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The night the GOP’s lights went out in Georgia: Democrats gain Senate control

Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s two hotly contested U.S. Senate runoffs Tuesday, handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and removing a significant impediment to President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

In the last act of a long and contentious political season, Warnock — the senior pastor of Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church who was making his political debut — defeated Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, leading by about 564,000 votes, or margin of 50.3% to 49.3%.

Ossoff defeated U.S. Senator David Perdue by a smaller 25,000-vote margin, or 50.3% to 49.7%, a sweep of both races in a state that had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

In a victory video posted on his campaign website, Warnock said “we were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

“I am going to the Senate to work for all of the people of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.”

Warnock will make history as the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.

Loeffler, the multimillionaire Atlanta businesswoman appointed to the Senate last year by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, did not concede during brief remarks to her supporters, who gathered in person Tuesday night despite the COVID-19 pandemic: “We have a path to victory, and we’re staying on it.”

In a video post Wednesday morning, Ossoff, who narrowly lost a U.S. House race in 2017, thanked supporters and said he would focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic once he gets to Washington.

“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state,” said Ossoff, who, at 33, will become the youngest person to serve in the Senate in the last 40 years. “They will be my guiding principles as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate.”

Perdue’s campaign released a statement saying that “this exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate.”

“We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted,” the statement said. “We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”

However, Ossoff’s margin was more than twice as large as Biden’s win in November, which held up through two recounts.

Perdue, who was seeking a second term, had been in quarantine and off the campaign trail in the closing days of the race after a campaign staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

Tuesday’s results are yet another electoral rebuke to President Donald Trump, who lost Georgia in November and roiled the Senate runoffs with unsubstantiated claims of fraud and biting criticism of Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to validate Trump’s fraud allegations.

The Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will lose his leadership perch, although he will remain as minority leader in a Senate divided 50-50.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia was the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men faced each other again Tuesday.

With the Democratic victories in Georgia, the number of senators representing Southern states will rise from three to five, compared with 23 Republicans.

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Georgia runoffs will decide control of U.S. Senate Tuesday

President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden both rally the Peach State faithful on campaign’s closing day

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With control of the U.S. Senate and the legislative prospects of the incoming Biden administration hanging in the balance, voters across Georgia will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two U.S. Senate runoffs, after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden made last-minute appeals to supporters Monday.

Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide. In the other race, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church making his first bid for elected office.

From top left: Ossoff, Perdue, , Loeffler, Warnock

In-person polling runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, although more than 3 million people have already cast their ballots through early and absentee voting.

If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

If either Loeffler or Perdue win, Republicans will control the upper chamber, giving them a check against Biden’s legislative program and approval of his nominees.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups have poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Biden emphasized the unusual impact that voters in a single state can have during an address to a rally Monday in Atlanta, where he told Peach State supporters that they “can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”

“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said. “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career.”

The president-elect spent most of his 16-minute speech touting Ossoff and Warnock, saying their election will help move coronavirus relief through Congress, “restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now.”

He also had harsh words for what he termed the Trump’s administration’s “God-awful” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, using the issue to take a swipe a Trump for his singular focus on election fraud claims since his loss in November.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Trump, in what was likely the last campaign rally of his presidency, spent much of his 80-minute speech in Dalton relitigating his November election loss and railing against what he termed a “rigged” process in Georgia, where he lost after the vote was recounted twice.

He also promised that he would produce new information that would change the election outcome and gave a lengthy recitation of fraud allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by elections officials in several states and in every court where lawsuits have been filed.

Trump also cast the consequences of Tuesday’s vote in Georgia in apocalyptic terms, casting Ossoff and Warnock as radical socialists who don’t reflect Georgia values.

“The stakes of this election should not be higher,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Hanging over the last day of the campaign was a controversial phone call Trump made to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a recording of which was obtained by the news media on Saturday.

In it, the president asks the state’s top election official to “find” more than 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column; a local prosecutor in Atlanta says she is looking at possible criminal charges.

Neither Biden or Trump brought up the phone call in his speech, but Trump took a shot at both Raffensperger and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has also refused the president’s entreaties to overturn the Georgia election results.

“I’m going to be here in a year and a half, and I’m going to campaign against your crazy governor and secretary of state,” Trump said.

Also looming over Tuesday’s vote is an effort by Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, turning what is normally a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from winning the White House.

Hours before the Dalton rally with Trump, Loeffler finally announced the she would back the challenge, after refusing to take a position for several days. Perdue also said he backs the challenge, although, because his Senate term ended when the new Congress convened on Sunday, he will not vote on it.

Taking the stage next to Trump, Loeffler told the crowd that “this president fought for us. We’re going to fight for him.”

But during his speech in Atlanta, Biden hit both senators for taking a stand that he said was in defiance of the Constitution.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump, not to Georgia,” Biden said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not to the United States Constitution.”

In his speech, Trump also alluded to the fact that Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session Wednesday where the Electoral College votes will be counted.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said, then joked that “of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia is the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue, running for a second term, defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men are facing each other again Tuesday.

Perdue has been off the campaign trail in quarantine after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and he did not appear with Trump at Monday’s night rally.

The four candidates in the race have, combined, raised more than $445 million, with outside groups adding at least another $437, according to figures from OpenSecrets.org.

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Donald Trump urges Republican faithful to vote in US Senate runoffs

President continues criticism of Georgia’s governor, secretary of state at Valdosta rally

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

VALDOSTA, Georgia (CFP) — In his first major public appearance since November’s election, President Donald Trump urged Georgia Republicans to turn out for January runoffs in two U.S. Senate races that will determine which party will control the upper chamber.

However, at a Saturday night rally in Valdosta, the president continued to insist that he won November’s presidential election and kept up his drumbeat of criticism aimed at Republican Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for not taking action to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the Peach State.

At one point, Trump acknowledged one of his most stalwart supporters, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, in the audience and asked him, “You want to run for governor in two years?”

Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Valdosta

While Trump’s appearance was designed to tamp down calls by some of his supporters to boycott the runoffs, the awkward fallout from the presidential race became apparent when Trump invited U.S. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to speak briefly to the audience — and the crowd began to loudly chant “Fight for Trump” at both of them.

The capacity crowd — most of whom were not wearing masks — waited for hours at the airport in Valdosta for Air Force One to arrive. During Trump’s appearance, which lasted nearly two hours, they chanted “Four More Years,” “Stop the Steal” and “We Love You.”

Trump referred to boycott supporters as “great people” and “friends of mine” and said he understood the impulse to sit out the runoffs to protest the presidential election results. But, he told the crowd, “Don’t listen to my friends.”

“If the other side manages to steal both elections, we will have total one-party socialist control, and everything you care about will be gone,” he said. “If you don’t vote, the socialists and the communists win. Georgia patriots must show up to vote for these two incredible people.”

The certified results from the November 3 election show that Biden beat Trump in Georgia by 12,670 votes, becoming the first Democrat to win the state in 28 years. Two recounts have confirmed Biden’s win, and the Trump campaign’s legal challenges of the result have been turned back in every state and federal court where they have been filed.

But Trump has been publicly and privately pressuring both Kemp and Raffensperger to try to overturn his loss, which he claims was the result of fraud.

“You governor could stop it very easily, if he knew what the hell he was doing,” Trump said. “For whatever reason, your secretary of state and your governor are afraid of Stacey Abrams.”

Abrams was Kemp’s Democratic challenger in 2018 who led a voter registration campaign for the 2020 vote that has been widely credited for Biden’s victory.

Kemp and Raffensperger, who did not attend the Valdosta rally, have both insisted that while they supported Trump in the election, no legal basis exists for them to intervene in the election. And even if the result in Georgia were overturned, that alone would not alone change Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

Raffensburger, who has been subjected to death threats, has defended the integrity of the election against Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud.

The runoff elections on January 5 pit Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff and Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

If Democrats win both of those races, the Senate will have a 50-50 tie, with the incoming vice president, Kamala Harris, giving Democrats control in her role as Senate president. If either Perdue or Loeffler win, Republicans will keep control, which would likely be a significant impediment to the incoming Biden administration.

Perdue defeated Ossoff by 93,000 votes in the November vote but was forced into a runoff because he did not receive a majority, as required by state law.

Warnock and Loeffler finished in first and second place, respectively, in an all-party special election for the state’s other seat. Loeffler was appointed to that post by Kemp last year to replace Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired because of ill health.

Collins, who finished third in the special election for Loeffler’s seat, has been publicly supportive of Trump’s fraud claims, prompting Raffensperger to call him a “charlatan.” Collins gave up his House seat to run for the Senate, which will leave him free to challenge Kemp in 2022.

Trump’s endorsement of Kemp in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018 was seen as a key factor in his victory — an endorsement the president now says he regrets.

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Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets landslide win in GOP runoff for Georgia governor, will now face Stacey Abrams

Democrats pick nominees for two targeted GOP-held seats in Atlanta suburbs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With the backing of both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has won the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, winning a runoff by nearly 40 points after a stunning collapse by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.

Kemp’s win sets up one of the nation’s marquee governor’s races this fall against Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state, who won her nomination in May without a runoff.

Georgia Democrats have also settled on nominees for two Republican-held U.S. House seats in metro Atlanta being targeted this fall, picking Lucy McBath in the 6th District and Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th District.

McBath will now face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, while Bourdeaux will take on U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp

In the GOP governor’s race, Kemp took 69 percent of the vote in the July 24 runoff to 31 percent for Cagle, who had finished 13 points ahead of Kemp in the first round of voting in May but saw his support collapse in the final weeks of the race.

“We have earned a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp told supporters at a election night rally in Athens. “We had the momentum in this race, and those endorsements by the president and vice president — they poured gasoline on the fire.”

Although both men had vied for the Trump vote, the president endorsed Kemp a week before the runoff, and Pence traveled to Georgia to campaign with him. Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, was endorsed by incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal,  who is term limited.

During the campaign, Kemp drew criticism for a humorous ad in which he points a shotgun at a young man who wants to date one of his daughters and gets him to acknowledge “a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.” Kemp was unapologetic, saying in a statement that “liberal media and radical, left-wing activists — who have probably never even held a firearm — are freaking out and creating fake controversy.”

The National Rifle Association had earlier endorsed Cagle after the lieutenant governor proposed stripping a lucrative tax exemption from Atlanta-based Delta Airlines to retaliate against the company for ending a discount program for NRA members in the wake of the massacre of high school students in Parkland, Florida.

The turning point in the race may have been release of secretly recorded audio in June in which Cagle admitted that he had supported “bad public policy” in the legislature to undercut one of his primary rivals and complained that the Republican primary had devolved into a contest of “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”

In a concession speech to supporters in Atlanta, Cagle promised his “full, undivided support” for Kemp in the general election.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it, but at the end of the day, I can promise you my life is so rich,” he said.

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams

Democrats, who have not won a governor’s race in Georgia since 1998, are hoping to turn those fortunes around with Abrams, 44, a Yale-educated Atlanta lawyer who served six years as minority leader of the Georgia House.

During the Democratic primary, Abrams had argued that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to energize and expand the electorate, rather than trying to appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands. That strategy will be put to the test against Kemp, 54, a conservative businessman from Athens who has been secretary of state since 2011.

Kemp went after Abrams in his victory speech, calling her an “out-of-touch radical liberal who cares more for her billionaire backers than for you all.”

“This election is going to be for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “It is going to be about our values, and it is going to be literally a fight for the future of the great state of Georgia.”

While Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for nearly two decades, demographic changes — particularly an influx of new minority voters — have begun to shift the political calculus. In 2004, George W. Bush carried Georgia by 16 points; Trump only won by 5 points in 2016, and he lost two large suburban Atlanta counties — Cobb and Gwinnett — that had not gone Democratic in a generation.

Both of the U.S. House races where Democrats may have a shot this fall are anchored in those same suburbs. In the 6th District, which takes in Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, Trump won by just 1.5 points; in the 7th District, which includes Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, he won by just 6 points.

Lucy McBath

Karen Handel

Handel won the 6th District seat in a special election in 2017 that became nationalized amid rising resistance to Trump. More than $50 million was spent on that race, making it the most expensive House election in history.

The Democrat who Handel defeated in that race, Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch, leaving her to face McBath, a retired flight attendant and gun control activist from Cobb County, who took 54 percent in the runoff to defeat Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who took 46 percent.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Rob Woodall

Carolyn Bourdeaux

In the 7th District, Woodall will face Bourdeaux, from Suwanee, a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate.  In the runoff, she took 52 percent of the vote to defeat Duluth businessman David Kim with 48 percent.

In the runoff, Republicans also settled on their nominees for the posts of lieutenant governor and secretary of state given up by Cagle and Kemp.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, former State Rep. Geoff Duncan from Cumming, a former professional baseball player, edged out State Senator David Shafer from Duluth. However, the two candidates were separated by less than 1,700 votes, which could trigger a runoff.

Duncan will now face the Democratic nominee, Kennesaw businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico.

In the secretary of state’s race, State Rep. Brad Raffensperger from Johns Creek defeated Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. He will now face former U.S. Rep. John Barrow from Athens, who was the last white Democrat left in Georgia’s congressional delegation until he was defeated in 2014.

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.

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