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Atlanta finance executive Kelly Loeffler picked for Georgia U.S. Senate seat

Governor Brian Kemp picks Loeffler for vacancy over objections of Trump partisans

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, will fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

Loeffler’s appointment to the Senate seat was announced by Governor Brian Kemp on December 4, despite a lukewarm reception of the idea at the White House and vocal opposition from some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent partisans.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Kelly Loeffler introduced as Georgia’s new U.S. Senator (From 11Alive via YouTube)

Taking direct aim at the opposition to her appointment, Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) described herself as a “lifelong conservative” who is pro-life, “pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-wall.”

“I make no apologies for my conservative values, and I look forward to supporting President Trump’s conservative justices,” she said.

In his introduction, Kemp described Loeffler as a “conservative businesswoman and political outsider.”

“Like our president, Kelly is ready to take on the status quo, the politically correct and the special interests,” Kemp said.  “She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken. She knows that we need to drain the swamp.”

Kemp picked Loeffler after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators. She was among the last to apply.

Kemp conceded that his approach was “unorthodox” but said he went into the search with “no favors to repay and no intention of making any backroom deals.”

Loeffler, 50, who had not previously sought elective office, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who, had he been appointed, would have become one of the president’s jurors in the looming Senate impeachment trial.

Kemp’s decision to choose Loeffler over Collins has been met with disdain by some of the president’s more vocal supporters, including Fox News host Sean Hannity, a one-time Atlantan who has been urging his followers to contact the governor to voice support for Collins.

Chief among the factors giving Trump supporters pause: In 2012, Loeffler gave $750,000 to a super PAC supporting the presidential candidacy of Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, who has been one of the few voices in the Senate to offer criticism of the president.

Kemp took Loeffler to the White House to meet Trump before he announced her as his pick, a meeting that was reportedly tense and brief.

Collins has said he might run for the Senate in the special election against Loeffler, a race that would pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

Loeffler is currently the chief executive officer of Bakkt, a bitcoin company that is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. She is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the founder and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange. The couple live in Tuxedo Park, one of Atlanta’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Isakson, 74, who has held the Senate seat since 2005, is retiring at the end of December due to health issues.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Insight: What do 2019’s election results in the South tell us about 2020?

Wins in Kentucky and Louisiana aren’t nirvana for Democrats, but they do show limits to GOP strategy of socialist pigeonholing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Now that the dust has cleared from elections in four Southern states earlier this month, what are the lessons, if any, for 2020 elections in which both the presidency and control of Congress will be on the line?

Some pundits in the chattering class and Democratic politicians have looked at victories by Democrats in governor’s races in deep red Kentucky and Louisiana and gleefully found evil portends for their GOP rivals next year.

That would be overreach.

Editor Rich Shumate

In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear won because the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, was as popular as a skin rash after four years of gratuitous insults and irritation. In Louisiana, Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards — that rarest of creatures, a pro-life Democrat — had strong job approval numbers and ran as far away as he could from the Elizabeth Warrens and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes in his party.

Trump couldn’t push Republicans over the finish line in either race, but Republicans carried all of the other statewide contests in both states and had a clean sweep in of state offices in Mississippi. So it would be a mistake to see these Democratic wins as a referendum on Trump, and Democrats shouldn’t find much solace in what was otherwise a rather dismal showing.

Still, the wins by Beshear and Edwards showed that the Republican strategy of calling Democrats socialists and ginning up the faithful with Trump rallies has its limits, even in states that the president carried by more than 20 points. In states with more even strength between the parties — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina — that strategy could be even less effective next year, particularly at the presidential level and in U.S. Senate races in the latter three states.

What should be of more concern to Republicans is the fact that the Democratic vote in cities and suburban areas was unusually strong and decidedly Democratic in 2019, mirroring a trend seen in 2018 when Democrats took control of the U.S. House.

Beshear won in Kentucky by carrying Louisville and Lexington and their suburbs by a margin of 135,000 votes, swamping Republican margins in the rest of the state. In Louisiana, Edwards won by carrying Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans by almost 165,000 votes, including winning almost 90 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and carrying suburban Jefferson Parish — home of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise — by 14 points.

The news for Republicans was even worse in Virginia, where Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature — in elections that used maps drawn by Republicans to protect Republicans — by gaining more ground in the suburbs around Washington, Richmond, and Norfolk. Among the casualties was the last Republican House member representing a district in the inner Washington suburbs, which 20 years ago was undisputed GOP territory.

In 2018, newfound Democratic strength in the suburbs allowed the party to take competitive U.S. House seats in Atlanta, Richmond, Miami, Dallas and Houston — and get surprise wins in Oklahoma City and Charleston. If that trend, also seen in 2019, continues into 2020, it could potentially put more seats into play in Little Rock, Tampa, Lexington, San Antonio and across North Carolina, where a court recently forced Republican legislators to redraw gerrymandered maps.

Over in the Senate, Republicans are defending two seats in Georgia and seats in Texas and North Carolina where Democrats now have a plausible path to victory, if they can push the urban/suburban vote past the pro-Trump margin in small towns and rural areas as they did in 2019. And the eyes of the nation will be on Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be defending his seat in the wake of Beshear’s breakthrough.

McConnell’s job approval numbers are 13 points underwater in Kentucky, according to the latest Morning Consult survey, making him one of the nation’s least popular senators. However, McConnell has substantially more political acumen than Bevin and a much better political machine, and he could benefit if he faces a Democrat whom he can pigeonhole as a leftist.

McConnell’s campaign is already taking aim at his only announced Democratic rival, Amy McGrath, who raised $8.6 million in an unsuccessful congressional race in 2018 but started the campaign with an embarrassing flip-flop on whether she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (First she said yes, then she said no.)

Rocky Adkins, a folksy, pro-life state legislator from Eastern Kentucky who ran second to Beshear in this year’s gubernatorial primary, is also considering entering the race and could prove a much more slippery target for McConnell’s ad makers.

Democrats need a net gain of four seats to take control of the Senate; three seats will be enough if a Democrat also carries the White House. That task will be very uphill if they don’t make breakthroughs in the South.

In the presidential race, the question will be if any the Democrats in the 2020 field can survive in the South in a binary match-up against Trump and his faithful followers.

Virginia is probably a lock for the Democrats, and Florida and North Carolina are always in play. The wild cards will be Georgia and Texas, where the heavy urban-suburban Democratic vote seen in 2018 and 2019 could make things interesting if it materializes again in 2020. (Trump carried Georgia by just 5 points in 2016; the margin was 9 points in Texas.)

However, it should be noted that if either Beshear or Edwards were in the presidential race, they would be far and away the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field. So could a presidential candidate who is highly likely to be substantially to their left duplicate the success they had locally in 2019, particularly in states where the president remains more popular than he does nationally?

Mmmm … don’t bet the rent.

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards defeats Republican Eddie Rispone

Edwards’s victory is a blow to Republicans and President Donald Trump after earlier GOP loss in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards has narrowly won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

The win by Edwards in Saturday’s runoff gives Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, despite fervent interventions in all three races by President Donald Trump in states he carried handily in 2016.

Governor John Bel Edwards speaks to supporters in New Orleans after winning second term (WWL-TV via YouTube)

Edwards took 51 percent of the vote in the runoff to 49 percent to Rispone, one of Louisiana’s wealthiest businessmen who was making his first bid for political office.

“How sweet it is,” Edwards said in his victory speech to supporters at a New Orleans hotel. “You didn’t just vote for me. You voted for four more years of putting Louisiana first.”

Edwards is the first Democrat to win a second term as Louisiana’s chief executive since Edwin Edwards (no relation) won re-election in 1975.

In the other statewide office on the ballot Saturday, Republican incumbent Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin easily defeated Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone, who had tried to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he had split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Trump — who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016 — visited the state three times during the campaign, most recently on Thursday night when he implored a rally in Bossier City that “you’ve gotta give me a big win” by electing Rispone.

Edwards responded to Trump’s involvement in the race with a classic Southern putdown in his victory speech.

“And as for the president — God bless his heart,” Edwards said. “If this campaign has taught us anything, it’s that the partisan forces in Washington, D.C. are not strong enough to break through the bonds that we share as Louisianans.”

Rispone led most of the night as the votes were counted, but Edwards caught and passed him as the vote came in from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, where the governor rolled up large margins of victory — more than 90 percent in Orleans Parish.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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Louisiana voters will decide governor’s race in Saturday runoff

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.

“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.

Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.

One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.

Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.

However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.

Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin concedes defeat after recanvass doesn’t change election results

Democrat Andy Beshear’s 5,200-vote lead stands up after review

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Republican Governor Matt Bevin has conceded defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race after a recanvass of the November 5 vote did not reverse Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear’s 5,200-vote lead.

“We’re going to have a change in the governorship based on the vote of the people,”  Bevin said at a November 14 news conference after the results of the recanvass came in. “I wish Attorney General Beshear well as he transitions to his next role in this state. It’s a big responsibility.”

He also said “every single facet of our administration that is desired is ready, willing and able … to help in this transition process.”

Governor Matt Bevin concedes defeat at news conference (From Louisville Courier-Journal via YouTube)

Bevin had refused to concede on election night, citing unspecified “irregularities” in the election. He asked for a recanvass, in which elections officials in the state’s 120 counties rechecked the accuracy of vote totals that had been reported.

The recanvass showed almost no change in the results in initially reported, which showed Beshear beating Bevin by 5,189 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast.

Ballots were not recounted; the state uses a system where paper ballots are marked and scanned by machines.

Watch Governor Matt Bevin’s concession at end of this story.

Beshear reacted to Bevin’s decision not to further contest the election on Twitter: “It’s official – thank you Kentucky. @GovMattBevin and his team have already begun a smooth transition. It’s time to get to work!”

Bevin’s concession culminates four tumultuous years in Frankfort that featured a bitter feud with public school teachers opposed to the governor’s attempts to fix holes in the state’s pension system. He also quarreled with fellow Republicans in the legislature and tossed his own lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, from his re-election ticket; members of his staff then tried to fire Hampton’s staff out from under her.

But Bevin’s most significant battle was against Beshear, who used the attorney generalship to haul the governor into court at least eight times, including a lawsuit that torpedoed a GOP-backed pension reform plan. The race between the two men became acrimonious, with Beshear accusing Bevin of being a bully and Bevin dismissing Beshear as a leftist ideologue.

Bevin wrapped himself in the mantle of President Donald Trump, who came to rally the Republican faithful in Lexington on the night before the election. But even Trump’s coattails — in a state he carried by 30 points in 2016 — couldn’t save a governor who topped the list of the nation’s most unpopular governors through much of his term.

Beshear, 41, who takes office December 10, will be following in the footsteps of his father, Steve Beshear, who served as governor from 2007 until 2015.

His lieutenant governor running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, an public school assistant principal and basketball coach, will take office at the same time. She has announced that she is expecting a child in February.

Beshear and Coleman will be the lone Democrats among statewide elected officials in Kentucky; Republicans swept the remaining five posts, including Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron, a protegé and former aide to the state’s senior Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will be the first Republican to hold that office in 71 years.

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Mississippi Votes: Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves wins governorship

Reeves defeats Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood with last minute push from President Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves has capped a 16-year ascent through the ranks of state politics by capturing the governorship, extending the GOP’s lock on the office for another four years.

Reeves — buoyed by a pre-election visit to Tupelo by President Donald Trump — defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the November 5 vote by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent.

Governor-elect Tate Reeves addresses supporters in Jackson (WJTV via YouTube)

“This is the 12th time I have woke up on a Tuesday morning and put my fate in the hands of the good Lord and the voters of Mississippi,” Reeves told supporters in a victory speech in Jackson. “The Lord always gets it right, and I think the people of Mississippi usually get it right.”

Republicans also swept elections for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner to continue the GOP’s dominance in the Magnolia State.

Democrats, who last won a governor’s race in 1999, were hoping that Hood — running to the right of national party on contentious social issues such as abortion and gun control — could break through against Reeves, who had to fight his way through a contentious GOP primary and runoff.

Hood, the only Democrat left holding statewide office, had won four races for attorney general but could not make the leap to the state’s top office in a state Trump carried by 28 points in 2016.

In his victory speech, Reeves thanked Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for coming to Mississippi to campaign on his behalf.

“It would have been easy for them to ignore an election for state office in little ol’ Mississippi,” Reeves said. “But they paid atention. They showed up, and they worked hard. And I will never, ever forget their support.”

The win by Reeves, 45, completes an ascent through state politics that began when he was elected as state treasurer in 2003 at age 29. After two terms as treasurer, he was elected twice as lieutenant governor and will now assume the state’s top political job in January.

The incumbent governor, Republican Phil Bryant, was term limited.

Republicans also retained their large majorities in both house of the legislature, although they fell short of getting a two-thirds majority in the House.

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Kentucky Votes: Democrat Andy Beshear ousts Republican Governor Matt Bevin

Beshear won despite President Donald Trump going all in for Bevin

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has defeated Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who could not overcome his personal unpopularity to hang on to his job despite vocal support from President Donald Trump and a Republican wave further down the ballot.

Beshear took 49.2 percent in the November 5 vote to 48.9 percent for Bevin, who saw his approval ratings tank after a tumultuous four years in Frankfort during which he sparred with his fellow Republicans in the legislature, fought with his own lieutenant governor, and heaped criticism on public school teachers.

However, Bevin, trailing by 4,700 votes, refused to concede, telling his supporters that “we know for a fact that there have been more than a few irregularities” in the election.

The governor did not give specifics, saying only that the nature of the irregularities “will be determined according to law that’s well established.”

Kentucky Governor-elect Andy Beshear speaks to supporters in Louisville (Fox News via YouTube)

Beshear, speaking to jubilant supporters at a victory celebration in Louisville, said “my expectation is that [Bevin] will honor the election that was held tonight, that he will help us make this transition.”

The hotly contested governor’s race sparked a voter turnout more than 400,000 higher than in the last governor’s race in 2015, with Beshear crushing Bevin by 2-to-1 margins in the urban centers of Louisville and Lexington.

Republicans got better news in the race to succeed Beshear as attorney general, as Daniel Cameron, a protegé and former aide to the state’s senior Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, won the post, marking the first time in 76 years that it has gone to a Republican.

Despite losing the governorship, GOP candidates swept the rest of the statewide offices on the ballot Tuesday. Beshear will also have to work with large Republican majorities in the legislature to push through his agenda.

Beshear, 41, will now follow in the footsteps of his father, Steve, who served as governor from 2010 to 2016.

In his victory speech, Beshear said the result showed “that our values and how we treat each other is still more important than our party, that what unites us as Kentuckians is still stronger than any national divisions.”

“Tonight, I think we showed this country that in Kentucky, we can disagree with each other while still respecting one another,” Beshear said.

The gubernatorial contest became a bitter grudge match between Bevin and Beshear, who had sued the governor repeatedly over the past four years as attorney general.

Beshear had portrayed Bevin as a bully, particularly for his critical comments about public school teachers who have been protesting Republican-backed pension reform plans. To emphasize the point, he selected a public school teacher, Jacqueline Coleman, as his running mate for lieutenant governor, and he saluted teachers in his election night speech.

“Your courage to stand up and fight against all the bullying and name calling helped galvanize our entire state,” Beshear said. “This is your victory. From now on, the doors of your State Capitol will always be open.”

Bevin had painted Beshear as a far-left liberal and wrapped himself firmly in the mantle of Trump, who carried the Bluegrass State by 30 points in 2016.

Trump was featured prominently in Bevin’s ads, and he dropped into Lexington on the night before the election to hold a rally with the governor in which he urged supporters to come out for Bevin because “if you lose, it sends a really bad message … You can’t let that happen to me.”

The president offered no immediate reaction on Twitter to the results in the governor’s race, although he did tweet congratulations to Cameron for his victory in the attorney general’s contest.

Bevin, like Trump, did well in rural parts of the state. However, Beshear rolled up a margin of more than 130,000 votes in Louisville and Lexington and also won two of the three counties in suburban Cincinnati along with Frankfort and Bowling Green.

In the attorney general’s race, Cameron ran well ahead of Bevin to defeat Democrat Greg Stumbo in by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. Stumbo served as attorney general from 2004 to 2008.

Cameron, making his first bid for political office, is also the first African American to win a statewide race in Kentucky in his own right. (Current Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton was elected on a ticket with Bevin in 2015; he bounced her from his re-election ticket earlier this year.)

A Republican had not been elected attorney general since 1943, a string of 15 consecutive defeats which Cameron finally ended.

Republican incumbents swept other statewide races for auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.

In the open race for secretary of state, Republican Michael Adams defeated Democrat Heather French Henry, a former Miss America.

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