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State of the Races: U.S. Senate 2016

GOP favored in 7 of 9 Southern contests; Democrats have a shot at 2

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — The 2016 election will feature nine contests across 14 Southern states, all of which are currently held by Republicans. And there appears to be precious little opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in the GOP’s regional hegemony.

Florida and North Carolina appear to be the best shots Democrats have to reverse the region’s GOP tide, although the decision by Marco Rubio to run for re-election significantly bolsters Republican chances in the Sunshine State. Louisiana is another possibility if the 24-candidate free-for-all in the Pelican State’s all-party jungle primary creates an unexpected Democratic opportunity. The other six races are foregone conclusions, barring some unforeseen Republican calamity.

Republicans currently hold 24 of the 28 Southern Senate seats, including both seats in 11 out of the 14 Southern states.

Here is the 2016 rundown:

shelby

Shelby

Alabama: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby is running for a seventh term. Democrats aren’t putting up a fight, letting their nomination go to a marijuana rights activist. Given that a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State since 1990, Shelby is virtually assured of another term, at the end of which he’ll be 88 years old. RATING: SAFE GOP

Boozman

Boozman

Arkansas: Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is seeing a second term, despite suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2014 that kept him away from Washington for two months. The Democrats were unsuccessful in getting their top pick, former Governor Mike Beebe, to run, though they did manage to recruit a credible challenger in Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville. Still, a statewide race is a hard slog these days for a Democrat in the Natural State. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

rubio sm

Rubio

murphyp-sm

Murphy

Florida: Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s decision to reverse course and seek re-election significantly improved Republican prospects for keeping this seat. Rubio will face U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy from Jupiter, who won the primary over liberal firebrand Alan Grayson with support from the Democratic establishment. Rubio has to be considered a favorite here, but if Hillary Clinton turns out to have coattails in the Sunshine State, this could be a race in November. RATING: GOP FAVORED

Isakson

Isakson

Georgia: Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is running for re-election, despite publicly disclosing that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Peach State Democrats have recruited Jim Barksdale, the owner of an Atlanta investment firm, to take on Isakson. However, that strategy didn’t work in 2014 with Michelle Nunn, and there is little indication that Isakson is in trouble this time around. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Paul

Paul

Kentucky: Now that Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul ended his presidential run, he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election. Democrats have managed to recruit a high-profile challenger with deep pockets, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. But in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, Gray will have a big mountain to climb. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Vitter

Vitter

Louisiana: After losing a bid for governor, Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate, leaving his seat up for grabs. A gaggle of 24 candidates are seeking the seat, running in the state’s all-party jungle primary in November, with the top two advancing to a December runoff.

Democrats running include Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer. The Republican side of the ballot includes two sitting U.S. House members, Charles Boustany of Lafayette and John Fleming of Minden; State Treasurer John Kennedy; Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese-American who represented the New Orleans area in Congress from 2009 to 2011; and Rob Maness, who made a spirited but unsuccessful Tea Party-backed bid for the Senate in 2014. White racist David Duke also filed on the GOP ticket.

While Republicans should be favored to keep this seat, Vitter’s loss to a Democrat in the governor’s race shows a flip for the Democrats is possible, if they can unite behind a high-profile challenger. Democrats could also benefit by having fewer candidates dividing up their vote in the primary. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Lankford

Lankford

Oklahoma: Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford is facing voters for the second time in two years after being elected to serve out the remainder of former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn’s term in 2014. Given that Lankford cruised to victory with 68 percent of the vote last time and Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Oklahoma in 25 years, this race is a foregone conclusion. RATING: SAFE GOP

Burr

Burr

North Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr is running for a third term, and he dodged a major bullet when former Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, who was bounced from the Senate in 2014, decided not to run against him. Instead, he will face Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor. North Carolina is a state where Democrats can still win statewide races, but Ross starts from well behind. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Scott

Scott

South Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, is facing voters for the second time in two years, after being appointed in 2013 to replace former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. This time, he’s running for a full term in his own right, and he has not drawn a major challenger. He took 61 percent of the vote in 2014; count this race as a slam dunk. RATING: SAFE GOP

GOP U.S. Rep. David Jolly, facing a newly drawn district, switches to U.S. Senate race

Decision comes after the Florida Supreme Court orders changes likely to make Jolly’s district more Democratic

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — In the wake of a Florida Supreme Court decision ordering changes in the state’s U.S. House map, Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly has decided to jump into the open U.S. Senate seat in 2016, rather than face re-election in what will likely be a more Democratic district.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

In a statement announcing his campaign July 20, Jolly, 42, who won his House seat in a special election in 2014, said he would run “on an unwavering platform that will reject the politics of division and class warfare that have defined the current administration.”

Lolly also called for creating “a new economy founded on the principle that individuals and families, not government bureaucrats, create success.”

Jolly’s entry into the Senate race adds to a crowded Republican field that already includes U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera.

Jolly currently represents Florida’s 13th District seat in Pinellas County, in the Tampa Bay area. He succeeded the late GOP U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who held the seat for more than 42 years before his death in 2013.

Jolly’s win frustrated Democratic hopes of picking up one of only three Republican-held seats in the South that President Obama carried in  2012. He went on to re-election in the 2014 general election and was expected to run again in 2016.

But the Florida Supreme Court threw a monkey wrench into those plans July 9, ruling that the Republican-controlled state legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered the map to help the GOP’s electoral prospects. The high court ordered the state legislature to redraw eight districts, including Jolly’s.

The Supreme Court objected to the legislature’s decision to shift African-American voters in St. Petersburg into the neighboring 14th District, across the bay in Tampa, to make the 13th more Republican-friendly, which justices said violated a requirement that districts be geographically compact wherever possible.

Shifting those voters back would have made Jolly’s swing district harder to retain.

The Supreme Court’s ruling might also force another U.S. House member into the Senate race on the Democratic side.

The court ruled that the 5th District — an oddly shaped district that snakes through northeast and central Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando to pick up black voters and is at one point the width of a highway — must be redrawn in an east-west configuration from Jacksonville towards the Panhandle.

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

That change is likely to shift the Panhandle-based 2nd District , held by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, to the south, which would make it more Republican and more difficult for her to carry. That prompted Democratic strategists to talk up a possible Graham Senate bid, although the congresswoman herself has remained non-committal.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for Jolly’s seat if the legislature, as expected, draws his St. Petersburg home into the district.

The Republican-turned-indepenent-turned-Democrat lost statewide races for the U.S. Senate in 2012 and for governor in 2014.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson off and running for Senate seat in Florida

Outspoken liberal firebrand’s campaign sets up a battle royale in the Democratic primary

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugORLANDO (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the firebrand liberal notorious for caustic comments about Republicans, has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2016, setting up what is likely to be a bruising Democratic primary battle in the Sunshine State.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

“I am unbought and unbossed,” Grayson, D-Orlando, said in a video announcing his Senate bid posted to his campaign website July 9. “I own nothing to anyone but the people.”

Grayson is running in defiance of Democratic party leaders, who are backing moderate U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter and had hoped to avoid what is likely to be a divisive Democratic primary.

On the day of his announcement, Grayson provided a flavor of what’s to come in an interview with WKMG-TV in Orlando, in which he accused Murphy of being a closet Republican and said the Senate race “is going to live until the end of time.”

“People understand what I stand for. Patrick wants to cut Social Security, cut Medicare, and Patrick gave $2,300 to Mitt Romney’s campaign,” he said. “Patrick’s running in the wrong primary. He should be running as a Republican because that’s who he really is.”

To bring home the flavor of his political persona, Grayson is calling his campaign website SenatorWithGuts.com.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy

For his part, Murphy greeted Grayson’s announcement by issuing a statement saying he was looking forward “to a clean, honest discussion of the issues in this primary.”

Grayson, 57, a Harvard-educated lawyer, burst onto the national scene after his election to Congress in 2008 with a floor speech in which he said the GOP’s health care plan was for the uninsured “to die quickly.” He has called Republicans “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals,” likened the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan and once compared former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire.

In 2009, he had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore.” He is also known to subject reporters to profanity-laden tirades for stories he doesn’t like.

Grayson’s controversial profile cost him his House seat in 2010, a campaign in which he referred to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, as “Taliban Dan” in a television ad. But Grayson returned to Congress in 2012, winning in a newly created Orlando-area district.

In addition to his hyperbolic comments, Grayson is also involved in a nasty divorce with his wife of 25 years, Lolita, whom he accused of bigamy and tried to have arrested for using a joint credit card to buy groceries. Lolita Grayson has charged that the congressman was unfaithful and abusive.

In his kickoff announcement, Grayson took an unabashed liberal line, calling for ending taxes on Social Security benefits, expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision care and ensuring that “every job should provide enough money to become part of the middle class.”

The Senate seat opened up when Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio decided to run for president. Democratic leaders are fearful that Grayson’s is too controversial and too liberal to win a statewide race in Florida — squandering an opportunity to pick up a seat that is vital to the party’s hopes of taking back the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is backing Murphy, 32, who was a registered Republican until he switched parties to run for the House in 2012. He was re-elected in 2014 with nearly 60 percent of the vote in a competitive district.

On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has jumped into the Senate race, and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera is also expected to run.

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