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Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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State Primary Wrap: Stacey Abrams roars to Democratic governor’s nomination in Georgia; GOP faces runoff

Final fields for governor’s races also set in Arkansas and Texas; incumbent survives in Arkansas Supreme Court contest

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has made history in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor, crushing her opponent to become the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state.

Georgia Republicans are headed to a runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, after neither won a majority in the May 22 primary.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson was nominated for a second term and will be heavily favored over the Democratic winner, political newcomer Jared Henderson. And Texas Democrats picked former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to face incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott in November, making her the first Latina and first openly lesbian candidate to be nominated by a major party for Texas governor.

Georgia Democratic governor nominee Stacey Abrams

In Georgia, Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House whose candidacy has drawn national attention, took 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for former State Rep. Stacey Evans, winning all but six of the state’s 159 counties.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Atlanta, Abrams vowed to create a “coalition that reaches across backgrounds, sharing our constant belief in our capacity to win.”

“We have to reach out to those who do not believe their voices matter, who’ve been disappointed again and again by promises made and never kept,” she said. “In the Book of Esther, there is a verse that reminds us that we were born for such a time as this.”

After seeing their party lose four governor’s elections in a row, Democrats who voted in the primary clearly bought into Abrams’s argument that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to expand the electorate, rather than Evans’s argument that Democrats needed a nominee who could appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands.

But while Abrams did win more votes in the primary than any candidate on either side of the ballot, overall, 54,000 more voters picked up Republican ballots, in a state that has no party registration.

Brian Kemp

Casey Cagle

In the Republican primary, Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, took 39 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Kemp, who has been secretary of state since 2011. Cagle beat Kemp in the large suburban Atlanta counties, where the bulk of Georgia Republicans live, and in all of the smaller cities except Athens, which Kemp once represented in the Georgia Senate.

However, Georgia has a long history of the second-place finisher in a primary coming from behind to win a runoff, most notably in 2010, when current Governor Nathan Deal defeated Karen Handel, who returned to political office last year by winning a seat in Congress.

The runoff in Georgia in July 24.

In another Georgia race of interest, former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, won his party’s nomination for secretary of state without a runoff. Republicans will have a runoff between former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and State Rep. Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson took 70 percent to 30 percent for Jan Morgan, a gun rights activist and television pundit who ran at the governor from the right, beating him in five rural counties. In November, he will face Henderson, a former NASA scientist who runs a Little Rock non-profit that advocates on education issues.

The most contentious battle in the Natural State was a non-partisan contest for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson advanced to a runoff against David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Goodson took 37 percent of the vote; Sterling, 34 percent.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise.

She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads. JCN also spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

Although the JCN’s ads targeted Sterling’s opponents, he has insisted that he has no connection to the group.

Goodson and Sterling will now face each other on the November general election ballot.

In Texas, in the Democratic race for governor, Valdez defeated Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Governor Mark White, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Abbott won the Republican nomination outright in the March primary.

Valdez, 70, was elected to four terms as sheriff of Dallas County, the state’s second largest with 2.5 million people. She resigned in 2017 when she launched her campaign for governor.

Valdez starts the race as a decided underdog against Abbott, who has raised more than $43 million for the campaign. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1988.

Republican governors survive in Florida and Georgia

The GOP also takes away an open Democratic governorship in Arkansas

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — The Republican firewall held at the gubernatorial level across the South in the November 4 midterm election, with the GOP keeping endangered seats in Florida and Georgia and taking away a Democrat-held seat in Arkansas.

Republicans will now hold 11 of the 14 governorships in Southern states.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

In Florida, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist lost his bid to resurrect his political career in a battle with Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott won narrowly in the Sunshine State, 48 percent to 47 percent

Meanwhile, up in Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal easily fended off a challenge from State Senator Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Deal took 53 percent, to 45 percent for Carter.

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

In Arkansas, where Democratic Governor Mike Beebe was term-limited, former GOP U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson – making his fourth try for statewide office – defeated former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott crushed Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention last year after filibustering a bill restricting abortion.

Abbott took 59 percent of the vote, to 29 percent for Davis. Republican candidates have now won the last six gubernatorial elections in the Lone Star State.

Elsewhere in the South, Republican incumbents won easy victories victories in Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Polls: GOP opens up leads in U.S. Senate races in Arkansas and Kentucky

New NBC polling shows U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states ttankWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Arkansas and Kentucky have opened up small leads over their Democratic opponents. according to new polling, which could be good news for the GOP’s chances to wrest control of the Senate from Democratic hands.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

The NBC News/Marist polls, released September 7, showed Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton at 45 percent among likely voters in Arkansas, compared to incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor at 40 percent. Cotton’s lead was beyond the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had an even bigger lead over his opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Among likely voters, McConnell was the choice of 47 percent, compared to 39 percent for Grimes. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Previous public polling had both of these races as toss-ups.

Part of what may be fueling the stronger showing by Republican candidates is President Barack Obama’s abysmal approval rating in both states.

In Arkansas, 61 percent of registered voters disapproved of the president’s performance, while only 31 percent approved. And more than 70 percent of Arkansans said the country was on the wrong track.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

In Kentucky, Obama’s approval ratings were even worse, with 62 percent disapproving and just 31 percent approving. And nearly three-quarters of Kentuckians thought the country was on the wrong track.

The NBC/Marist poll also took at look at the open governor’s race in Arkansas. It showed that Republican Asa Hutchinson at 48 percent and Democrat Mike Ross at 39 percent, well beyond the margin of error.

Both Hutchinson and Ross are former members of the U.S. House. Incumbent Democratic Governor Mike Beebe is term-limited.

Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross advance to Arkansas governor’s race

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin wins Republican primary for lieutenant governor

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Two former members of the U.S. House — Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross — will meet in November in the governor’s race in Arkansas.

Hutchinson, 63, easily won the GOP nomination on May 20, carrying 72 percent of the vote against Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman. Ross, 52, won a lopsided victory in the Democratic primary over Lynette Bryant, a Little Rock physician, with 85 percent.

Hutchinson served two terms in Congress, representing northwest Arkansas, before being appointed in 2001 as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has lost three previous races for statewide office, including an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006.

After the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year, Hutchinson signed on as the point man for National Rifle Association’s effort to combat school violence without imposing any new restrictions on firearms.

Ross served 12 years in Congress, representing southern and western Arkansas, before retiring in 2012. In the House, he was a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and was one of the few Democrats to vote against Obamacare when it came to the floor of the House.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Ross had initially said he would not run for governor, but he jumped into the race when the Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, withdrew after admitting to an extra-marital affair with a woman who was later charged with manslaughter.

In the primary races for lieutenant governor, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock won the Republican nomination over two challengers. He will face Democrat John Burkhalter, a former member of the state highway commission from Little Rock, in November.

Analysis: Results in Arkansas Senate election bode ill for Democrats in November

Victory by an anti-Obamacare Republican in a Democratic district may forecast trouble ahead for Mark Pryor and Mike Ross

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugJONESBORO, Arkansas (CFP) — The results of a special election to fill a vacancy in the Arkansas Senate are making Natural State Democrats mighty nervous.ME sm

Republican John Cooper easily defeated Democrat Steve Rockwell in a district in Jonesboro, in the northeastern part of the state.

Rockwell was a moderate businessman in the image of Governor Mike Beebe and former U.S. House Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for governor this year.

He was also running in a what had been a Democratic district, in a part of the state that traditionally leans Democratic.

But Cooper, a retired AT&T manager, based his campaign on opposition to the state’s private-option expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured Arkansans — an expansion made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Rockwell supported the private option, which Beebe pushed through the legislature last year. While the propoal had substantial Republican support at the time, a strongly anti-Obamacare faction of the GOP was incensed and has been making their displeasure known ever since.

Cooper’s victory may imperil the private option, which will come before the legislature again this year. The first time around, it passed in the Senate with just two votes to spare, one of which was cast by the man Cooper is replacing, Paul Bookout.

But perhaps more ominously for Democrats, it indicates the potency of Obamacare as a issue Republicans can use in November.

Pryor, who voted for Obamacare, is being assailed for that vote at every turn by his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

Ross may also face the backlash in the governor’s race. He supported Obamacare on a key vote in a House committee, although, in the end, he voted against it on the floor. But he has come out in favor of the public option in Arkansas.

Of the three Republicans in the gubernatorial primary, two —  Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and State Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers — have come out against the private option.  Hobbs voted against it; Coleman’s campaign Web site features a petition calling for its repeal.

The Republican frontrunner, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, has not taken a clear position on the private option. However, he has been highly critical of Ross for his committe vote for the Obamacare bill.

Coleman and Hobbs have been trying to make hay out of Hutchinson’s lack of clarity on the private option. It remains to be seen if either one of them can ride it to victory in the primary.

But no matter who Republicans end up nominating, Obamacare is going to be the 800-pound gorilla in both the races for Senate and governor. And if the Jonesboro Senate race is a barometer of how it may play, that is not good news for Pryor or Ross.

Even more problematic may be the fact that the fight over the private option will dominate the upcoming legislative budget session, pitting Beebe and his Democratic allies in the legislature against a very noisy anti-Obamacare faction for weeks on end.

One potential silver lining for Ross and Pryor: If Republicans manage to torpedo the private option, as many as 250,000 Arkansans who will be thrown off the insurance rolls may get mad enough to fight back.

Bill Halter drops out of Arkansas governor’s race, leaving Democratic field clear for former Rep. Mike Ross

Halter, the former lieutenant governor, says he’s dropping out in the name of Democratic uniy.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com Editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Democrats have avoided a potentially divisive primary for governor in 2014, after former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter announced he’s dropping out of the race and throwing his support to former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross.

The decision is good news for Democrats fighting to hold on to the governor’s mansion in an increasingly Republican state.

In a surprise announcement on July 29, Halter said he was dropping out to avoid a “divisive” primary against Ross and “to help unite the Democratic Party.” His decision came after second quarter fundraising numbers showed Ross outraising him by a staggering 20-to-1 margin.

halter

Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter

In 2010, Halter challenged U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln in a bruising and ultimately unsuccessful primary battle that contributed to her defeat in November by GOP challenger John Boozman.

Halter’s campaign was non-committal on reports that he will now run for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, held by Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. Democrats are eyeing the district, centered in metro Little Rock, because Griffin carried it with just 55 percent of the vote against an underfunded Democratic challenger in 2012.

Halter jumped into the governor’s race in January after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the Democratic frontrunner, pulled out after confessing to an extramarital affair. Ross, who had said he was leaving politics when he gave up his House seat in 2012, changed his mind and followed suit.

However, Halter’s short stint in the race could have a lasting impact by introducing the issue of abortion into the mix in a way that could present difficulty for Ross.

Ross

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

To counter Halter’s support among Democrats who support legal abortion, Ross — who had a pro-life voting record as a member of Congress — moved left, saying he supported Gov. Mike Beebe’s vetoes of two bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have restricted abortion.

The Arkansas Republican Party, commenting on Halter’s withdrawal, emphasized Ross’s change of position, saying, “How long will it take political opportunist Mike Ross to flip flop again and pretend he never changed his positions on abortion and the Second Amendment?”

Republicans have a primary battle of their own to sort out. Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson is running against Little Rock businesman Curtis Coleman and state Rep.  Debra Hobbs of Rogers.

Hutchinson, the former No. 2 man in the federal Deparment of Homeland Security, is the National Rifle Association’s point man for its school safety initiative, He is seen as the frontrunner, despite previously losing three statewide races  for U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general.

Beebe, the popular Democratic incumbent, is term limited, giving Republicans a shot at taking the state’s top office. While Republicans control the legislature and Arkansas’ entire congressional delegation, Democrats hold six of the seven state constitutional offices.

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