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Primaries for Virginia governor echo 2016 presidential race

Establishment-versus-insurgent contests featured on both GOP and Democratic ballots

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — The calendar may read 2017, and the names on the ballot may not be the same, but voters in Virginia can be forgiven if the commonwealth’s primaries for governor seem vaguely reminiscent of last year’s presidential contest.

On the Republican side, a party stalwart and former aide in the George W. Bush White House is running against Donald Trump’s one-time Virginia campaign director. On the Democratic side, a Bernie Sanders-backed candidate is offering a stiff challenge to a veteran officeholder who was considered to be a shoo-in just six months ago.

As voters prepare to go to the polls June 13, polls show that many voters in both races are undecided, providing a level of uncertainty and suspense in the South’s only governor’s race this year.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam appeared to be cruising to his party’s nomination unmolested until January, when former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello jumped into the race and began casting himself as the anti-establishment alternative, in contrast to the well-connected Northam.

Northam has the backing of Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is barred by Virginia law from running for re-election, along with both of the commonwealth’s U.S. Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Virginia

Perriello has countered with endorsements from Sanders, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and a slew of former officials from Barack Obama’s administration, in which Perriello served. And while Obama has not offered an endorsement, Perriello has been reminding voters of his connection to the former president every chance he gets.

Polls have shown a close race, although the large numbers of undecided voters means there is no clear leader heading into election day.

Ed Gillespie

On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and Bush aide who ran a surprisingly strong race for U.S. Senate in 2014, has held a lead in the polls over his two challengers, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, and State Senator Frank Wagner, from Virginia Beach, a former U.S. Navy officer who has served in the the state legislature for 25 years.

Because Virginia does not have primary runoffs, Gillespie only has to win a plurality to advance to the general election.

GOP candidate Corey Stewart

Stewart, who was once Trump’s Virginia state chairman, has wrapped himself in the Trump mantle, positioning himself as the man who can “take back Virginia from the establishment,” a not-so-veiled reference to Gillespie.

Stewart lost his job in the Trump campaign in October 2016 after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made sexually suggestive comments. But he still continued to support Trump.

During the campaign, Stewart — an native of Minnesota — has also come out against efforts to remove Confederate monuments, which have sparked controversy in Charlottesville and other cities in the South.

The winners of both primaries will advance to the general election, which is one of only two governor’s races being held this year. The other is in New Jersey.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia is the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and it has now gone to the GOP in three successive elections.

Three of the commonwealth’s last four governors have been Democrats — Warner, Kaine and McAuliffe — and Virginia is among just three of 14 Southern states with a Democratic chief executive, the others being West Virginia and Louisiana.

West Virginia U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins will challenge Joe Manchin in U.S. Senate race

Jenkins hopes to parlay state’s increasing GOP tilt to unseat venerable Democratic incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — In 2014, GOP U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins toppled a West Virginia political giant to get to Congress. In 2018, he’ll try to be a giant killer again.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-West Virginia

Jenkins announced that he is giving up his House seat in an effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, in what is expected to become one of the South’s hottest Senate races.

In a campaign video released May 8, Jenkins went after Machin, accusing him of straying from the values he was elected to represent by supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Joe changed when he got to Washington. West Virginia values? Not anymore,” Jenkins said. “Somewhere alone the way, Joe became one of them.”

Jenkins also tied himself firmly to Donald Trump, who won the Mountaineer State by a staggering 41 points in 2016, his second strongest showing in any state, behind only Wyoming.

“With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve got a real chance to turn things around,” Jenkins said. “He needs our help, and I need your help … We can’t let liberal New York millionaires and D.C. lobbyists buy this race or the Senate.”

Jenkins, 56, was elected in 2014 to represent the 3rd District, which takes in the southern and western parts of the state. In that race, he unseated Nick Rahall, a Democrat who had been in Congress since 1977 and was, like Manchin, a political institution in West Virginia.

Jenkins had served 18 years in the state legislature as a Democrat before switching parties to run against Rahall.

West Virginia’s changing political climate has made Machin is a top Republican target in 2018. In 2014, the GOP captured all three U.S. House seats and a majority in the state legislature for the first time since 1931. In 2016, Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate election since 1956.

Trump’s win was also the fifth in a row for Republican presidential candidate, in what had been considered a Democratic stronghold into the 1990s.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

However, Machin, 69, is a political institution in West Virginia, where he was first elected to political office in 1982 and was governor for six years before being elected to the Senate in 2010.

Manchin has styled himself as a political moderate, opposing legal abortion, supporting a balanced budget amendment and opposing efforts by the Obama administration to curtail use of coal, which is a mainstay of the West Virginia economy. He also broke ranks with other Democratic senators to support Trump’s Cabinet nominees and his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Clourt.

One question mark in the race will be the issue of gun rights. Although Manchin has long received support from the National Rifle Association, he drew fire from some gun rights advocates after co-sponsoring legislation to strengthen background checks on firearms after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Jenkins took direct aim at Manchin on the gun issue in his opening campaign video, accusing the senator of violating a pledge he made in his first campaign to protect gun rights.

Jenkins’s decision to run against Manchin will open a House seat in West Virginia that could be a potential target for Democrats, although the GOP will be favored.

Jenkins may also have to survive a primary for the right to oppose Manchin, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is thought to be eyeing the race.

Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole: Trump owes Obama an apology

Oklahoma Republican calls Trump’s wiretap charge against Obama “reckless”

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Donald Trump may have carried U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s district by 38 points in November, but the Oklahoma Republican is mincing no words in calling for Trump to apologize to former President Barack Obama over claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol March 17, Cole said there is “no indication” that Trump’s allegation against Obama is true.

“It’s not a charge I would ever have made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think … President Obama is owed an apology,” said Cole.

“If (Obama) didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”

In a March 4 tweet, Trump claimed that Obama has his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower, his New York home. He followed that up with additional tweets comparing Obama’s conduct to the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

Trump has so far offered no evidence to back that claim, but he has not retracted it. Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have said the claim is unsubstantiated. Obama administration officials have also said the claim has no merit.

While other Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Trump’s wiretapping claim, none of them have gone as far as Cole in calling for an apology.

Cole has a place in the GOP leadership as a deputy whip to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. From 2006 to 2008, he served as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.

Cole, from Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th District, which stretches from the southern Oklahoma City suburbs south to the Texas border. He has held the seat since 2003.

A college history professor before entering politics, Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is one of only two Native Americans currently serving in Congress. The other is U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd District.

In the 2016 election, Trump carried 66 percent of the vote in the 4th District, to just 28 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Virginia Governor 2017: Contested primaries shaping up in both parties

Northam, Gillespie face challenges from anti-establishment rivals

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

virginia mugRICHMOND (CFP) — Any hopes Democratic and Republican leaders in Virginia had of avoiding contentious primaries in the governor’s race this year have been dashed, with both parties facing the same establishment-versus-insurgent battles that characterized the 2016 presidential contest.

With two months to go before the filing deadline for the June primary, the Democratic race has already drawn two major contenders, while the Republican race has four. All are vying to replace Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is barred by state law from seeking re-election.

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam appeared to be cruising to his party’s nomination unmolested until January, when former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello jumped into the race and began casting himself as anti-establishment, in contrast to the well-connected Northam.

On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who ran a surprisingly strong race for U.S. Senate in 2014, is being challenged by Donald Trump’s former Virginia campaign chairman, a veteran state senator who also worked for Trump, and a Tea Party-aligned distillery owner who has hired the campaign manager who helped take down Eric Cantor in 2014.

A poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, released February 2, shows both primary races are fluid, with Gillespie and Northam leading but most voters undecided.

The governor’s battle takes place amid changing political currents in the Old Dominion. Once reliably Republican, Democrats have carried the state in the last three presidential elections and hold both U.S. Senate seats. Three of the last four governors have been Democrats.

Virginia also doesn’t have primary runoffs, which means that on the Republican side, the winner is likely to have garnered significantly less than 50 percent of the vote.

Ed Gillespie

Ed Gillespie

Gillespie, 55, from Fairfax County, is a former top lieutenant to President George W. Bush who has run both the national and state GOP. In 2014, he came within 18,000 votes of unseating Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, in what was considered one of the biggest surprises of that election cycle.

Standing in Gillespie’s road to the nomination are Corey Stewart, 48, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who ran Trump’s campaign in Virginia until being fired a month before the 2016 election; State Senator Frank Wagner, 61, from Virginia Beach, a former U.S. Navy officer who has served in the the state legislature for 25 years; and Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer from Afton.

County Supervisor Corey Stewart

County Supervisor Corey Stewart

Stewart, who instigated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants as county chairman, has boasted that “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” However, he was removed from the Trump campaign last October after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made sexually suggestive comments.

A key question in the GOP primary will be the extent to which Trump might assist Stewart — and how much good that would actually do in a state Trump lost.

State Senator Frank Wagner

State Senator Frank Wagner

Stewart will also have competition for the pro-Trump banner from Wagner, who was co-chair of Trump’s campaign in southeast Virginia. He has remained a Trump defender, endorsing the president’s controversial ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries and criticizing Gillespie for not following suit.

In his campaign, Wagner is also touting his legislative experience and the fact that he is the only Republican candidate who is a native Virginian.

Denver Riggleman

Denver Riggleman

Riggleman, the least well-known among the Republican candidates, has hired the campaign manager used by U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in his upset win over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary 2014. Backed by Tea Party activists and talk radio hosts, Brat tossed the powerful Cantor from Congress, in what is now seen as a prelude to the political earthquake that brought Trump to power two years later.

The Wason Center poll found that Gillespie was the choice of 33 percent of Republican or Republican-learning voters, with Wagner at 9 percent, Stewart at 7 percent and Riggleman at 1 percent. However, 50 percent remain undecided.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

On the Democratic side, Northam, 57, a doctor and former U.S. Army major from Norfolk, served in the state senate before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2013. He has the backing of most of the commonwealth’s Democratic leadership, including McAuliffe, Warner and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

Perriello, 42, from Charlottesville, served a single term in Congress before being swamped in the Tea Party wave of 2010. His tenure was noteworthy for his vote in favor of Obamacare, which didn’t go down well in the more conservative parts of his central Virginia district.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriollo

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello

After leaving Congress, Perriello worked at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and was appointed by President Obama as a State Department envoy to Africa.

While Perriello’s voting record in Congress was moderate for a Democrat, he has been staking out ground on the progressive left in the governor’s race, saying he wants to make Virginia “a firewall against hate, corruption and an assault on the Virginia values of decency and progress.” He has also changed his position on using federal funds to pay for abortions, which he once voted against but now supports.

The Democratic primary race is likely to feature some of the remaining currents from the bruising 2016 battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Northam’s most prominent backer, McAufliffe, is a close confidant of the Clintons, and Northam endorsed Clinton over Sanders in the commonwealth’s presidential primary. That could provide an opening for Perriello, who is also close to Obama and members of the former president’s political brain trust.

The Wason Center poll shoed Northam at 26 percent and Perriello at 15 percent among Democratic and Democratic leaning voters, with 59 percent undecided.

Virginia is one of four Southern states that hold gubernatorial elections in off years but is the only one voting in 2017. Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi will have elections in 2019.

President Obama joins effort to oust Florida GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica

Obama cuts a commercial for Mica’s Democratic opponent, Stephanie Murphy, in what has become a competitive race

florida mugORLANDO (CFP) — President Barack Obama has cut a television commercial for Florida congressional candidate Stephanie Murphy, who is giving veteran GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica the fight of his political career in the newly redrawn 7th District.

Murphy

Murphy

In the commercial, which began airing October 31, Obama recounts Murphy’s background as the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who fled to the United States when she was a small child and became a national security specialist at the Pentagon after 9/11.

“She’ll tackle the tough problems,” Obama says.

Obama is the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements of Murphy, which have included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who became a gun control advocate after being wounded by a would-be assassin in 2011.

Outside groups supporting Murphy have also poured more than $3 million in the effort to oust Mica, 73, who is seeking his 12th term in the House and has never carried less than 59 percent of the vote in any of his re-election bids.

Mica

Mica

Mica is vulnerable this year thanks to a redraw of Sunshine State’s congressional map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. Mica’s old district was centered in the northern and eastern suburbs of Orlando; the redraw pushed his district further south into the city of Orlando, which is more Democratic.

About a quarter of the voters in Mica’s new district were not in his old district, and the minority population is about 30 percent. However, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans is about equal.

Public polling in the race has been sparse, but both campaigns have touted internal polls putting their candidate in the lead.

However, the poll offered by the Mica campaign showed him only 5 points ahead with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage votes–essentially, a tie in a Republican poll, a potentially troubling result for a well-known incumbent facing a challenger who has not previously run for political office.

The Cook Political Report, which until recently had rated the race as favoring Mica, now lists it as a toss-up.

Heading into the final three weeks of the campaign, Federal Election Commission filings show Murphy with about $174,000 in cash on hand, compared to $167,000 for Mica. However, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are airing ads in the race, and outside spending is expected to eclipse what the campaigns run themselves.

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor takes direct aim at GOP challenger Rep. Tom Cotton

Freshman Republican’s entry into Senate race draws rebuke from veteran Democratic lawmaker

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CNN) — U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his new Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, are already aggressively going after each other 15 months before Arkansas voters go to the polls.

Announcing his candidacy August 6, Cotton repeatedly tied Pryor to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the Natural State.

cotton

U.S. Represenative Tom Cotton

“Mark’s been running for office for almost 25 years. Every time, he says Arkansas comes first,” Cotton told a crowd of supporters at a kickoff barbecue in his hometown of Dardanelle in the Arkansas River Valley west of Little Rock. “It’s not so. Over the last 4 ½ years, for Mark Pryor, Barack Obama comes first.”

“Do you agree with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time? If so, Mark Pryor is your man. If not, stand with me.”

But on the same day Cotton announced, Pryor went up with a new TV ad painting Cotton as an extreme right winger, rather than a mainstream Arkansas conservative.

“Tom Cotton should be running — not for higher office but from his own record,” a soothing female voice intones after ripping Cotton for his votes against the farm bill, reduced interest rates on student loans and the Violence Against Women Act.

Pryor’s ad also accuses Cotton of “blind ambition” — a not-so-subtle reference to the congressman’s decision to seek higher office just seven months after his election to the House.

Cotton alluded to his political ambitions in his announcement statement, noting that “some people say I’m a young man in a hurry.”

“Guess what? They’re right. We’ve got urgent problems, and I am in a hurry to solve them.”

A graduate of Harvard Law School who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a captain in the U.S. Army, Cotton, 36, returned to Arkansas in 2012 to seek the 4th District congressional seat, which takes in rural areas south, west and northwest of metro Little Rock.

With funding from the Club for Growth and other national conservative groups, he easily won the seat, taking almost 60 percent of the vote in the general election.

pryor

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Pryor, 50, is scion of a prominent Arkansas political family. His father, David Pryor, served as governor and spent 18 years in the Senate before retiring in 1979.

Six years ago, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate against Pryor. But this time around, the GOP smells blood in the water, particularly because of Pryor’s deciding vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

However, Pryor has broken with Obama and the left wing of his party on a number of issues that are likely to help his re-election effort back home. His is just one of four Senate Democrats who still oppose same-sex marriage and also voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas to Mitt Romney by nearly 24 points.  In addition to Arkansas, Senate races in two other Southern states, Louisiana and North Carolina, feature Senate races in 2014 where Democratic incumbents are running in states Obama lost.

In a sign of how contentious the Arkansas Senate race will be, outside groups have already dumped more than $1 million into ads.

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