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Report: Trump nomination opens up Southern possibilities for Clinton

Cook Political Report moves projections for four Southern states toward the Democrats

white-house-chaseWASHINGTON (CFP) — Now that Donald Trump has secured the Republican presidential nomination, the respected Cook Political Report is shifting its projections for four Southern states, with 73 electoral votes, toward Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The more pessimistic projections for Trump are due to his “historic unpopularity with wide swaths of the electorate,” according to the report.

The four Southern states where Clinton is projected to have increased opportunity are Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. Those states are four of the five largest in the region, and all have large populations of suburban swing voters Clinton is expected to target.

Of the largest Southern states, only Texas remains solidly Republican, according to Cook. The remaining nine states in the South–Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia–are also still rated as solidly Republican.

After Trump became the presumptive nominee, the Cook report shifted its projections toward Clinton in 12 states. In only one state, Maine, did it project an increased opportunity for Trump.

Nationwide, states with a combined 309 electoral votes are projected as either solidly for or leaning toward Clinton, 40 more than she needs to win. By contrast, the states solidly behind or leaning toward Trump have just 190 electoral votes.

florida mugPerhaps the most significant shift in Cook’s projections was for Florida, with 29 electoral votes, which went from a toss-up to leaning Democratic.

History shows how vital the Sunshine State is to any GOP presidential candidate: The last Republican to win the White House without carrying Florida was Calvin Coolidge way back in 1924. Five of the last six times a Democrat won, he carried Florida.

georgia mugThe most surprising shift in the projections was for Georgia, with 16 electoral votes, which moved from solidly Republican to leaning Republican.

The last time a Democrat carried Georgia was in 1980, when native son Jimmy Carter was on the ballot. Republican Mitt Romney won it by eight points in 2012.

virginia mugThe Cook report moved Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, from a toss-up to leaning toward Clinton. Although the Old Dominion became reliably Republican in presidential contests in the 1960s, Barack Obama won it in both 2008 and 2012 with a strong performance in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, something Clinton hopes to replicate.

north-carolina mugNorth Carolina, which had been leaning Republican, is also now a toss-up, according to Cook. The Tar Heel State has been a swing state in recent elections; Obama won it in 2008, but Romney took it back in 2012.

Obama’s victories show just how important keeping the South solidly Republican is for a GOP nominee. Winning just three Southern states in 2008, and just two in 2012, was enough for him to put the Electoral College out of reach for John McCain and Romney.

In 2000, George W. Bush took 168 electoral votes out of the South, more than 60 percent of what he needed to win. In 2012, Romney carried only 138, barely half of what he needed, forcing him to make up the differences in regions that were less Republican-friendly, which he failed to do.

An April Mason-Dixon poll of voters in Mississippi also illustrated the scope of Trump’s potential problems in the South. His lead over Clinton was within the margin of error, meaning that the race in the Magnolia State was a statistical dead heat.

If deep-red Mississippi were to be in play come November, the rest of the South would likely also be in play, which could mean a very long election night for Trump.

Republican operative Ed Gillespie eyeing Virginia U.S. Senate race

Gillespie, a former Republican National Commitee chief and aide to President George W. Bush, may take on Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

virginia mugNORFOLK, Virginia (CFP) — Ed Gillespie, a high-level Washington GOP political operative, is considering running for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia now held by Democrat Mark Warner.

Ed Gillespie

Ed Gillespie

Gillespie, speaking to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper January 5 after meeting with Republican activists in Norfolk, said he has concluded that Warner can be beaten and will decide whether to run by early February.

“I have concluded it is a winnable race,” Gillespie said.

Should Gillespie run, it would set up a classic establishment-versus-Tea Party struggle within Republican ranks in the Old Dominion. Two former miltary officers, Howie Lind of McClean and Shak Hill of Centreville, are already in the race, running as outsiders and playing for Tea Party support.

Also, Virginia Republicans select their candidates through a convention, rather than a primary.  That could level the playing field for an outsider candidate who can develop a strong cadre of supporters to turn out at the convention, which will be held in June in Roanoke.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face the formidable Warner, a former governor who already has more $7 million in cash on hand for the 2014 race — a huge head start over any of the Republicans in the field.

Both The Rothenberg Political Report and Cook Political Report classify Warner’s seat as safely in Democratic hands.

Gillespie told the Virginian-Pilot that he thinks Warner is vulnerable because he has voted with President Obama “97 percent of the time.”

However, Virginia is no longer reliably Republican as it once was. Obama carried the state twice, and GOP candidates lost all three statewide races in 2013.

Although he has never sought office before, Gillespie, 52, is the connsumate Washington insider. He was a communications strategist in Bush’s winning campaign in 2000 and went on to chair the Republican National Committee. In 2007, he became a counselor in the Bush White House.

In April 2012, after Mitt Romney was finally able to claim the Republican presidential nomination, Gillespie signed on as a senior adviser to the Romney campaign.

Gillespie also has a long association with Karl Rove, the Bush political consigliere who has frequently drawn the ire of the party’s Tea Party wing.  He helped Rove create Crossroads GPS, the super-PAC that has backed establishment candidates facing Tea Party insurgencies.

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