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Decision 2020: 14 Southern U.S. Senate seats on November ballot, with 4 possible flips

Races in North Carolina, Alabama on national radar; Lindsey Graham faces stiff challenge in South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Fourteen Southern U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in November, putting half of the South’s seats in play with control of the chamber very much up for grabs.

Of these seats, one presents a likely pickup opportunity for Republicans, while three Republican incumbents are facing stiff challenges. Three other seats are somewhat competitive but with incumbents still favored, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s race in Kentucky.

Five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — are cruising toward re-election, with Republicans also likely to keep an open seat in Tennessee. A special election in Georgia with candidates from both parties running in the same race is a wild card that will be difficult to predict — and could potentially decide which part controls the Senate when the dust clears.

Here is your guide to the 2020 Southern Senate races.

Possible Flips

1. Alabama: U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D) vs. Tommy Tuberville (R)

Jones has had a target on his back since he won a special election in 2017 over Republican Roy Moore, whose candidacy imploded in a sex scandal. Jones was the first Democrat elected to a Senate seat in the Yellowhammer State since 1992; his vote to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial has put his continued tenure in jeopardy. Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University, is making his political debut, impressively taking out a field of prominent Republicans in the primary, including Jeff Sessions, who held this seat for 20 years before leaving to join the Trump administration. If Jones somehow manages to hang on, it will be perhaps the biggest surprise on election night.

2. North Carolina: U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R) vs.  Cal Cunningham (D)

Cunningham, an attorney who served a single term in the legislature 20 years ago and made an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2010, was recruited by Democratic leaders in Washington to run against Tillis, who is seeking a second term after ousting former Democratic Senator Kay Hagin in 2014. This seat was once held by Jesse Helms, and no one has managed to win a second term since he gave it up in 2002. Cunningham has raised $15 million, slightly more than Tillis, and has led consistently in polls. The outcome of the presidential race in this battleground state may be key here. If Donald Trump wins, Tillis is likely to keep his seat as well; if he doesn’t, Cunningham will be in the driver’s seat.

3. South Carolina: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R) vs. Jaime Harrison (D)

Over the past four years, Graham has become one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, after spending much of the 2016 campaign trashing him. That about-face spared him from the kind of primary challenge he had to beat back in 2014, but Harrison, a former state Democratic party chair, is hoping Graham’s association with the president will turn off enough Palmetto State voters to put him over the top. Harrison has raised a staggering $30 million — an unheard of sum for a Democrat in South Carolina — to stay even with the incumbent in the money chase. While polling shows the race is competitive, Trump is expected to carry the state, and the universe of Trump-Harrison voters may be too small to flip this seat.

4. Georgia: U.S Senator David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D)

It’s been a long time since Georgia has been competitive in a presidential or senatorial contest, but polling has shown Ossoff within striking distance of Perdue, who is seeking a second term. Ossoff built a national profile by raising more than $30 million for a special U.S. House election in 2017 that he narrowly lost. He hasn’t raised anywhere near that kind of money this time around, and Perdue enjoys a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage. Democrats insist that the Peach State’s changing demographics and an influx of newly energized, newly registered Democratic voters will lead to victory for Ossoff and Democratic nominee Joe Biden; Republicans scoff at such a scenario as delusional. If Biden makes a serious play for Georgia, it could help Ossoff; if Biden wins, Perdue will need to run ahead of Trump to survive.

Less Competitive

1. Texas: U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R) vs. MJ Hegar (D)

Democrats had high hopes for flipping this seat, particularly after Beto O’Rourke nearly took out Ted Cruz in 2018. But O’Rourke passed on the Senate race to make a quixotic bid for president, and Hegar, a former military chopper pilot and Afghan war veteran who lost a House race in 2018, had to spend time and money fighting her way through a primary runoff. Cornyn entered the fall campaign with the benefit of incumbency and a huge financial advantage, in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. This could turn out to be a might-have-been race for Democrats — what might have been if O’Rouke had run instead.

2. Kentucky: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) vs. Amy McGrath (D)

Democratic leaders recruited McGrath for this race, enthused by her prodigious fundraising during an unsuccessful House race in 2018. But running against McConnell in Kentucky is a tall order, and she has not always seemed up to the task. Her campaign had an unsteady launch when she flipped positions on confirming Brett Kavanaugh, and she very nearly lost the Democratic primary after mishandling her response to racial justice protests that have roiled Louisville. After an uneven campaign, she decided change campaign managers in August, which is never a good sign. There’s a reason Mitch McConnell has been a senator since 1985 — he is perhaps the wiliest politician of his generation. His tenure in Washington seems likely to endure.

3. Mississippi: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) vs. former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D)

This race is a rematch of 2018, when Hyde-Smith beat Espy by 8 points in a special election runoff, running nearly 10 points behind what Trump did in 2016. Espy was encouraged enough by his showing to try to take her down again, hoping that the energy unleashed by social justice protests will galvanize black voters, who make up 37percent of the state’s electorate, the highest percentage in the country. However, if he couldn’t beat Hyde-Smith in a lower turnout midterm election, beating her with the presidential election on the ballot, in a very pro-Trump state, is likely to be a tall order.

Wild Card

Georgia: U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) vs. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R), Raphael Warnock (D) and Matt Lieberman (D)

In this special election to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, candidates from all parties run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December runoff. Loeffler is trying to keep this seat after being appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp, who opted to pick the political newcomer instead of Collins, one of Trump’s biggest champions in the House. Collins defied the governor to run against Loeffler, splitting Peach State Republicans into two camps.

On the Democratic side, Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, has drawn support from the party establishment who see him as the best option to win the seat. But Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, has resisted pressure to leave the race in favor of Warnock, and polls have shown him remaining competitive. If Warnock and Lieberman split the Democratic vote, it could clear the way for both Loeffler and Collins to meet in an all-GOP second round. If one Republican and one Democrat get through, the outcome of the race is likely to depend on who those two candidates are.

Shoo-Ins

Arkansas: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R) faces no Democratic competition after the lone Democrat who qualified abruptly left the race. The only person standing between Cotton and re-election is Libertarian Ricky Harrington.

Tennessee: Republican Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, has a much easier path to Washington after the Democrat recruited and financed by party leaders to challenge for the seat lost his primary. He will now face Marquita Bradshaw, an environmental activist from Memphis who harnessed grassroots support to win the primary.

West Virginia: U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) is not expected to have much trouble against Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, an environmental activist who gained national exposure when her 2018 race against the state’s other U.S. senator, Joe Manchin, was featured in the Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”

Oklahoma: If U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R), as expected, wins a fifth full term over Democrat Abby Broyles, he will be 92 when this term ends in 2026. Broyles, a former TV reporter in Oklahoma City, has run a spirited campaign in which she’s needled the senator for refusing to debate her.

Virginia: Giving the Old Dominion’s increasingly Democratic tilt, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D) is a clear favorite over Republican Daniel Gade, a former Army officer who was wounded in Iraq and now teaches at American University in Washington.

Louisiana: U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R) is competing in a jungle primary in November and will face a runoff in December if he doesn’t clear 50%. He avoided any major Republican opposition; the biggest Democratic name in the race is Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.

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U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu loses re-election bid in Louisiana

Former Governor Edwin Edwards’s comeback bid also falls short

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu has failed in her bid for a fourth term, losing to GOP U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy in Louisiana’s December 6 runoff.

Cassidy took 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Landrieu. Her defeat means that Republicans have taken away four Southern Senate seats this year, en route to winning a 54-46 majority.

Meanwhile, former Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in federal prison on corruption charges, failed in his bid to make a political comeback, losing a runoff for the state’s 6th District U.S. House seat.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

Speaking to supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge, Cassidy, 57, called the runoff result the “exclamation point” on the message voters sent to Washington in November.

“This victory happened because people in Louisiana voted for a government which serves us but does not tell us what to do,” he said. “We want our country to go in a conservative direction.”

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

Speaking to supporters at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Landrieu, 59, who has been on the state’s political stage since 1979, thanked them for helping her fight “for the right things for Louisiana.”

“The people of our state have spoken, and while we were working and hoping and praying for a different outcome, I’m so proud that our campaign was open and accessible to voters,” she said.

Landrieu also defended her vote in favor of Obamacare, a central criticism of Cassidy’s campaign, saying it has given people security in knowing that they will have access to health care.

“This is something to be proud of, and I’m glad we fought for it,” she said.

Landrieu narrowly won the state’s “jungle” primary in November. But in the month since, polls consistently showed the Republican vote coalescing around Cassidy, a doctor who represents the Baton Rouge area in the U.S. House.

Another factor dragging down Landrieu’s fortunes was President Barack Obama’s anemic approval ratings in Pelican State, which are below 40 percent and more than 20 points under water.

The Landrieu family has been prominent in Louisiana Democratic politics since the 1960s. Mary Landrieu’s father, Moon, was mayor of New Orleans, a position her brother, Mitch, currently holds.

Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

In the 6th District, Edwards was beaten badly by Republican Garret Graves, the former chairman of the state’s coastal protection authority, mustering just 38 percent to Graves’s 62 percent.

Edwards, 87, finished first in the “jungle” primary with 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field that included two fellow Democrats and eight Republicans. But the district, which takes in much of the southeastern part of the state including most of Baton Rouge, is strongly Republican, which made Graves a prohibitive favorite.

Still, even getting into the runoff was a political triumph for the colorful octogenarian, who starred in a television reality show in 2013 with his third wife, Trina, who is 51 years his junior.

Edwards served a record four terms as Louisiana’s governor between 1972 and 1996. In 1991, after being acquitted of federal corruption charges, he won a runoff against white supremacist David Duke. During that campaign, a popular bumper sticker urged Louisianians to “Vote For the Crook. It’s Important.”

In 2001, Edwards was convicted on 17 counts of bribery, extortion, fraud and racketeering stemming from his last terms as governor. He served eight years in prison.

As a convicted felon, Edwards is barred from seeking state office. But there is no prohibition on convicted felons seeking federal office.

Ten things to watch for in Tuesday’s election

U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governorships are on the ballot all across the South

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

(CFP) — As voters go to the polls on Tuesday, here are 10 things to watch for in races across the South:

Wsouthern states smill There Be A Peach State Runoff? — Georgia has a unique election law providing for a general election runoff if neither candidate gets an outright majority — a distinct possibility in a close race with a third-party candidate. Polls show that both the U.S. Senate race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn and the governor’s race between incumbent GOP Governor Nathan Deal and Democratic State Senator Jason Carter could be razor close. If that happens, a runoff in the governor’s race would be December 9, but the Senate race would not be settled until January 6.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

Is Battle For Senate Control Headed To The Bayou? — Regardless what happens in Georgia, the in Louisiana between incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, is certain to head to a runoff. If Republicans need the Louisiana seat to gain control of the Senate, the Pelican State could become the focus of the American political world until the December 6 runoff.

How Much Of A Drag Is Obama? — The president’s approval ratings are anemic across the South, and none of the major Democratic candidates have brought him into the region to campaign. Linking each and every Democrat to Obama (and Obamacare) has been part and parcel of just about every Republican campaign. Tuesday will determine whether Obama’s unpopularity was a millstone that drowned Democratic prospects.

Will Florida Voters Resurrect Crist?Charlie Crist’s political career looked to be all but over after a disastrous run for the U.S. Senate four years ago. But now he’s back — this time as a Democrat — and, if the polls are to be believed, within striking distance of the governor’s mansion once again. If Crist pulls it off, it will be a remarkable feat of political redemption.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

How Big Will Abbott Win? — There’s no question that Republican Greg Abbott will win the governor’s race in Texas over Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who ran a remarkably inept campaign. The only question is how badly Davis goes down. Democrats talked a good game earlier this year about turning Texas blue. Tuesday’s results could show how distant that dream really is.

Fallin And Haley On National Stage? — Both Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley are cruising to easy re-election wins, which could catapult them into the national conversation for 2016. Historically, being a governor has been the best way to become president, and perhaps one reason we haven’t had a female president is that no female governor has ever sought the White House. Tuesday’s results could start those kinds of conversations in Columbia and Oklahoma City.

Are Nunn And Graham Their Father’s Political Daughters? — Both Nunn, running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, and Gwen Graham, who is seeking a U.S. House seat in Florida, are scions of prominent Democratic political families making their political debuts. Both have run strong campaigns in areas that lean Republican. So Tuesday could be a night of political deja vu.

How Many Southern Senate Seats Can Democrats Keep? — Right now, the Democrats have only eight out of 28 seats. They seem certain to lose one of those, in West Virginia, and three others — Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy. So the party of Jackson that once strode strong across the South could be reduced to having less than 15 percent of region’s Senate seats.

Has Georgia Turned Purple? — If Democrats pull off wins in the U.S. Senate and governor’s races in Georgia, they will no doubt crow about changing political winds in the Peach State. Tuesday’s results will show if Georgia, like Virginia before it, is becoming less reliably Republican, which would no doubt encourage Democrats to try to put the state into play in 2016.

Can Rahall Survive in West Virginia? — When Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall was first elected to Congress, bellbottoms were still the rage. But after 38 years in Washington, he is fighting for his political life in a state where opposition to the Obama administration’s environmental policies is dragging down the Democratic brand. If Rahall goes, the state’s entire House delegation will be in GOP hands, a sea change in a state that a generation ago leaned Democratic.

Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call

GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lgWASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.

Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.

The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.

Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:

Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.

Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.

West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.

Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.

North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.

Poll: Louisiana U.S. Senate race heading for a runoff

Control of the Senate could be in limbo until December if a runoff is needed to settle the race

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — The U.S. Senate race in Louisiana appears headed for a runoff that’s still to close to call, which could leave the balance of power in the Senate up in the air until December, according to a new poll.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

The CNN/ORC International poll released September 28 shows incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu at 43 percent among likely voters, ahead of GOP U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy at 40 percent and Rob Maness, a Republican with Tea Party backing, at 9 percent.

In Louisiana, all candidates, regardless of party, run in the November “jungle” primary. If no one reaches a majority, the top two vote getters meet in a runoff December 6.

With a  margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, the poll indicates that a runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy is likely.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

In a hypothetical match up in the runoff, Cassidy was the choice of 50 percent to 47 percent for Landrieu, which was within the poll’s margin of error. However, among the larger pool of registered voters, Landrieu led Cassidy 51 percent to 45 percent — an indication that increasing voter turnout may be key to Landrieu’s survival.

The Louisiana race is one of eight contested Senate races across the South that are likely to decide which party controls the Senate.

A runoff would be nothing new for Landrieu. She faced a runoffs in 1996 and 2002 and survived both times.

The poll also found that just 37 percent of likely voters in Louisiana approved of President Obama’s job performance, compared to 61 percent who disapproved.

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