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U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander will retire in 2020

Decision sets up a open Senate race in Tennessee for the second election cycle in a row

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, bringing down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and setting up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state,” Alexander said in a statement announcing his retirement. ” I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.”

“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”

Alexander’s decision means that Tennessee will have an open Senate contest for the second election cycle in a row. His longtime seatmate, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, did not seek re-election this year.

The contest will likely draw a large field, particularly on the Republican side. Among candidates being mentioned are outgoing Republican Governor Bill Haslam and two unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor in 2018, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and Randy Boyd.

Given the result of the 2018 Senate election — which Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won by 11 points — the GOP candidate will be heavily favored. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990.

Alexander, 78, is serving his third term in the Senate and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he has been a key player in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Alexander’s service in political office began in 1978, when he was elected governor on his second try. During that campaign, he walked more than 1,000 miles across the entire length of Tennessee to meet voters, wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt that became his trademark.

After leaving the governorship in 1987, Alexander became president of the University of Tennessee, a post he left in 1991 when he was named education secretary by President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Senate and was easily re-elected in 2008 and 2014.

He is the only Tennessean ever elected as both governor and senator, and his 2008 vote total — 1.58 million votes — still stands the largest ever recorded by a statewide candidate.

In the Senate, Alexander had a conservative voting record but was also willing to work with Democratic colleagues on bipartisan measures. He drew a Tea Party challenger in his primary in 2014, Joe Carr, but won easily after getting the backing of the entire state GOP establishment.

Unlike Corker, Alexander has not been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, although he did publicly criticize the president’s executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries and opposed a program to separate migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alexander is also a trained pianist who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Tennessee seat will be one of 12 Southern Senate seats open in 2020, 10 of which are held by Republicans. Alexander is so far the only Southern incumbent to announce his retirement.

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Mick Mulvaney’s biting comments about Trump resurface after he’s named acting White House chief of staff

Former South Carolina congressman called Trump “a terrible human being” during 2016 debate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Just hours after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to name Mick Mulvaney acting White House chief of staff, a national news outlet resurrected a video from a 2016 congressional debate in South Carolina in which Mulvaney calls Trump “a terrible human being.”

The Daily Beast posted a short clip from video taken during a debate in York shortly before the 2016 election.

Mick Mulvaney at 2016 congressional debate (Photo from Daily Beast)

“Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump. I’m doing so as enthusiastically as I can despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney’s comments were reported at the time of the debate by The State newspaper in Columbia. In that story, Mulvaney also called Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, “perhaps two of the most flawed human beings running for president in the history of the country.”

The Daily Beast did not say where it obtained the video clip, which did not contain the rest of the debate.

Mulvaney’s comments in 2016 stand in contrast to his December 14  tweet after Trump installed him as chief of staff, albeit in an acting capacity.

“This is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!”

Neither the White House nor Trump have responded to the video. But a spokeswoman for Mulvaney called it “old news” and noted that Mulvaney had not yet met the president when he made those remarks.

Mulvaney, 51, represented South Carolina’s 5th District from 2011 until he was named by Trump as director of the Office of Management and Budget in 2017. The White House has said he will not give up the OMB job while serving temporarily as chief of staff.

Neither Trump nor the White House indicated how long Mulvaney might serve in the interim role.

Mulvaney will replace John Kelly, who Trump announced would be leaving the White House by the end of the year.

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North Carolina lawmakers allow GOP to ditch Mark Harris if disputed U.S. House race is rerun

Harris confirms he hired political operative at center of absentee ballot investigation but says he was unaware of illegal activity

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature has voted to require party primaries if state elections officials order a rerun of the disputed 9th District U.S. House race — a move that would allow the GOP to ditch Mark Harris, their current nominee who is at the center of an absentee voting scandal.

Mark Harris

In another development, Harris — in his first interview since the scandal broke — told Charlotte TV station WTVB that he personally made the decision to hire McRae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the center of an investigation by the State Board of Elections. But he said he did not know Dowless was doing anything illegal.

The state board, which has refused to certify Harris’s unofficial 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready, will hold an evidentiary hearing on the election dispute on January 11, which means that Harris is unlikely to be seated when the new Congress convenes on January 3.

Harris told WBTV that he decided to hire Dowless after narrowly losing a Republican primary for the 9th District seat in 2016, in which an opponent who hired Dowless had a strong performance among absentee voters in Bladen, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

“I remember looking at that and going, ‘Wow, that’s unusual,'” Harris said.

Harris said the services Dowless offered included canvassing people to fill out absentee ballot requests and then helping them cast and mail in their ballots — not collecting and returning ballots for them, which is illegal in North Carolina.

“I remember (Dowless) saying specifically that they were not to take a ballot. They were not to touch a ballot,” Harris said, noting that Dowless had been “vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.”

“I had no reason to think that what he was doing was illegal,” Harris said.

The state board refused to certify the election after evidence surfaced that Dowless and workers that he hired had collected ballots during the November vote. Bladen County also had an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, and Harris carried the absentee vote by 24 percentage points.

Dowless has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing to local media.

Harris said the board’s refusal to certify the election was “frustrating” plans to set up his congressional offices and get committee assignments.

“It’s been very frustrating because I’ve been elected to serve the 9th District, and I don’t feel like the 9th District is getting served,” he said.

In his interview, Harris did not directly criticize GOP legislative leaders for moving to force a new primary. But he did say, “I certainly don’t feel the circling of the wagons around Harris the way I see the Democrats circling the wagons around McCready.”

The bill passed December 13 by the legislature would require Democratic and Republican primaries if a rerun of the 9th District election is ordered. Had the law not been changed, Republicans would have been stuck with Harris as their nominee, raising concerns about losing the seat to McCready in the wake of the investigation.

McCready, who conceded to Harris on election night, has withdrawn his concession and is now raising money for a rematch.

Also possibly waiting in the wings for Harris in Republican primary is the man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated by just 828 votes in the May primary after taking 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen — results that have come under renewed scrutiny since the state board’s refusal to certify the general election results.

The bill mandating a primary — contained in a larger package of election reforms passed during a lame duck legislative session — is awaiting Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s signature. If Cooper vetoes the bill, Republicans would have the votes to override him.

Because of Democratic gains in November, Republicans will only hold veto-proof majorities until January, when the new legislature takes office.

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, is making his third bid for political office, after losing a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and the 9th District race in 2016.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, is making his political debut.

The 9th District takes in eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayetteville.

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12 former Southern senators join letter calling on current Senate to defend democracy

Southerners are part of a group of 44 former senators who penned an open letter in the Washington Post

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Twelve former Southern senators have joined an open letter calling on current senators “to be steadfast and zealous” in guarding democracy amid “serious challenges to the rule of law” flowing from investigations of President Trump and his administration.

“It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” wrote a bipartisan group of 44 former senators in the letter, which was published December 10 in the Washington Post.

The former senators cited a “convergence” between special counsel Robert Muller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and additional investigations likely to be launched by the incoming Democrat-led House.

“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” they wrote.

“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.”

The letter was signed by 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents who served in the Senate between the 1970s and 2015. Among the signatories were 12 Southerners, including 11 Democrats and a lone Republican, John Warner of Virginia. The list includes:

The seats of all of the Southern Democrats who signed the letter, except for Robb, are now in Republican hands. Warner’s seat is now held by a Democrat.

Republican Mark Harris will support new vote in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. District if fraud affected outcome

Harris, who has a 905-vote lead in unofficial results, insists he was “absolutely unaware” of wrongdoing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. House District, said he will support a new election if elections officials find proof that voter fraud affected the outcome of the November 6 vote.

Congressional candidate Mark Harris, R-North Carolina

In a video released December 7, Harris also said he was “absolutely unaware” of any wrongdoing by his campaign and pledged to cooperate with an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections into allegations of fraud in absentee ballots linked to a subcontractor paid for work by his campaign.

“I’m hopeful that this process will ultimately result in the certification of my election to Congress,” Harris said. “However, if this investigation finds proof of illegal activities on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of this election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to insure all voters have confidence in the results.”

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, holds a 905-vote lead in unofficial results. But the state board refused to certify the results after allegations of fraud in the distribution and collection of absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost that Harris carried over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.

The 9th District includes parts of eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayettteville.

Congressional candidate Dan McCready, D-North Carolina

McCready, who had conceded to Harris on election night, took to Twitter to withdraw his concession and demand that Harris answer questions about the fraud allegations.

“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back home and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy,” McCredy said. “I call on Mark Harris to tell us exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”

McCready, 34, served four years as a Marine officer, including service in the Iraq war.

The fraud allegations swirl around Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who the state board has identified as “a person of interest” in its investigation. The board has subpoenaed documents from the Harris campaign and the Red Dome Group, a Charlotte-based political consultancy that helped run Harris’s campaign and has said it hired Dowless as a subcontractor.

Voters in Bladen County have signed affidavits saying that they were approached at their homes by people offering to collect their absentee ballots for them and return them to the county elections office. That practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in North Carolina.

One of those ballot harvesters, Ginger Eason, told WSOC-TV that she was paid by Dowless to collect the ballots. Dowless has kept a low profile since the allegations surfaced but has denied any wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

Dowless, who has a previous conviction for insurance fraud, was investigated by the state elections board over voting irregularities in 2016. The board referred its findings to federal and state prosecutors.

In addition to concerns about ballot harvesting, the absentee vote totals in Bladen have also raised questions. More than 1,340 voters in Bladen requested absentee ballots, but only 684 were actually cast. And while McCready beat Harris among absentee voters in the rest of the district, Harris won by a 24-point margin in the absentee vote in Bladen.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

If the state elections board finds that fraud affected the outcome of the vote, it could order an election rerun between Harris and McCready. Republicans could not replace Harris on the ballot unless he dies or moves out of state.

However, the new Democrat-controlled House in Washington could refused to seat Harris, which would trigger an entirely new election, in which both parties would pick nominees in primaries.

The Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, has indicated that refusing to seat Harris is a possibility if the state board decides not to act.

“This is bigger than that one seat. This is about undermining the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “What was done there was so remarkable, in that that person, those entities, got away with that.”

The state elections board is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one member without a party affiliation.

The 9th District was one of four GOP-held seats in North Carolina targeted by Democrats in 2018. Republicans won the other three.

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U.S. Senator John Kennedy won’t run for Louisiana governor in 2019

Kennedy would have been formidable obstacle to re-election of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator John Kennedy will not run for Louisiana’s governorship in 2019, opting not to make what would have been a formidable challenge to Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’s prospects for re-election.

“It is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good,” he said in a December 3 statement announcing his decision.

U.S. Senator John Kennedy

The outspoken Kennedy also offered a blistering critique of the condition of state government back in the Pelican State.

“I hope someone runs for Governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution,” he said.

“I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.”

Kennedy, who has won six statewide elections, was the most prominent name among Republicans considering the governor’s race, and his decision not to run is good news for Edwards, who is trying to win re-election as a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state.

The only Republican in the race so far is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto has also said he is considering entering the contest and will announce his decision by January 1.

Kennedy, 67, was elected to the Senate in 2016 on his third try after a long career in state politics. He spent 17 years as state treasurer and served in the administrations of governors Buddy Roemer and Mike Foster. He switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2007, while treasurer.

During his time in the Senate, Kennedy has become known as one of the chamber’s most quotable members, offering often blunt and colorful analogies.

He once described Facebook’s behavior as “getting into the foothills of creepy,” and after sexual harassment charges rocked Hollywood, said that he didn’t know how movies were getting made “because it looks like they’re all busy molesting each other.”

Taking issue with the practice of credit reporting companies to charge consumers for protecting their information, Kennedy said, “I don’t pay extra in a restaurant to prevent the waiter from spitting in my food.”

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards

Edwards, 52, won the governorship in 2015 by defeating then-U.S. Senator David Vitter, and is the only Democrat to hold a governorship in the Deep South. Kennedy was then elected to Vitter’s seat.

In the 2015 campaign, Edwards benefited from the unpopularity of the outgoing Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, as well as personal issues surrounding Vitter, who publicly admitted to patronizing prostitutes.

This time around, Republicans will make Edwards’s record the issue, including tax hikes and Medicaid expansion that he pushed through the legislature and a controversial program to reduce prison sentences for non-violent offenders.

In Louisiana, all candidates for governor run against each other in a so-called “jungle” primary in October, with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff if no one gets a majority. The Republican field will most likely be competing for the second spot against Edwards.

Louisiana is one of four states that elect governors in off years. Neighboring Mississippi will also have a governor’s election in 2019.

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Decision ’18: Fraud allegations swirl around North Carolina 9th District U.S. House race

State elections board refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’s win, launches investigation

RALEIGH (CFP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections has refused to certify the results of the results in the 9th District U.S. House race and will hold a hearing to hear evidence of “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” during the November vote.

Dan McCready

Mark Harris

The decision means that Republican Mark Harris’s apparent 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready will not become official for at least three weeks, as elections officials vet claims of possible fraud in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district that went heavily for Harris.

The Associated Press, which had called the race for Harris, has rescinded its projection. McCready, who had conceded to Harris, said he was “shocked” by the board’s decision.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” McCready said in a Twitter post. “Any effort to rob a person of that right should be met with the full force of justice.”

Harris called on the board to certify the results pending the investigation, saying delaying the certification would be a “disservice” to voters in the district, which stretches across eight counties along the South Carolina border from the suburbs of Charlotte toward Fayetteville.

“I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” he said in a statement. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”

Before voting to delay the certification, the board — which has four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member — met in closed session and did not offer any details about the fraud allegations in a statement issued afterward.

However, the Charlotte Observer reported that the board acted after receiving affidavits from voters in Bladen who said they received absentee ballots they did not request or had people appear at their door to collect their absentee ballots, efforts linked to a contractor working for the Harris campaign.

Under state law, absentee ballots can be mailed or delivered directly to county elections offices before election day. But it is illegal for anyone other than a relative or guardian to deliver a voter’s ballot on their behalf.

Harris carried Bladen County by 1,557 votes, more than his entire districtwide margin of victory. However, his margin among absentee voters — 420 to 258 — is less, indicating that absentee fraud in Bladen alone would be unlikely to overturn the final result.

The Observer reported 7.5 percent of registered voters in Bladen requested an absentee ballot, about twice the rate in the rest of the district.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen County, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

Asked in an interview with Spectrum News about the possibility of fraud, Pittenger said, “It’s been out there. We were fully aware of it. There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Harris, 52, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, has been a long-time activist among religious conservatives. He made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2014.

McCready, 34, is a businessman and former Marine Corps captain making his first run for political office.

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