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Kentucky Primary: Amy McGrath survives scare, wins Democratic U.S. Senate nod

Results finally in after week of counting avalanche of absentee ballots

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Amy McGrath has survived a scare in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, narrowly defeating State Rep. Charles Booker after absentee ballots were counted.

Final results showed McGrath with 45% to 43% for Booker, whose scrappy campaign surged from behind in the closing weeks of the race to nearly inflict an embarrassing defeat on the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment in Washington.

U.S. Senate nominee Amy McGrath, D-Kentucky

McGrath, 45, a former Marine fighter pilot who narrowly lost a race for the U.S. House in 2018, will now take on Kentucky’s most formidable political figure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in November.

Reporting of final results was delayed for a week while elections officials counted hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots cast in a primary that had been postponed for nearly two months because of the coronavirus crisis.

Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won with a plurality.

Booker held a narrow lead in the in-person vote and beat McGrath by more than 20 points in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville. But she did better in the absentee vote and carried most of the rest of the state.

McGrath has raised more than $40 million and has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She spent $20 million in the Senate primary, almost all of it on ads that focused on McConnell, rather than her primary opponents.

But Booker, 35, in only his first term in the legislature, came from behind by criticizing McGrath as a “pro-Trump Democrat” unable to motivate the party’s grassroots.

He got the backing of luminaries on the Democratic left such as U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, as well as snagging endorsements from state’s two largest newspapers, the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader.

One factor in the race was the effect of protests over police violence that have roiled Louisville, home to the state’s largest pool of Democratic voters, in the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman who was mistakenly shot in her home by police executing a no-knock warrant.

In the race’s closing days, Booker went up with ads criticizing McGrath for not participating in the protests, which included a awkward clip from a recent debate in which McGrath said she wasn’t involved because she “had some family things going on.” By contrast, Booker was shown addressing the protest crowd will a bullhorn.

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Stacey Abrams won’t challenge U.S. Senator David Perdue in Georgia in 2020

Decision deprives Democrats of their top prospect to unseat Republican incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Withstanding intense lobbying from Democratic leaders to run, Stacey Abrams has announced she will not challenge Georgia Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in 2020, leaving Democrats without a top-tier candidate for a seat they hope to flip.

“I am so grateful for all the support and encouragement that I’ve received,” Abrams said in a video posted on Twitter. “However, the fights to be waged require a deep commitment to the job, and I do not see the U.S. Senate as the best role for me in this battle for our nation’s future.”

Stacey Abrams announces she won’t run for Senate in 2020 (From Twitter)

Addressing her political future, Abrams said, “I still don’t know exactly what’s next for me” — leaving open the possibility of seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a idea she has discussed openly in recent months.

Abrams also took a parting shot at Perdue, saying she would work in 2020 to elect “a Georgian who cares more about protecting our farmers and our families than protecting the Trump administration.”

Abrams, 45, the former minority leader of the Georgia House, burst on to the national political stage in 2018 in the Georgia governor’s race, hoping to make history as the first African American woman ever elected governor of a U.S. state. Despite an avalanche of media attention, she lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp by 55,000 votes.

Abrams, complaining that Kemp had mismanaged the election as secretary of state, refused to concede, although she eventually acknowledged him as the winner. She then founded a group called Fair Fight Action, which filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s election processes and demanding changes before the 2020 election.

Since her defeat, Abrams had been courted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to run against Perdue, who is seeking his second term in 2020. She was selected to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since 1996, but Abrams’s near victory over Kemp made her the party’s top prospect to take on Perdue. With Abrams out, that mantle falls, for the moment, on former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

Abrams’s decision was met with some glee at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which fired off a statement from NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt:

“Stacey Abrams handed Chuck Schumer his most embarrassing recruiting fail of the cycle, leaving Georgia Democrats stuck with an assortment of second-tier candidates,” Hunt said. “Her decision is the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have rejected Schumer’s pitch out of fear of facing formidable Republican Senators next fall.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stewart Boss, fired back: “Stacey and Georgia Democrats laid a strong foundation for 2020, and Senator Perdue will be held accountable for driving up health care costs, giving big corporations and millionaires like himself a tax break, and putting the president ahead of what’s right.”

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, which means Democrats will need to flip four seats in 2020 to take control, unless Trump loses, in which case they can control the Senate with a shift of three seats and the vice presidency.

Of the seats up next year, 21 are held by Republicans and just 13 by Democrats. However, most of those GOP seats are in states that tilt Republican; Democrats are hoping to add Georgia to a short list of GOP targets that includes seats in Colorado, Maine, Arizona and Iowa.

Democrats will also have to defend seats in heavily Republican Alabama and Michigan, which Trump carried in 2016.

A total of 13 Southern seats — 11 Republican and two Democratic — are up in 2020. Incumbents are expected to run for re-election for all of those seats except Tennessee, where Lamar Alexander is retiring.

Races in Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina are likely to be competitive, while in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could face both primary and Democratic opposition.

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Democrat MJ Hegar enters race against Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Hegar dismisses Cornyn as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — MJ Hegar, a tattooed former Air Force fighter pilot who nearly pulled off an upset against a veteran Republican Texas U.S. House member in 2018, now has her sights on a bigger target — U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Hegar launched her campaign to unseat Cornyn in 2020 with a video in which she rides a motorcycle and lampoons the former Senator majority whip for his close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MJ Hegar announces her U.S. Senate bid

“He’s that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

Cornyn’s campaign fired back at Hegar, tweeting that she was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “hand-picked candidate.”

“If elected, she will end all of the progress Texas has made by eliminating private healthcare, raising taxes and supporting late-term abortion,” the campaign tweeted, posting a quiz for its followers to judge how liberal Hegar is.

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer from Round Rock, lost by just 3 points to seven-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in the 31st District, based in Austin’s northern suburbs. Carter had carried the district by 22 points in 2016.

“I didn’t win that election, but we won something bigger,” Hegar said in her announcement video. “We helped change the status quo — new voices, new volunteers, new voters, standing up to demand better.”

WATCH: Hegar’s full announcement video

Hegar, 42, spent five years flying helicopters in the Air Force. While serving in Afghanistan in 2009, she was wounded when her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, and she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After Hegar could no longer fly because of her injuries, she was barred by military policy from serving in other combat roles. She was part of a group of women who sued to overturn the policy, which was repealed in 2013.

Hegar launched her 2018 campaign with a video entitled “Doors,” in which she displayed her tattoos, some of which cover her war injuries. The video went viral, helping her raise more than $5 million for her race against Carter, nearly tripling his fundraising take.

Other Democrats are expected to join the Texas Senate race against Cornyn, including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro from San Antonio.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn, 67, has represented Texas in the Senate since 2002 and served as the Senate majority whip, the chamber’s No. 2 position, from 2015 to 2019. He won his last re-election race in 2014 by 28 points.

While Cornyn had to face down a primary challenge in 2014, no Republicans have yet stepped forward to challenge him next year.

No Democrat has won a Senate race in Texas since 1988. However, after Beto O’Rourke nearly unseated U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, Democrats have made Cornyn one of their top targets for 2020.

O’Rourke decided to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination rather than taking on Cornyn.

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GOP leaders dodge bullet in West Virginia as Morrisey wins U.S. Senate primary

Jailed former mine owner Don Blankenship finishes a distant third

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican leaders in West Virginia are breathing a sigh of relief after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the party’s U.S. Senate primary, ending an insurgent bid by Don Blankenship, who went to prison for his role in a deadly mine explosion.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Pre-election fears that Blankenship would win the GOP primary and hand the race to Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November did not come to pass, as Blankenship finished a distant third.

Morrisey took 35 percent, defeating U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, with 29 percent and Blankenship with 20 percent.

In his victory speech, Morrisey cast the upcoming race against Manchin in ideological terms, criticizing “Washington elites” who he said “push their liberal agenda down our throats.”

“The spend our money, they raise our taxes, and they sneer at our culture, our values, our jobs and our priorities,” he said.

He also faulted Manchin — perhaps the Senate’s most conservative Democrat — with being insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump.

“When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help on so many issues, Senator Manchin said no,” Morrisey said. “Senator Manchin has repeatedly sided with (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and his liberal friends over President Trump.”

Morrisey, 50, was first elected attorney general in 2012, the first Republican to hold that post in nearly 70 years.

Although he now casts himself as a champion of West Virginia values, Morrisey grew up in New Jersey, where he ran for Congress in 2000. While working as a lobbyist in Washington in 2006, he moved to Jefferson County, in the West Virginia panhandle which is part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

With Republicans clinging to a one-seat Senate majority, the race in West Virginia — which Trump won by a stunning 42 points in 2016 — presents a prime pickup opportunity.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin, 70, seeking a second full term in the Senate, easily won the Democratic primary. Despite being a former two-term governor and serving in statewide office since 2001, Manchin is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the 2018 cycle because of the size of Trump’s win in 2016.

On the eve of the primary, Trump weighed in on Twitter against Blankenship, telling Mountaineer State voters that the former coal mine company CEO could not win in November. He urged them to vote for either Morrisey or Jenkins, though he stopped short of endorsing either man.

Morrisey paid tribute to Trump’s tweet in his victory speech: “Mr. President, if you’re watching right now, your tweet was h-u-u-uge.”

Blankenship, 68, spent a year in prison for violating mine safety laws stemming from a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 miners. He launched his Senate bid after being released, pouring at least $3.5 million of his own money into his campaign to brand himself as an anti-establishment outsider.

Also on the primary ballot in West Virginia was the race in the 3rd U.S. House District, which Jenkins gave up to run for the Senate.

On the Republican side, State House Majority Whip Carol Miller of Crab Orchard won her party’s nomination. In November, she will face the Democratic nominee, State Senator Richard Ojeda, an Iraq war veteran who may be the best hope Democrats have for winning a House seat in West Virginia in 2018.

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