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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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7 new Southern U.S House Democrats who ousted Republicans support Nancy Pelosi for speaker

Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts gavel from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (From Twitter)

Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.

Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.

Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern  members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.

Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.

After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.

Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.

Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.

Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.

Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.

Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.

Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia supported Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, a grouping of the most conservative Republican members.

Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.

Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.

The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.

Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.

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Four Southern Democrats among rebels opposing Nancy Pelosi for U.S. House speaker

Four incoming freshmen have not taken a position on Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After an election season in which Republicans used the specter of Nancy Pelosi’s speakership as a weapon against their Democratic opponents, four Southern Democrats, including two incoming freshman, have signed on to an effort to replace her as Democratic leader.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Two incumbents — Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Filemon Vela of Texas — and one newcomer, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, are among 16 House members who signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus, which will take control of the House in January.

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-win districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter said. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intent to deliver on that promise.”

The anti-Pelosi rebels said they would oppose her as speaker both in the vote in which Democrats will select a speaker candidate on November and on the House floor, where Pelosi will need a majority of 218 votes to defeat the Republicans’ expected candidate, Kevin McCarthy, in January.

Democrats are on track to have 234 seats in the new House, which means Pelosi can lose a maximum of 16 Democratic votes.

In addition to the three Southern Democrats who signed the letter, another incoming freshman, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, has said she will oppose Pelosi.

In an interview with CNN, Spanberger said that while she has “tremendous respect” for Pelosi, “one of the things that I talked about frequently on the campaign trail was the need to have new voices in Congress, the need to turn a new page in the way we engage across the aisle, and really to be able to work on the priorities that were most important to the people in my district.”

Four other incoming members — Colin Allred of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, and Elaine Luria of Virginia — have not taken a position on Pelosi’s speakership. All four narrowly won their races over Republican incumbents who highlighted their possible support for Pelosi in their campaigns.

The six remaining Southern Democratic freshmen — Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia — have all said they will support Pelosi.

Escobar and Garcia won open Democratic seats. Fletcher, Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell and Wexton flipped Republican seats.

Pelosi, 78, has represented San Francisco in the House since 1987 and has led House Democrats since 2002. She served as speaker from 2007 until 2011, the first woman to hold the post.

Her long tenure as leader — 16 years and counting — and her usefulness as a bogeyman for Republicans are driving the opposition to her, which is generally not a fight over policy or ideology.

However, the rebellion against Pelosi within the Democratic caucus is not widespread, including among Southern members. Only Cooper and Vela are opposing her; 116 other returning Southern Democratic members are expected to support her.

Cooper’s opposition is not a surprise. The Nashville Democrat, who has opposed Pelosi five times in the past, told The Tennessean that new Democratic members “won their districts by tiny margins and are in danger of losing in 2020 unless we prove to voters that we are working hard to get America back on track.”

Vela, from Brownsville, had supported Pelosi’s bid for Democratic leader after the 2016 election. But he called for her to step down after the party lost a high-profile special election in Georgia in 2017 in which Republicans relentlessly tied the Democratic candidate to her.

Republican Karen Handel, the winner of that special election, in Georgia’s 6th District in suburban Atlanta, lost her seat to McBath.

No one has so far stepped forward to run against Pelosi for Democratic leader. Given that party members are highly unlikely to vote for McCarthy on the floor, it remains unclear for whom the anti-Pelosi rebels might cast their votes.

One option would be to vote “present” instead of for another candidate, which would not imperil Pelosi because she only has to win a majority of those members actually voting. However, in their letter, her opponents said they were “committed to voting for new leadership both in our Caucus meeting and on the House floor.”

Should Pelosi survive, the lone Southerner in the House Democratic leadership, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, is expected to become the House majority whip, the No. 3 position. He is currently the only candidate for the position.

Should Pelosi be unable to secure a majority for the speakership, the scramble to replace her could upset the entire Democratic hierarchy in the House.

Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South

Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.

Joe Manchin

The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.

Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.

However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.

Brian Kemp

Ron DeSantis

Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Abrams has refused to concede.

“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”

Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.

In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.

Beto O’Rourke

Ted Cruz

The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.

Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.

In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.

In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.

 

Comstock

Brat

Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.

In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.

Arrington

Cunningham

Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.

Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.

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Election Preview: GOP’s Southern U.S. House wall faces Democratic challenge in suburbs

Democrats have put 31 Republican-held seats in play across the South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Will the Republican’s big, blue Southern wall that has been the linchpin of their U.S. House majority hold, or will Democrats reverse a decade of disappointment and eat away at GOP dominance in the South?

That question will be answered in Tuesday’s midterm elections, in which voters will decide all 152 House seats in 14 Southern states.

Heading into the vote, Republicans hold a 112-to-40 advantage across the region. But at least 31 GOP-held seats are on the Democrats’ radar for possible takeaways in 2018, which could portend the biggest comeback for the party in Congress since 1994, when scores of traditionally Democratic seats in the South melted away, seemingly for good.

By contrast, none of the 40 Democrat-held seats in the region are expected to flip.

The possible Republican-to-Democrat flips are concentrated in four states — Florida, with nine; Texas, with eight; and Virginia and North Carolina, with four each.

But Democrats have also targeted Republican seats in West Virginia, Arkansas and Oklahoma, where they were shut out in 2016, and South Carolina, where they won but a single seat.

Many of the most competitive races are in suburban areas around major cities that have traditionally been solidly Republican, including districts in and around Dallas, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.

The elephant in the room in all of these races has been President Donald Trump, with Democrats trying to make inroads in normally Republican districts where Trump underperformed in 2016, as he was overperforming in rural areas on his way to capturing the White House.

This election might also portend the revival of what has in recent years become something of a endangered species in Congress — the white Southern Democrat.

Currently, just 13 white Democrats who are not Latino or Asian hold Southern House seats. But of the 31 competitive seats this year, 22 feature a white Democrat trying to oust a Republican.

Among the Southern races drawing the most national attention are in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, raised more than $7.8 million in a bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr — a race which drew a visit from Trump on Barr’s behalf.

Kentucky has the nation’s earliest poll closing, at 6 p.m. in the part of the state located in Eastern time zone. So the McGrath-Barr race should provide an early indication of how the national results may develop.

Another possible bellweather race: West Virginia’s 3rd District, where Democratic State Senator Richard Ojeda is battling Republican State Rep. Carol Miller for an open seat in a district that Trump carried by a whopping 49 points in 2016.

Polls close in the Mountaineer State at 7:30 p.m. ET; an Ojeda win or a close vote could be a harbinger of a difficult night for the GOP.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is in the fight of his political life in suburban Dallas, where he faces Colin Allred, a lawyer and former NFL linebacker who worked in the Obama administration.

Sessions, first elected in 1996, is the chairman of the House Rules Committee and was one of the architects of the Republican wave in 2010, which swept the party back into control of Congress.

While he won re-election with 71 percent of the vote in 2016, Hillary Clinton was narrowly carrying his district, which made him a top Democratic target in2018.

Another Texas Republican whose race is a toss-up is U.S. Rep. John Culberson, whose metro Houston district was also carried by Clinton in 2016. He faces Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Democratic attorney.

Culberson’s district has been in Republican hands since former President George H.B. Bush won it in 1966.

Barbara Comstock

The most endangered Southern Republican is U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Polls have shown her trailing Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton in a district where Clinton scored a 10-point win.

In Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s former health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to win an open Republican-held seat in a district Clinton won by 20 points. But she has run into a stiff challenge from Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular journalist on Spanish-language TV.

Karen Handel

Meanwhile, in suburban Atlanta, Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel — who won her seat in a sensational 2017 special election in which $50 million was spent — is in a tight race with Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate whose son died in a racially charged shooting.

In Virginia, U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, the giant-killer who ousted former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary, is being challenged by Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative.

In North Carolina, three Republican incumbents find themselves in competitive races — George Holding, Richard Hudson and Ted Budd — and the GOP is trying to keep control of an open seat in metro Charlotte.

The news is better in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, where Republican incumbents are all expected to survive without any trouble.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. House races.

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