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Races in North Carolina, Alabama on national radar; Lindsey Graham faces stiff challenge in South Carolina
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Fourteen Southern U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in November, putting half of the South’s seats in play with control of the chamber very much up for grabs.
Of these seats, one presents a likely pickup opportunity for Republicans, while three Republican incumbents are facing stiff challenges. Three other seats are somewhat competitive but with incumbents still favored, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s race in Kentucky.
Five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — are cruising toward re-election, with Republicans also likely to keep an open seat in Tennessee. A special election in Georgia with candidates from both parties running in the same race is a wild card that will be difficult to predict — and could potentially decide which part controls the Senate when the dust clears.
Here is your guide to the 2020 Southern Senate races.
Jones has had a target on his back since he won a special election in 2017 over Republican Roy Moore, whose candidacy imploded in a sex scandal. Jones was the first Democrat elected to a Senate seat in the Yellowhammer State since 1992; his vote to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial has put his continued tenure in jeopardy. Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University, is making his political debut, impressively taking out a field of prominent Republicans in the primary, including Jeff Sessions, who held this seat for 20 years before leaving to join the Trump administration. If Jones somehow manages to hang on, it will be perhaps the biggest surprise on election night.
Cunningham, an attorney who served a single term in the legislature 20 years ago and made an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2010, was recruited by Democratic leaders in Washington to run against Tillis, who is seeking a second term after ousting former Democratic Senator Kay Hagin in 2014. This seat was once held by Jesse Helms, and no one has managed to win a second term since he gave it up in 2002. Cunningham has raised $15 million, slightly more than Tillis, and has led consistently in polls. The outcome of the presidential race in this battleground state may be key here. If Donald Trump wins, Tillis is likely to keep his seat as well; if he doesn’t, Cunningham will be in the driver’s seat.
Over the past four years, Graham has become one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, after spending much of the 2016 campaign trashing him. That about-face spared him from the kind of primary challenge he had to beat back in 2014, but Harrison, a former state Democratic party chair, is hoping Graham’s association with the president will turn off enough Palmetto State voters to put him over the top. Harrison has raised a staggering $30 million — an unheard of sum for a Democrat in South Carolina — to stay even with the incumbent in the money chase. While polling shows the race is competitive, Trump is expected to carry the state, and the universe of Trump-Harrison voters may be too small to flip this seat.
It’s been a long time since Georgia has been competitive in a presidential or senatorial contest, but polling has shown Ossoff within striking distance of Perdue, who is seeking a second term. Ossoff built a national profile by raising more than $30 million for a special U.S. House election in 2017 that he narrowly lost. He hasn’t raised anywhere near that kind of money this time around, and Perdue enjoys a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage. Democrats insist that the Peach State’s changing demographics and an influx of newly energized, newly registered Democratic voters will lead to victory for Ossoff and Democratic nominee Joe Biden; Republicans scoff at such a scenario as delusional. If Biden makes a serious play for Georgia, it could help Ossoff; if Biden wins, Perdue will need to run ahead of Trump to survive.
Democrats had high hopes for flipping this seat, particularly after Beto O’Rourke nearly took out Ted Cruz in 2018. But O’Rourke passed on the Senate race to make a quixotic bid for president, and Hegar, a former military chopper pilot and Afghan war veteran who lost a House race in 2018, had to spend time and money fighting her way through a primary runoff. Cornyn entered the fall campaign with the benefit of incumbency and a huge financial advantage, in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. This could turn out to be a might-have-been race for Democrats — what might have been if O’Rouke had run instead.
Democratic leaders recruited McGrath for this race, enthused by her prodigious fundraising during an unsuccessful House race in 2018. But running against McConnell in Kentucky is a tall order, and she has not always seemed up to the task. Her campaign had an unsteady launch when she flipped positions on confirming Brett Kavanaugh, and she very nearly lost the Democratic primary after mishandling her response to racial justice protests that have roiled Louisville. After an uneven campaign, she decided change campaign managers in August, which is never a good sign. There’s a reason Mitch McConnell has been a senator since 1985 — he is perhaps the wiliest politician of his generation. His tenure in Washington seems likely to endure.
This race is a rematch of 2018, when Hyde-Smith beat Espy by 8 points in a special election runoff, running nearly 10 points behind what Trump did in 2016. Espy was encouraged enough by his showing to try to take her down again, hoping that the energy unleashed by social justice protests will galvanize black voters, who make up 37percent of the state’s electorate, the highest percentage in the country. However, if he couldn’t beat Hyde-Smith in a lower turnout midterm election, beating her with the presidential election on the ballot, in a very pro-Trump state, is likely to be a tall order.
In this special election to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, candidates from all parties run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December runoff. Loeffler is trying to keep this seat after being appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp, who opted to pick the political newcomer instead of Collins, one of Trump’s biggest champions in the House. Collins defied the governor to run against Loeffler, splitting Peach State Republicans into two camps.
On the Democratic side, Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, has drawn support from the party establishment who see him as the best option to win the seat. But Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, has resisted pressure to leave the race in favor of Warnock, and polls have shown him remaining competitive. If Warnock and Lieberman split the Democratic vote, it could clear the way for both Loeffler and Collins to meet in an all-GOP second round. If one Republican and one Democrat get through, the outcome of the race is likely to depend on who those two candidates are.
Arkansas: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R) faces no Democratic competition after the lone Democrat who qualified abruptly left the race. The only person standing between Cotton and re-election is Libertarian Ricky Harrington.
Tennessee: Republican Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, has a much easier path to Washington after the Democrat recruited and financed by party leaders to challenge for the seat lost his primary. He will now face Marquita Bradshaw, an environmental activist from Memphis who harnessed grassroots support to win the primary.
West Virginia: U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) is not expected to have much trouble against Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, an environmental activist who gained national exposure when her 2018 race against the state’s other U.S. senator, Joe Manchin, was featured in the Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”
Oklahoma: If U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R), as expected, wins a fifth full term over Democrat Abby Broyles, he will be 92 when this term ends in 2026. Broyles, a former TV reporter in Oklahoma City, has run a spirited campaign in which she’s needled the senator for refusing to debate her.
Virginia: Giving the Old Dominion’s increasingly Democratic tilt, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D) is a clear favorite over Republican Daniel Gade, a former Army officer who was wounded in Iraq and now teaches at American University in Washington.
Louisiana: U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R) is competing in a jungle primary in November and will face a runoff in December if he doesn’t clear 50%. He avoided any major Republican opposition; the biggest Democratic name in the race is Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.
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West Virginia Primary: Democrats pick Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango to take on GOP Governor Jim Justice
Environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen wins Democratic U.S. Senate nomination
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Salango won Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with 39 percent to 33 percent for Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. State Senator Ron Stollings came in third with 14 percent.
“Tomorrow morning, we get to work, and we’re going to win the general election,” Salango told supporters at his victory rally in Charleston. “I’ll be a governor who gets things done. I’ll be a governor who shows up and puts public service ahead of self-serving.”
Justice easily won the Republican primary, carrying 63 percent of the vote against three challengers.
The race against Justice will be a grudge match for Democrats, after the governor infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office in 2017 — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage at a rally with President Donald Trump.
Salango had the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions and was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass. Smith ran a more grassroots campaign, using the slogan “WV Can’t Wait.”
Swearingen took 38 percent to 33 percent for former State Senator Richard Ojeda, an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction. Coming in third was Richie Robb, the former mayor of South Charleston, at 29 percent.
In 2018, Swearingen ran in the Democratic primary against the state’s other senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, taking 30 percent of the vote. That campaign was profiled in a Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”
Capito will be a heavy favorite in November, given the Mountain State’s strong GOP tilt in federal elections.
West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races is the nominee.
Also on Tuesday, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated in the GOP primary by Amy Nichole Grady, a teacher from Leon. Legislative leaders have been at odds with state teachers over pay and education funding, which led to two strikes by teachers.
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Democrats will pick a U.S. Senate nominee in Georgia and a gubernatorial candidate in West Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Voters in three Southern states — Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina — will vote Tuesday in primaries that were rescheduled from earlier in the year due to the coronavirus crisis.
In Georgia, Democrats will be picking a nominee to oppose Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in November, while Republicans will begin sorting out their nominees for two open U.S. House seats in safely Republican districts that have both drawn a gaggle of candidates.
In West Virginia, Democrats will pick an opponent to face Republican Governor Jim Justice — who won four years ago as a Democrat before switching parties and embracing President Donald Trump — and will also decide on a nominee to face U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito.
In South Carolina, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham faces three little-known challengers in his primary, while his expected Democratic opponent in the fall, Jaime Harrison, is running unopposed.
Republicans in the Lowcountry will also pick a candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who is one of the GOP’s top 2020 targets.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, mail and early voting has been expanded for the primaries, with a smaller portion expected to vote in person on primary day with reduced numbers of polling stations.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Georgia and South Carolina and from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in West Virginia.
In Georgia, the marquee race is the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate. The polling leader in the race has been Jon Ossoff, who benefits from the statewide name recognition he built in 2017 by spending $30 million in a special election for the 6th District House seat, a race he narrowly lost.
Ossoff’s primary challengers include Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman who was the party’s unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Polls have given Ossoff a large lead but short of the majority he would need to win the nomination outright and earn a spot against Perdue in November. If he does not clear that threshold, he’ll face an August runoff against Tomlinson or Amico.
Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, is also up for election in 2020; however, because that contest is to fill the remainder of a term, a special election won’t be held until November, in which Loeffler will run against candidates from all parties, including Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has launched an intra-party fight to push Loeffler out of the seat.
Peach State Republicans will also start the process for picking nominees for two of their safest U.S. House seats — the 9th District in the north Georgia mountains, which Collins is giving up to run for the Senate, and the 14th District in northwest Georgia, where Tom Graves is retiring. Nine Republicans have entered the primary for both of those seats, making runoffs a near certainty.
In the 7th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs, seven Republicans and six Democrats are running in their respective primaries for the seat Republican Rob Woodall kept by a scant 413 votes in 2018. He decided to retire rather than to contest the seat again.
Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat whom Woodall barely beat two years ago, is back, but she faces a primary battle against five challengers including State Senator Zahra Karinshak, a lawyer and former Air Force officer; State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, the first Latina to serve in the Georgia legislature; and John Eaves, the former chairman of the Fulton County Commission and former Atlantan who decamped for the suburbs in a bid to get to Congress.
On the Republican side, State Senator Renee Unterman, a former mayor who has served 22 years in the legislature, is facing off against six competitors, including Lynne Homrich, a former Home Depot executive, and Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot.
The only House incumbent in either party facing a significant primary challenge in Georgia is Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, who is being challenged in the 13th District in the southern and western Atlanta suburbs by Jannquelle Peters, the former mayor of East Point; former State Rep. Keisha Waites; and Michael Owens, the former chair of the Cobb County Democratic Party who challenged Scott unsuccessfully in 2014.
Scott, 74, is seeking his 10th term in the House and has held elected office continuously for 46 years. The majority black 13th District is strongly Democratic, which means whoever emerges from the primary will likely win the seat in November.
In West Virginia, Democrats are itching for a grudge match against Justice, who infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage with the president at a Trump rally.
Five Democrats are running for the nomination to oppose the governor, led by Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who has the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions. He was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass.
Also running are State Senator Ron Stollings from Madison; Jody Parker, a former journalist from Madison; and Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, who is running what he describes as a grassroots, progressive campaign.
A fifth candidate who filed to run, Doug Hughes, later announced on Facebook that he was pulling out and endorsing Smith.
In the Senate race, former State Senator Richard Ojeda — an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction — is the best-known of the three candidates vying to take on Capito, whose seat is not currently considered to be jeopardy.
West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races will be the nominee.
In South Carolina, the marquee race is the U.S. House contest in the 1st District, where Republicans have their sights set on Cunningham, who flipped the seat in 2018.
The race for the GOP nomination includes State Rep. Nancy Mace from Daniel Island, a real estate agent and businesswoman who was the first female graduate of The Citadel; Kathy Landing, a businesswoman who serves on the town council in Mount Pleasant; Chris Cox, a chainsaw artist who was one of the founders of the Bikers for Trump group; and Brad Mole, a housing administrator from Bluffton.
Mace and Landing have led the race in fundraising and advertising, with Mace raking in more than $1.3 million for the race to $630,000 for Landing, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The question will be whether either woman will be able to clear the majority needed to avoid a runoff with Cox and Mole also in the race.
Mace has gotten the backing of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the conservative business groups Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth. But Landing has her own conservative backers, including the House Freedom Fund, a campaign group associated with House Freedom Caucus, as well as conservative stalwart and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican primary voters will decide whether to reward Graham for his enthusiastic embrace of Trump.
Six years ago, he faced a slew of candidates who ran at him from the right and criticized him as inauthentically conservative. But this time around, Graham faces only token opposition from three little-known candidates, none of whom has raised enough money to compete with his $26 million war chest.
Harrison, who hopes to be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in South Carolina since 1998, faces no opposition on the Democratic side of the ballot. He has so far raised $19 million, according to the latest FEC filings.
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Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia likely to face blowback back home for supporting Trump’s removal
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to find Trump guilty on two articles of impeachment, a decision that will subject them to significant blowback in their home states.
The other two Southern Democrats in the Senate — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia — also voted to convict Trump, while all 24 Republicans representing Southern states voted no. Both impeachment articles failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president from office.
Jones — considered to be the most vulnerable Democrat running for re-election in 2020, in a state Trump carried by 28 points — said he concluded that “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office … to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”
“I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days. We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line,” Jones said in a floor speech announcing his vote. “I did not run for the Senate hoping to take part in the impeachment trial of a duly elected president. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”
Watch full video of Jones’s floor speech at end of story
Manchin didn’t disclose his decision in the impeachment trial until moments before the Senate began voting, with each senator standing and pronouncing Trump either “guilty” or “not guilty.”
“Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly,” Manchin said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”
Trump carried West Virginia by 41 points in 2016. However, unlike Jones, Manchin isn’t up for re-election again until 2024, which means he’s unlikely to face any immediate political consequences from his decision.
In the days before the final vote, Manchin had floated the idea of a Senate censure of Trump, which would have condemned his conduct without acquitting him on the impeachment charges. But the idea failed to gain traction among senators in either party.
Both Jones and Manchin also criticized the refusal by Senate Republicans to agree to introduce additional witnesses and documents into the trial, which Jones said “would have provided valuable context, corroboration or contradiction to what we have heard.”
The first article of impeachment, which accused Trump of abuse of power, failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office, with 48 senators voting guilty and 52 not guilty. The second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress, failed on a 47-to-53 vote.
Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote for conviction on the first article, joined by all 47 Democrats. The vote on the second article fell along party lines.
In 2017, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won a special election to become the first Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State in the Senate in 27 years. With the November election looming, he had been under considerable pressure to vote to acquit Trump, with Republicans organizing demonstrations outside of his Alabama offices.
Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama GOP, said the senator’s decision showed that he “continues to take his marching orders from Chuck Schumer and his liberal California campaign donors.”
“Senator Jones once again is demonstrating his contempt for the majority of Alabamians who are opposed to impeachment,” Lathan said in a statement. “The voters of Alabama will keenly remember this day on November 3rd and replace Senator Jones with someone who will truly represent Alabama’s values.”
One of Jones’s GOP opponents, Bradley Byrne, called his vote the “final straw.”
“I’ve never been so fired up to take back this seat & send Trump a conservative fighter,” Bryne said on Twitter.
Another Republican competitor, Jeff Sessions, in an interview with Breitbart News, said Jones “clearly revealed himself to be a part of the Schumer team, the liberal team, that would create a majority in the Senate, that would make every committee chairman a Democrat—some of them radical Democrats—and all of which is contrary to the values of Alabama.”
Sessions held the Senate seat now held by Jones for 20 years before resigning in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general. He is now trying to make a comeback by wrapping himself in the Trump mantle, despite a frequently frosty relationship with the president that led to his ouster from the Justice Department in 2018.
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Decision removes a significant obstacle to Republican Governor Jim Justice’s path to re-election
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — After toying for months with the idea of leaving the U.S. Senate for another shot at West Virginia’s governorship, Democrat Joe Manchin has announced he will not run against Republican Governor Jim Justice in 2020.
The decision deprives Democrats of the most formidable candidate they had to defeat Justice, who bolted to the GOP shortly after winning election as a Democrat in 2016.
In a September 3 statement announcing his decision, Manchin called the governorship, which he held from 2005 to 2010, “the best job I ever had.” But he said he decided he “couldn’t focus just on which job I enjoyed the most, but on where I could be the most effective.”
“I believe my role as U.S. Senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century,” he said.
Manchin also went out of his way to mention President Donald Trump, an popular figure in the Mountaineer State who campaigned against his re-election in 2018 and will likely pull out all of the tops for Justice next year.
“As I have done since coming to Washington, I will work with the President to accomplish what best serves our state and our country, and I will speak truth to power when I don’t agree with the path the President has chosen to take,” he said. “That is what West Virginians elected me to do.”
Manchin’s decision came just days after the West Virginia Metro News published a poll showing him with a 10-point lead over Justice in a hypothetical match-up.
The senator has won two statewide contests for governor and three for Senate, surviving in 2018 despite Trump’s vocal support for his Republican opponent, in a state the president carried by 40 points in 2016.
With Manchin out, Democrats in West Virginia have a thin bench of possibilities to take on Justice.
Manchin is the only Democrat holding federal office, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and the only Democrat holding statewide office is State Treasurer John Perdue, who is running for re-election to his seventh term.
While Manchin’s decision not to run clears a major hurdle for Justice, the governor is facing at least two Republican primary challengers. Pro- and anti-Justice factions have been battling for control of the state party, and the governor’s business dealings have also come under scrutiny, including questions about conflicts of interest and delinquent taxes.
Justice, 68, a billionarie who had never held elected office before winning the governorship, is thought to be the state’s wealthiest individual, with interests in coal mining and agribusiness. He also owns the famed Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs.
In 2015, he switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat to run for governor. Less than seven months after being elected, he announced he was switching parties during a rally with Trump.
The White House has signaled the president’s support for Justice, sending two key aides to West Virginia to advise his campaign.