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Texas U.S. Senate debate: Cruz, O’Rourke clash on immigration, energy policy, taxes and Trump

Final face-off comes with President Donald Trump poised to head to Texas to campaign for Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Watch full debate on Twitter

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Meeting to face-to-face for the second and likely last time, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sparred over immigration and border security, health care, abortion, tax cuts and, no surprise, President Donald Trump, who is about to bring his rally roadshow to Texas on Cruz’s behalf.

O’Rourke and Cruz meet in Oct. 16 debate (Courtesy KENS)

Throughout the October 16 debate in San Antonio, Cruz painted O’Rourke as an extremist beholden to “left-wing national activists” who supports “socialized medicine” and whose views are out of step with most conservative Texans.

O’Rourke, in turn, accused Cruz of being “all talk and no action” and more interested in his national political ambitions and the welfare of corporate interests than representing the people of his state in the Senate.

The sharpest exchanges came when Cruz charged that O’Rourke had voted for a $10-a-barrel tax on oil, which he said would negatively impact the state’s oil and gas industry, and the congressman insisted that the senator was mischaracterizing his record.

“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted’ and why that stuck.”

Cruz fired back with a quote from John Adams that “facts are stubborn things” and said he would post proof of O’Rourke’s oil tax vote on his website.

“If you work in oil and gas, Congressman O’Rourke’s record on this is extreme,” Cruz said.

Cruz also said O’Rourke, if elected, would push for Trump’s impeachment, which he said would lead to a “partisan circus” that would create chaos in Congress and stymie action on other issues.

O’Rourke shot back that it was “really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the United States Senate.”

Cruz also touted his work on the tax cut bill recently passed by Congress, saying it had brought marked improvement to the Lone Star State’s economy.

“Texas is booming. We’ve got the lowest unemployment we’ve had in 49 years,” he said. “We’re seeing record growth.”

But O’Rourke, who opposed the tax cut plan, said it would add $2 trillion to the deficit. He said he supported a partial raise in the corporate tax rate, which could be used to improve universal access to health care through expanded access Medicare and Medicaid.

Cruz dismissed O’Rourke’s health care plan as “socialized medicine” and said income tax rates would have to be tripled  to pay for it. He also noted his consistent support for repeal of Obamacare, although he pushed back when O’Rourke charged that he wanted to take away coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions mandated in the current health care law.

On abortion, Cruz said O’Rourke was on “extreme pro-abortion side” by not supporting restrictions on late-term abortions and supporting taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid. He also said the congressman would push for confirmation of “left-wing judicial activists who impose their own policy positions from the bench” on issues such as abortion and gun control.

O’Rourke did not back away from his support for legal abortion, telling the debate audience that would only vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who will support a woman’s right “to make her own decisions about her own body.”

The candidates also differed on Trump’s proposed physical border wall on the U.S-Mexico border, with Cruz in support and O’Rourke in opposition.

“No wall is going to solve legitimate security concerns,” O’Rourke said, calling for increased spending on customs infrastructure to improve the flow of goods and people across the border.

Cruz responded that O’Rourke “not only opposes a wall … he wants to tear down the ones we have.”

The candidates’ second encounter in San Antonio is the last scheduled debate between them before the November 6 election.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised a staggering $51 million for the race, including $38 million in the last quarter, which set an all-time quarterly record for fundraising by a Senate candidate. Cruz has so far raised $35 million for the entire race.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. A Democrat has not won a Senate race since 1988; Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

The last five public polls in the race have shown Cruz with a lead, but none of those leads have been outside the poll’s margin of error, which indicates that the race is still too close to definitively say either man has a lead.

Despite an often contentious relationship between Cruz and Trump during the 2016 presidential race, the White House has announced that the president will travel to Houston on October 22 for a campaign rally with the senator.

President Donald Trump stumps for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky

President calls  Barr’s opponent in 6th U.S. House District an “extreme liberal” chosen by “Democrat mob”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND, Kentucky (CFP) — President Donald Trump traveled to central Kentucky to excite his followers with a Make America Great Again rally in the commonwealth’s 6th U.S. House District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr is in a political dogfight with his Democratic challenger, political newcomer Amy McGrath.

At an October 13 rally at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Trump said re-electing Barr “could make the difference between unbelievable continued success and frankly failure where we fight for two more years with these people, with these obstructionists.”

He also blasted McGrath as an “extreme liberal” who was “chosen by Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters — that’s a real beauty — and the radical Democrat mob.”

“Amy supports a socialist takeover of your health care,” he said. “She supports open borders. She needs the tax hikes to cover the through-the-roof garbage that you want no part of.”

For his part, Barr lauded the president, calling him “a man of action.”

“Other people resist, but this president gets results,” he said. “Mr. President, I’m with you to fight for the American people.”

In addition to Barr, the Richmond rally drew all three of Kentucky’s top elected Republicans, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Governor Matt Bevin, who faces what is likely to be a touch battle for re-election in 2019.

In response to Trump’s characterizations of her, McGrath released a one-sentence statement to the media: “Mr. President, you clearly don’t know me. Yet.”

According to McGrath’s website, she supports reforms of the existing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, rather than its repeal, which Barr has voted for. She also supports the so-called “public option,” a government-run health insurance agency to provide an option for people who cannot get access through the ACA.

McGrath opposes Trump’s plan to build a physical wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, which Barr also supports, and has also criticized the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

A day before Trump came to Richmond, former Vice President Joe Biden came to the district to campaign with McGrath.

McGrath, 43, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs of Northern Kentucky, is a retired Marine fighter pilot making her first bid for the political office against Barr in the 6th District, which includes Lexington, Frankfort, Richmond and adjacent portions of the Kentucky Bluegrass.

Barr, 45, has represented the 6th District since 2012. Prior to being elected to Congress, he was an attorney in Lexington.

McGrath has raised more than $3 million for the campaign, more than any other Democratic challenger in the South in 2018.

The race is rated as a toss-up by political analysts, although public polling has been sparse.

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Blackburn, Bredesen clash over immigration, guns and Kavanaugh in U.S. Senate debate

Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Click photo to watch full debate (Courtesy: Nexstar Broadcasting)

KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.

Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.

Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”

“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”

Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”

“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.

The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.

“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”

Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.

“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”

Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”

“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”

At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”

On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”

“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.

But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.

“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”

Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.

“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.

But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”

“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.

Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.

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U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will leave her post at the end of 2018

Former South Carolina governor says she has no plans to seek the White House in 2020

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — In a move that caught Washington by surprise, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has announced that she will step down from her post at the end of the year.

The former South Carolina governor made the announcement at the White House October 9 sitting next to the man who appointed her, President Donald Trump, who told reporters that Haley has “done an incredible job.”

“Hopefully you’ll be coming back at some point … maybe a different capacity,” Trump said.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announces her departure with President Trump at the White House October 9 (Courtesy White House pool)

Haley, who had been a vocal critic of Trump during the 2016 campaign before signing on to serve in his Cabinet, made it clear that her departure has nothing to do with any future political plans.

“No, I’m not running for 2020,” she said. “I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one,” pointing to Trump.

Haley said that after six years as governor and two years in the U.N. post, she wanted to leave government service and return to private life, although she did not announce any specific plans.

“I think you have to be selfless enough to know when you step aside and allow someone else to do the job,” she said.

Haley also defended Trump’s approach to foreign policy, which has frequently been disquieting to some of America’s traditional allies.

“Now, the United States is respected,” she said. “Other countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do.”

Haley, 46, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, had no foreign policy experience when she was tapped for the U.N. post. She is the only woman in a senior-level Cabinet post and the last survivor of Trump’s original foreign policy team, which has featured two different secretaries of state and three national security advisers.

During the 2016 campaign, Haley supported two of Trump’s rivals after urging Americans to resist the temptation “to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” in what was widely seen as a thinly veiled rebuke of Trump.

She never never explicitly endorsed Trump during the campaign, although she did tell reporters at the Republican National Convention in July that she intended to vote for her party’s nominee.

However, since her elevation to the Cabinet, she has defended the president, most recently by criticizing the author of an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times who described an internal resistance movement within the White House.

“I don’t agree with the president on everything. When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it,” Haley said. “I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person.”

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Taylor Swift sends bad blood Blackburn’s way in Tennessee U.S. Senate race; GOP shakes it off

Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.

Taylor Swift

“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”

“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.

President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”

“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.

Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.

Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.

She did not mention the Democratic candidate for governor, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is running against Republican businessman Bill Lee.

Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”

In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”

Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.

Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.

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West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin breaks with party to support Kavanaugh confirmation

Manchin’s decision all but ensures that President Trump’s nominee will get seat on U.S. Supreme Court

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only Senate Democrat to break with his party to support President Trump’s embattled nominee.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin’s decision virtually ensures that Kavanuagh will be confirmed when the Senate takes a final vote on the nomination, a week after the jurist angrily denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were teenagers in the 1980s.

The vote on the nomination was delayed a week while the FBI investigated the allegations.

In a statement announcing his decision, Manchin said he has “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”

“My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced sexual assault,” Manchin said. “However, based on all the information I have available to me, including the recently concluded FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”

But Machin also said he hoped Kavanaugh “would not let the partisan nature this process took follow him on to the court.”

After supporting Kavanaugh in a procedural vote, Manchin had to make he way past a crowd of angry protestors inside the Capitol.

Machin is the only Democratic senator to support Kavanaugh. His vote became more important for the confirmation after one of the Senate’s 51 Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced that she would vote no.

Four other Southern Democrats opposed the nomination — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Doug Jones of Alabama. All 23 Southern Republicans supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Machin — running for re-election in November in a state Trump carried by 40 points in 2016 — was under considerable pressure to back Kavanaugh.  He previously supported Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.

Polls have consistently shown Manchin with a lead over his Republican opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

On Twitter, Morrisey accused Manchin of making “a craven political calculation” in supporting Kavanaugh and said he “owes West Virginia an apology for watching, doing nothing, as Democrats sought to destroy Judge Kavanaugh.”

Nelson and Kaine are also up for re-election in November; Warner and Jones will be on the ballot in 2020.

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Insight: Republicans find themselves playing defense in Southern U.S. House races

Across the region, at least 30 House seats are potentially competitive, all of them now in GOP hands

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

A month away from the 2018 midterm election, Republicans in the South are finding themselves in a situation they haven’t faced in several election cycles.

Namely, playing defense in U.S. House races.

Currently, at least 30 seats are either highly or potentially competitive across the 14 Southern states. And not one of those seats is now held by a Democrat.

Of course, this disparity is to be expected, given that Republicans hold 114 Southern House seats to just 40 for Democrats. With such a dominant majority, the GOP has more of the field to defend.

However, the fluid situation in 2018 stands in stark contrast to 2016, when Democrats managed to take away just two seats anywhere in the South, and in 2014, when Democrats suffered a net loss of three seats.

Democratic opportunities have opened up across the region, including a few isolated districts in states such as Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina, where President Donald Trump won massive victories in 2016.

But the Democrats’ biggest hopes of trying to chip away at the Republicans’ Southern hegemony lie in suburban swing districts in the largest Southern states, including Florida, Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.

Of the 11 highly competitive districts, three are in Virginia and two each are in Florida, Texas and North Carolina. There are also two seats in metro Atlanta where Republicans are currently favored but Democrats are within striking distance.

Of the six Republican-held seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, the Republican candidate is currently ahead in just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s seat in West Texas.

Those five seats are perhaps the most endangered. But Democrats also have a decent shot at seats in the Kentucky Bluegrass, metro Little Rock and the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

And in Texas, which has been a wasteland for Democrats for the better part of three decades, at least eight House seats are competitive in 2018.

What has made the difference for Democrats in this election cycle as opposed to 2014 and 2016? Part of the answer may be money.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, 16 Democratic House nominees have raised more than $1 million, led by Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s 6th District, who raised more than $3 million. Another nominee, Clarke Tucker in Arkansas’s 2nd District, is likely to break the million dollar barrier before all is said and done.

Money does not, by itself, make a seat competitive. But anyone who has a million dollars to spend on a House race has to be taken seriously, no matter the traditional partisan lean of the district.

Having to play defense in the South also has significant implications for Republican chances of keeping control of the House.

The region has been the GOP’s big red wall, supplying nearly 60 percent of its House majority. So any erosion in that wall is an unwelcome development, particularly in an election where polls show Democrats with a lead in the generic congressional ballot.

Still, one should be careful not to overstate Democratic prospects in the South in 2018. If Democrats take half of the current seats that are toss-ups and Republicans hold all the seats where they are now ahead, the net Democratic gain across the region would only be six seats.

However, given that Democrats only need to shift a net of 24 seats nationally to take control of the House, the loss of six seats in the GOP heartland could prove problematic. A blue wave in Texas or Virginia — the states where Democratic hopes are highest — could be catastrophic.

The one thing we can be sure of is that on election night, the political class will be paying more attention to the results of House races in the South than has been paid in quite some time.

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