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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones dies at 76

Death will trigger a special election in the state’s 3rd U.S. House district

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

GREENVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a libertarian maverick who frequently bucked his party’s leadership and became a vocal opponent of sending U.S. troops into foreign wars, has died at the age of 76.

Jones, who had been granted a leave of absence from the House in December due to ill health, died on his birthday Sunday at a hospice in Greenville, according to his office. He had entered the hospice in late January when he health took a downward turn after breaking a hip.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina

“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity. He was never afraid to take a principled stand.” said a statement from his office issued upon his death. “Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”

His funeral is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Greenville.

Jones’s death will trigger a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which takes in a wide swath of the eastern part of the state along the Atlantic Coast, including the Outer Banks.

After serving a decade in the North Carolina House as a Democrat, Jones was elected to Congress in 1994 as a Republican. His father, Walter Jones Sr., served as a Democratic member of Congress for 26 years before his death in 1992.

Together, father and son served a total of 50 years in the House, starting in 1967.

In 2003, the younger Jones, a strong supporter of the Iraq War, famously introduced a resolution to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after the French government voted against the U.S. invasion at the United Nations.

But as casualties mounted and no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Jones became a vocal critic of the war, saying Congress had been misled by faulty intelligence.

He then introduced legislation to try to force the Bush administration to bring the troops home — a stance that went down less than well in a district that is home to both the Fort Bragg Army base and Camp Lejeune Marine base.

But Jones saw off a primary challenge in 2008 and continued to be a frequent thorn in the side of Republican leaders. In 2011, Jones was stripped of his seat on the House Financial Services Committee after voting against a budget proposal pushed by his party leadership.

More recently, Jones signed on to a letter calling on Congress to obtain and examine President Donald Trump’s income tax returns, and he called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election after Nunes discussed the investigation with White House officials.

Due to his health issues, Jones had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2020, opening up the 3rd District seat, which leans Republican. He did not face Democratic opposition in 2018.

Governor Roy Cooper has not yet set the date of the special election to fill the vacancy. Each party will hold a primary, followed by a general election between the two winners.

The 3rd District seat is one of two North Carolina seats that are now open. In the 9th District, state elections officials have refused to certify the results in the November race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

The State Board of Elections will convene  February 18 to hear evidence in the case, which could lead to a new election.

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Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation

Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.

Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.

In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”

Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.

“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”

The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.

In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”

Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.

“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.

Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”

“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”

Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.

The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave

The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.

But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.

Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”

“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”

Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart,  House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.

If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.

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Georgia GOP U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall won’t seek re-election in 2020

Decision will give Democrats a prime pickup opportunity in the Atlanta suburbs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — After nearly losing his seat to a Democratic challenger in 2018, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall has announced that he will forgo an expected rematch and instead retire from the House in 2020 after four terms.

Woodall is the first Southern congressman to forgo a re-election bid in 2020, opening the 7th District seat in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs, a once a solidly Republican area that has shifted Democratic.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Georgia

The congressman announced the decision in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing family concerns, including the recent death of his father, for his decision.

“Doing what you love requires things of you, and having had that family transition made me start to think about those things that I have invested less in because I’ve been investing more here,” he said.

He said he wanted to announce his retirement early in the 2020 cycle to “give the next team time to prepare.”

After Woodall’s retirement, Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux — who lost to him by just 433 votes after a recount in what turned out to be the closest House race of 2018 — announced that she will seek the 7th District seat again in 2020, a contest that will be a the top of both party’s target lists.

Bordeaux, a professor at Georgia State University, has scheduled her formal announcement for February 12.

While Bordeaux will be a prohibitive favorite on the Democratic side, the race is likely to draw a large field of Republican candidates, from among both state legislators and local officials.

The 7th District is centered in Gwinnett County, which has been trending less Republican as its growing population has become more racially and ethnically diverse. It also includes parts of Forsyth County, which remains solidly Republican.

Overall, the district is now majority non-white, with large and growing African American, Asian and Latino communities.

Woodall, 48, served as an aide to the district’s former representative, U.S. Rep. John Linder, before being elected to the seat in 2010 when Linder retired.

He won re-election by relatively safe margins before running into Bordeaux and a Democratic suburban wave in 2018 that nearly took him down.

In the neighboring 6th District, Republican incumbent Karen Handel lost to Democrat Lucy McBath, a seat the GOP will try to reclaim in 2020.

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Meltdown in Richmond: 3 top Virginia Democrats all snared in crises over conduct

Woman claims lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her; attorney general admits to wearing blackface

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — The turmoil in the top echelons of Virginia politics took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a women publicly accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a teen, echoing a controversy already swirling around Governor Ralph Northam.

A little more than a year after Democrats swept to victory in all three statewide races, party leaders are reeling, as their three top state officeholders battle for political survival.

With Northam under pressure to resign, Fairfax and Herring are next in the line of succession to the governorship. Should all three be forced to depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

The most serious charges have been raised against Fairfax, 39, a rising star in Democratic politics who was elected to lieutenant governor in 2017.

Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor in California, released a statement putting on the record her allegations against Fairfax, which were first published on a conservative website, Big League Politics, based on a private Facebook post.

Tyson said she decided to go on the record after Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, said the sex was consensual and threatened legal action against news organizations pursuing the story.

“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions,” she said in the statement, issued through her attorneys. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”

Tyson said that during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room, where he forced her to perform oral sex after “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”

“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me,” she said. “I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”

At the time of the convention, Fairfax was an aide in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry; Tyson was working at the convention.

Tyson, who holds a doctorate and is a tenured professor at Scripps College near Los Angeles, said the news that Fairfax might replace Northam “flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.”

She said she began sharing the story of her encounter with Fairfax in 2017, when she learned that he was seeking office in Virginia.

She also spoke with the Washington Post, and, when the post decided not to run the story, “I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained.”

The Post has said it did not pursue the story because it could not corroborate either Fairfax or Tyson’s versions of event.

In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued a statement of his own again insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.

“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly,” he said. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

Tyson’s statement came just hours after Herring apologized for wearing blackface back in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

“Some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” he said in a statement. “That conduct shows clearly that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

He also said that “the shame of the moment has haunted me for decades” and “that I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

Despite having this episode at UVA in his background, Herring had called on Northam to resign last week after a photo published on Northam’s yearbook page showed a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the 1984 photo and did not see it until it surfaced on Big League Politics. While he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he also admitted that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

Northam has come under increasing pressure from Republicans, civil rights groups and even fellow Democrats — including both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and much of the 2020 presidential field — to step aside. He has so far refused.

After Herring’s admission, the Republican Party of Virginia called on him to resign as well, although the party has not yet issued a similar call for Fairfax.

“Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable,” said Jack Wilson, GOP state chair, in a statement.

“As we renew our call for Governor Northam’s resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring’s name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.”

Herring, 57, was elected as attorney general in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. Both he and Fairfax had been considered as possible candidates to succeed Northam as governor in 2021.

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Virginia lieutenant governor pushes back against sexual assault allegation

Justin Fairfax threatens legal action over encounter that his attorneys tell Washington Post was consensual

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam fights to stay in office amid a raging controversy over a racist photo, the man who would take over if Northam departs, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is pushing back against a sexual assault allegation.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

Fairfax came out swinging after Big League Politics — the same conservative website that published a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page — reported on a private Facebook post from a woman who claims she was assaulted during the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The woman does not explicitly name Fairfax as her attacker in the post but describes her attacker as someone elected to statewide office in 2017 who is about to “get a very big promotion” — a description that fits Fairfax.

After Big League Politics posted the story, Fairfax’s office issued a statement denying the allegation, insisting that the Washington Post investigated the woman’s claim after Fairfax was elected in 2017 and declined to publish a story after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies.”

That prompted the Washington Post to publish a story in which the newspaper denied finding “significant red flags and consistences.” It said no story was published because Fairfax and the woman “told different versions” about their encounter, neither of which could be corroborated.

The Post also reported that Fairfax, through his attorneys, described his encounter with the woman as consensual.

In 2004, Fairfax was working for the campaign of then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president that year. He was single at the time; he married in 2006.

Big League Politics said it obtained the private Facebook post from a friend of the woman, who said she had the woman’s permission to share it. The website identified the woman making the assault allegation but said it had not spoken with her.

ChickenFriedPolitics does not identify sexual assault victims who have not gone on the record with their story.

Fairfax’s denial came in a statement attributed to his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, and his communications director, Lauren Burke.

“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” the statement said. “Not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been made.”

His spokespeople also said the lieutenant governor “will take appropriate action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”

Fairfax, 39, has been in the spotlight since Friday when the racist photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page appeared on Big League Politics. The photo shows two men, one in blackface and the other dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

The governor says he believes he is not one of the men pictured in the photo, but he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his yearbook page. He also admitted to darkening his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.

Leading Democrats and civil rights leaders, as well as Virginia Republicans, have been pressuring Northam to resign, but he has so far resisted.

Should Northam step down, Fairfax would serve out the remaining three years of his term. If both offices were vacated, under state law Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, would take over.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he is not in racist photo, refuses to resign

Northam’s amended narrative comes after growing number of Democrats pressure him to step down

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — A day after saying he was “deeply sorry” for a photo on his medical school yearbook page in which two men are shown wearing racist costumes, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he believes he is not pictured in the photo and will not resign.

But while addressing reporters Saturday with his political career hanging by a thread, Northam admitted to another incident that could compound his difficulties — that he darkened his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984, the same year the offensive photo was published.

Northam address reporters with wife, Pam (From NBC News via YouTube)

After the news conference, during which the governor offered a frequently disjointed narrative under questioning from reporters, his political position deteriorated further.

Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, called for his resignation, saying they “no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia.”

And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax — a Northam ally who would take over if he departs — issued a statement that stopped just short of calling on the governor to go.

“I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation,” said Fairfax, who is African American. “At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature.”

The Democratic governor said his initial statement on Friday — made after the photo appeared on a conservative website, Big League Politics — was an apology directed at people who were offended by the photo, not an admission that he had participated in it.

“When my staff showed the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Northam said the news conference in the Executive Mansion, standing next to his wife, Pam. “When I was confronted with these images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo.”

“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content,” he said. “It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”

Photo from Northam’s page in 1984 yearbook

The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.

The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of him, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam said that after looking more closely at the photo and talking to his medical school classmates overnight, he does not believe he is the man in blackface and that “there is no way I have ever been” in a KKK uniform.

He also said he had no recollection of attending the party where the photo was taken.

The governor conceded that he understands “that many people will find this difficult to believe.”

Northam has come under intense pressure to resign, not only from Republicans but from within his own party. But he said he would stay as governor and try to repair relationships with those offended by the photo.

“If I were to listen to the voices calling on my to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”

However, Northam indicated he might revisit the issue of resignation if the controversy affected his ability to serve as governor.

The lengthening list of Democrats calling for Northam to step aside includes his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe; Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee; and six Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African Americans.

Missing from that list are Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

During the news conference, Northam said in 1984, while an Army doctor in San Antonio, he “darkened” his face with shoe polish while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he said he won because he could moonwalk.

He said he recalled the episode years later while talking about blackface with an African-American aide, which made him realize how offensive his conduct had been.

“In the time and place where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognized as abhorrent today were commonplace,” he said.

Northam — who ran for state office four times without anyone making the yearbook photo an issue — also said “there was an agenda involved” with whomever provided the yearbook page to Big League Politics, although he declined to speculate on a possible motive.

The website did not reveal the source of the photo.

The photo’s release came amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Northam over comments he made in support of a bill easing restrictions on late-term abortions, which led conservative critics to accuse him of endorsing infanticide.

Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, he served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.

He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate.

Fairfax, 39, an attorney from the Washington D.C. suburbs, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.

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