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U.S. Senate: Sessions, Tuberville advance to Alabama runoff, with Trump front and center

Texas Democrat MJ Hegar makes runoff; Cal Cunningham wins Democratic nod in North Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville topped the field in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, setting up an March 31 runoff with the man who gave up the seat in 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And Trump, who opted not to endorse anyone in the first round of voting, was quick to demonstrate that he still carries a grudge against Sessions with a post-primary tweet attributing his second-place showing to a lack of loyalty: “This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt.

Meanwhile in Texas, Democrats will decide a May 26 U.S. Senate runoff between the pick of the Democratic Senate establishment, MJ Hegar, and State Senator Royce West from Dallas. The winner of the runoff will take on Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

And in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, easily won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, turning back a challenger who had been aided with more than $2 million in ads from a Republican-affiliated PAC.

Sessions and Tuberville declare victory (From WSFA, Fox 10)

In Alabama, where Republicans have high hopes of defeating Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November, Tuberville — making his first run for political office — won 33 percent to 31 percent for Sessions. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who gave up his House seat to make the Senate race, finished third at 26 percent.

Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, won just 7 percent. Moore has denied the allegations.

In their election night speeches, both Sessions and Tuberville made it clear that fealty to Trump will be front and center in the runoff race.

Referring to Tuberville as a “tourist from Florida,” Sessions noted that he was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016 and accused Tuberville of being a johnny-come-lately to the Trump cause.

“Where was [Tuberville] when President Trump needed him? What did he do for Trump? Never said a kind word about him that I can find. Never gave a single penny of his millions to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

But Tuberville pointed to Sessions’s abrupt departure from the Trump administration after the president repeatedly criticized him for recusing himself during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, ‘You’re fired,'” Tuberville said. “Only one candidate in this race will support Donald Trump down the line. Doug won’t, Jeff didn’t, but Tommy will.”

In Texas, where the Democratic primary drew 12 candidates, Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, took 23 percent to lead the field, with Royce at 15 percent.

West has been a fixture in Austin for nearly three decades and is one of the state’s most prominent African American political leaders. He edged out Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who ran as a “progressive,” garnering endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

In North Carolina, Cunningham took 56 percent of the vote to 36 percent for State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat Tillis.

The Senate races in North Carolina and Texas are at the top of the Democrats’ target list for 2020, while Jones is considered to be the country’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in dark red Alabama.

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U.S. Senate nominations up for grabs Tuesday in 3 Southern states

Republicans will sort out the Senate race in Alabama, while Democrats tussle in Texas, North Carolina

(CFP) — Alabama Republicans will decide Tuesday whether to reward or punish former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his love-hate relationship with Donald Trump, while a gaggle of 12 Democrats jockey for the right to take on Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the establishment pick for the Democratic nomination, Cal Cunningham, is trying to hold off two challengers, one of whom received unsolicited support from an unlikely source — a PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Polls in Alabama and Texas are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time; in North Carolina, the polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m.

In Alabama, the Republican primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November.

Sessions held the Senate seat for 20 years before giving it up in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general, only to resign in late 2018 after his relationship with the president turned acrimonious in the wake of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Sessions parachuted into the Senate race last November, after Byrne and Tuberville had already been running for months. Since then, Sessions has gone out of his way to express fervent support for Trump, who carried Alabama by 28 points in 2016.

Trump has so far held his fire in the race, which polls show is likely headed to a runoff between Sessions and one of his two competitors on April 14.

Also in the race is Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, which he has denied. Polls show Moore lagging the rest of the field.

In Texas, the Democratic primary race in appears to be headed toward a runoff between MJ Hegar, who holds a strong lead the polls, and one of her 11 competitors.

Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot, burst onto the political scene in 2018 when she nearly unseated Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in his central Texas district.  She entered the Senate race against Cornyn last April and raised nearly $4 million for the primary, which earned her an endorsement from the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Battling for the second spot in the runoff are veteran State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin who has garnered endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards.

If no candidate gets a majority, the top two competitors will face off in a May 26 primary.

In North Carolina, Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is running against State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat GOP U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

Smith has denounced the ads, accusing Republicans of trying to meddle in the Democratic primary.

Under state law, Cunningham needs to win only 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a runoff on May 12.

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Insight: What do 2019’s election results in the South tell us about 2020?

Wins in Kentucky and Louisiana aren’t nirvana for Democrats, but they do show limits to GOP strategy of socialist pigeonholing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Now that the dust has cleared from elections in four Southern states earlier this month, what are the lessons, if any, for 2020 elections in which both the presidency and control of Congress will be on the line?

Some pundits in the chattering class and Democratic politicians have looked at victories by Democrats in governor’s races in deep red Kentucky and Louisiana and gleefully found evil portends for their GOP rivals next year.

That would be overreach.

Editor Rich Shumate

In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear won because the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, was as popular as a skin rash after four years of gratuitous insults and irritation. In Louisiana, Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards — that rarest of creatures, a pro-life Democrat — had strong job approval numbers and ran as far away as he could from the Elizabeth Warrens and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes in his party.

Trump couldn’t push Republicans over the finish line in either race, but Republicans carried all of the other statewide contests in both states and had a clean sweep in of state offices in Mississippi. So it would be a mistake to see these Democratic wins as a referendum on Trump, and Democrats shouldn’t find much solace in what was otherwise a rather dismal showing.

Still, the wins by Beshear and Edwards showed that the Republican strategy of calling Democrats socialists and ginning up the faithful with Trump rallies has its limits, even in states that the president carried by more than 20 points. In states with more even strength between the parties — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina — that strategy could be even less effective next year, particularly at the presidential level and in U.S. Senate races in the latter three states.

What should be of more concern to Republicans is the fact that the Democratic vote in cities and suburban areas was unusually strong and decidedly Democratic in 2019, mirroring a trend seen in 2018 when Democrats took control of the U.S. House.

Beshear won in Kentucky by carrying Louisville and Lexington and their suburbs by a margin of 135,000 votes, swamping Republican margins in the rest of the state. In Louisiana, Edwards won by carrying Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans by almost 165,000 votes, including winning almost 90 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and carrying suburban Jefferson Parish — home of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise — by 14 points.

The news for Republicans was even worse in Virginia, where Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature — in elections that used maps drawn by Republicans to protect Republicans — by gaining more ground in the suburbs around Washington, Richmond, and Norfolk. Among the casualties was the last Republican House member representing a district in the inner Washington suburbs, which 20 years ago was undisputed GOP territory.

In 2018, newfound Democratic strength in the suburbs allowed the party to take competitive U.S. House seats in Atlanta, Richmond, Miami, Dallas and Houston — and get surprise wins in Oklahoma City and Charleston. If that trend, also seen in 2019, continues into 2020, it could potentially put more seats into play in Little Rock, Tampa, Lexington, San Antonio and across North Carolina, where a court recently forced Republican legislators to redraw gerrymandered maps.

Over in the Senate, Republicans are defending two seats in Georgia and seats in Texas and North Carolina where Democrats now have a plausible path to victory, if they can push the urban/suburban vote past the pro-Trump margin in small towns and rural areas as they did in 2019. And the eyes of the nation will be on Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be defending his seat in the wake of Beshear’s breakthrough.

McConnell’s job approval numbers are 13 points underwater in Kentucky, according to the latest Morning Consult survey, making him one of the nation’s least popular senators. However, McConnell has substantially more political acumen than Bevin and a much better political machine, and he could benefit if he faces a Democrat whom he can pigeonhole as a leftist.

McConnell’s campaign is already taking aim at his only announced Democratic rival, Amy McGrath, who raised $8.6 million in an unsuccessful congressional race in 2018 but started the campaign with an embarrassing flip-flop on whether she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (First she said yes, then she said no.)

Rocky Adkins, a folksy, pro-life state legislator from Eastern Kentucky who ran second to Beshear in this year’s gubernatorial primary, is also considering entering the race and could prove a much more slippery target for McConnell’s ad makers.

Democrats need a net gain of four seats to take control of the Senate; three seats will be enough if a Democrat also carries the White House. That task will be very uphill if they don’t make breakthroughs in the South.

In the presidential race, the question will be if any the Democrats in the 2020 field can survive in the South in a binary match-up against Trump and his faithful followers.

Virginia is probably a lock for the Democrats, and Florida and North Carolina are always in play. The wild cards will be Georgia and Texas, where the heavy urban-suburban Democratic vote seen in 2018 and 2019 could make things interesting if it materializes again in 2020. (Trump carried Georgia by just 5 points in 2016; the margin was 9 points in Texas.)

However, it should be noted that if either Beshear or Edwards were in the presidential race, they would be far and away the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field. So could a presidential candidate who is highly likely to be substantially to their left duplicate the success they had locally in 2019, particularly in states where the president remains more popular than he does nationally?

Mmmm … don’t bet the rent.

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Texas U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is only Southern Republican to support condemning Trump

5 Southern Democrats from Trump districts voted to condemn his tweets about Democratic congresswomen

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After a day of high drama and contentious debate, the U.S. House approved a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for “racist” tweets directed at four left-wing congresswomen with only a single Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas — voting in favor.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

Ninety-four other Southern House Republicans voted against the resolution, which was supported by all 50 Southern House Democrats in the July 16 vote, including five members who represent districts Trump carried in 2016.

Those five members are Lucy McBath from Georgia, Kendra Horn from Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham from South Carolina, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria from Virginia.

Five Republicans from Texas — Kay Granger, Louie Gohmert, Roger Williams, Kenny Marchant and Michael Burgess — did not vote on the resolution. They also did not participate in other roll call votes held the same day.

The floor fight over the resolution was led on the GOP side by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who set off two hours of turmoil after objecting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s tweets “racist,” which he said violated House rules against offering personal criticism of the president.

After lengthy discussions between members and the chamber’s parliamentarians, the chair eventually ruled Pelosi’s comments out of order, but members, on a party-line vote, overturned that ruling.

Trump, who denied his criticism of the congresswomen was racist, had urged Republican members not to show “weakness” in supporting the resolution. In the end, only four Republicans broke ranks to support it.

The resolution said the House “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should ‘go back’ to other countries.”

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that a group of Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries if they were dissatisfied with life in America.

While he did not single out anyone by name, the tweets appeared to be a reference to four female members from the party’s left wing who have been among his sharpest critics — Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Of the four, only Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia as a child, was not born in the United States. All four are U.S. citizens, which is a requirement to sit in Congress.

Critics attributed what they see as Trump’s racist intent to make-up of the group, dubbed The Squad. Omar and Pressley are black, Ocasio-Cortez is Latino, and Tlaib is of Palestinian descent.

Hurd represents a majority-Latino swing district in West Texas. He is the only Southern Republican in Congress who represents a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and is among the top targets for House Democrats next year.

In an interview with PBS, Hurd called the president’s tweets “racist and xenophobic” and “also inaccurate.”

“The four women he is referring to are actually citizens of the United States, three of the four were born here. It’s also a behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world,” Hurd said. “He should be talking about things that unite us, not divide us. And also, I think, politically, it doesn’t help.”

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