

But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.

Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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Democrat Joe Manchin deals death blow to Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill

West Virginia senator drops bomb in TV interview, enraging Democratic left and earning White House rebuke

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) – For more than five months, the political class, and the chattering class, in Washington have been obsessed with one question: Will West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin support President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion Build Back Better plan, or won’t he?

In one of the year’s most dramatic political interviews, Manchin gave his final answer Sunday morning.

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West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin announces decision on Build Back Better on Fox News Sunday

Joe’s a no. And with every Republican in the Senate also opposed, his no – if he doesn’t change his mind – deals a death blow to the bill in the evenly divided chamber.

“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday. “And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.”

Moderator Brett Baier, who appeared to be taken aback by Manchin’s bombshell, asked, “This is a no?”

“This is no,” Manchin quietly repeated.

Watch Manchin’s full interview on Fox News Sunday

His announcement came at the end of a tense week of negotiations over Build Back Better before senators left town for their Christmas break. Manchin had been the subject of intense media attention and pressure from colleagues and the White House, prompting the usually amiable lawmaker to lose his temper at one point and shout an explicative at a reporter.

Politico reported that just before he was about to go on the air Sunday, Manchin dispatched an aide to the White House to let administration officials know what was about to happen – and then rebuffed a phone call to try to get him to change his mind.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki then released a statement with extraordinarily strong language aimed at a senator from the president’s own party.

“Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” Psaki said. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Manchin explained that his decision was driven by concerns about inflation, the federal debt, and the looming specter that the COVID-19 omicron variant will extend the duration and severity of the pandemic.

He also complained that Democrats pushing the bill were trying to disguise the full, eventual cost of the total package by artificially phasing out provisions after short periods of time, rather than funding a smaller, more affordable package of priorities for a 10-year period.

“That’s not being genuine with my constituents in West Virginia,” he said, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that fully funding all of the priorities in the bill for 10 years would cost $4.5 trillion.

But those explanations fell flat with many of his Democratic colleagues, who erupted at the news of his decision.

“I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell them why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the costs of prescription drugs, why he is not prepared to expand home health care” said Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said Manchin “has betrayed his commitment not only to the President and Democrats in Congress but most importantly, to the American people.”

“He routinely touts that he is a man of his word, but he can no longer say that. West Virginians, and the country, see clearly who he is,” Jayapal said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Texas U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett likened Manchin to the Grinch who “just stole Christmas for many and don’t expect any last minute Dr. Seuss happy ending.”

“After 6 months of talking and talking, Joe Manchin finally made it unequivocal … he’s with the Republicans,” Doggett said in a Tweet. “What an outrage!”

Lawmakers on the Democratic left who style themselves as “Progressives” were particularly irked because they reluctantly agreed to go along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin supported in exchange for a promise from Biden to push Build Back Better through the Senate.

However, New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez — who refused to go along with that bargain — tweeted out an I-told-you-so after Manchin’s appearance on Fox.

“People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. “Where we need answers from are the leaders who promised a path on [Build Back Better] if [infrastructure] passed: Biden & Dem leaders … So they need to fix it.”

Sanders said he wants the Senate to vote on Build Back Better, even if it fails, saying if Manchin “doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

However, Manchin told Baier that he has no problem with a Senate vote on the bill – which he will oppose.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible,” he said. “I can’t get there.”

Manchin’s no is unlikely to harm him politically in West Virginia. Even though the state has many economically disadvantaged residents who would benefit from Biden’s social spending, it is also deeply conservative, handing Biden a 39-point loss in 2020.

Manchin, who is 74, is also not up for re-election until 2024 and has been non-committal on whether he’ll run again.

However, Manchin’s increasingly bitter dispute with members of his own party is likely to heighten speculation that he might change parties (which he has dismissed) or leave the Democrats to become independent, which he had previously offered to do if he became a “problem” for his caucus.

A party switch would flip control of the Senate to Republicans, which could also happen if he left to become an independent but caucused with the GOP.

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West Virginia’s Jim Justice is South’s most popular governor; Georgia’s Brian Kemp the least

Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.

The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.

The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.

Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.

Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.

The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.

Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.

Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.

Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.

However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.

Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt also appear to be in strong shape for 2022, with Lee’s approval at 55% and Stitt’s at 54%.

The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.

Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.

Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.

Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.

Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.

Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.

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Louisiana US. Sen. Bill Cassidy is only Southern Republican to support Jan. 6 commission

All 5 Southern Democrats vote for bipartisan independent panel to take deep dive into Capitol assault by pro-Trump mob

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana stood alone among his Southern Republican colleagues Friday in supporting formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana

The bill setting up the commission died after supporters fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the panel would add an “extraneous layer” of investigation into events at the U.S. Capitol, which was stormed by a pro-Trump mob trying to block certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

All five Southern Senate Democrats — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — voted in favor of the independent probe.

Eighteen Southern Republicans voted no, while four did not vote, including U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who, along with Cassidy, voted to convict Donald Trump in an impeachment trial for his actions that day.

The three other Southern Republicans who did not vote on the commission bill were Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. All three had previously indicated that they were opposed to the commission.

In a statement defending his decision not to support the commission, Burr said several investigations are already underway “being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course. I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”

But Cassidy warned his colleagues that if the independent commission wasn’t approved, Democrats in the House would push ahead with an investigation by a select committee “the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”

The proposed investigative commission — modeled after the panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — would have had 10 members, half appointed by each party. Subpoenas could only have been issued if agreed to on both sides, and the investigation would have wrapped up by the end of 2021, nine months before the 2022 midterm election.

When the measure passed the House, 35 Republicans had voted for it. But when it got over to the Senate, McConnell began urging GOP members to oppose it as unnecessary and potentially politically detrimental.

Trump also came out firmly against the idea, calling it a “Democrat trap” and castigating House Republicans who supported it.

Manchin, the leading centrist voice among Senate Democrats, had been particularly forceful in lobbying his Republican colleagues to support the investigation, saying there was “no excuse for Republicans not to vote for this unless they don’t want to know the truth.”

But Manchin also refused to budge on his long-standing opposition to eliminating the filibuster, the procedure that allowed Republicans to block the commission even though 54 senators were in favor of it.

The Republicans who voted against formation of the commission were:

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New Census figures show 5-seat shift in Southern U.S. House districts

Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Census Bureau released population totals for reapportionment of U.S. House seats Monday that will alter the size of delegations in four Southern states.

Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.

However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.

West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.

Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.

Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.

The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.

Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.

However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.

Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.

In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.

No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.

While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.

Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.

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