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Texas State Rep. Jake Ellzey wins U.S. House runoff, defeats Trump-backed Susan Wright

Ellzey will replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died from COVID-19 in February

TexasARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — State Rep. Jake Ellzey claimed Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat in Tuesday’s all-Republican runoff, defeating Susan Wright, who was trying to keep the seat of her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright.

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U.S. Rep.-elect Jake Ellzey, R-Texas

The result was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Wright and publicly supported her candidacy in the final stretch. His super PAC also dropped $100,000 in a last minute advertising buy.

Ellzey took 53% in the runoff to 47% for Wright to win a district that includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

The all-party special election was called after Ron Wright’s death from COVID-19, while undergoing cancer treatment in February.

In the first round of voting in May, Wright and Ellzey claimed both spots in the runoff. Democrats were boxed out when the party’s 2018 nominee for the seat, Jana Lynne Sanchez, came in third, just 350 votes behind Ellzey.

Democrats had hopes of flipping the seat in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth, which Trump carried by just 3 points in 2020. But two other Democrats in the race took 10,000 votes from Sanchez, securing the seat for the GOP.

Tuesday’s runoff was something of a rematch from the 2018 election for the post, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to win an open seat.

The district’s previous long-time congressman, Joe Barton, endorsed Ellzey, as did Governor Greg Abbott and former Governor Rick Perry. But Trump went all in for Wright.

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Second time’s a charm? Charles Booker makes new run for Kentucky U.S. Senate seat

Former Democratic legislator from Louisville will face uphill climb to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Rand in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

KentuckyLOUISVILLE (CFP) — When he launched his first run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, few observers gave Charles Booker a snowball’s chance in a Kentucky August.

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Democrat Charles Booker announces U.S. Senate run

He was just 32, had served in the legislature for just one year, and was trying to wrestle the Democratic nomination away from Amy McGrath, a fundraising powerhouse who had the full backing of Senate Democrats and their leader, Chuck Schumer.

But then, Booker took a leading role in social justice protests in Louisville after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, his charismatic style caught the imagination of the Democratic left, and — amid an uneven, uninspiring and hyper-cautious campaign from McGrath — he came within 16,000 votes of pulling off what would have one of the year’s biggest primary upsets.

Exiting the race, Booker told his supporters, “Don’t ever let someone tell you what’s impossible.”

A year later, he’s trying the impossible again, this time with a run for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, held by Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul.

“A lot of people don’t believe that change is possible in Kentucky. We’re going to prove the doubters wrong,” Booker told supporters at his kickoff rally in Louisville July 1. “We’re going to win this race, and we’re going to transform Kentucky, and it starts right now. Let’s go.”

Video of Booker’s announcement speech at end of story.

And Booker made it clear that whether or not his optimism is borne out, or whether or not the race against Paul ends up being competitive in the end, his quest to unseat Paul will be fiery, unapologetically liberal and in-your-face, in a way McGrath never was.

“Randal Howard Paul — I see you. I see you, but you don’t see us,” Booker said. “Rand Paul thinks we are a joke. He mocks us whenever he opens his mouth. He’s mocking us. He’s an embarrassment to Kentucky because he does not care.”

“He thinks his job is to stir dysfunction, to weaponize hate and essentially dismiss Kentuckians altogether.”

Rand’s response to Booker’s announcement telegraphed the likely Republican strategy against him; namely, pounding him on his more left-wing positions in a conservative state: “I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky.”

What happened to McGrath in 2020 illustrates the decidedly uphill nature of Booker’s quest in 2022. She spent $90 million to lose to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell by 20 points, failing to even break 40%.

Of course, McConnell is a more formidable political force than Paul, and McGrath’s near loss to Booker in the Democratic primary — in which he beat her in Louisville-Jefferson County by 36,000 votes — was a glaring sign of her weakness as a candidate. Booker does have stronger political skills, and it seems likely at this point that he won’t have to battle through a primary.

Still, Donald Trump carried Kentucky by 26 points in 2020, and Paul heads into the race with Trump’s endorsement. And a Democrat has not won a Senate race in the commonwealth for 30 years.

Booker’s theory of the race is that he can reach, rally and motivate voters on the left, rather than trimming his sails to appear more moderate, which did not work for McGrath. To that end, he has hired two campaign operatives involved in Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff win in January, which won with a rallying-the-base strategy.

Booker, like Warnock, is a charismatic African-American candidate with an engaging, pulpit speaking style. However, Kentucky has a much smaller black population than Georgia and is much less urban. Louisville’s impact on the statewide vote will not be as determinative as Atlanta’s was.

Indeed, Booker’s loss to McGrath shows the challenges of a base-centric style in the Bluegrass. He beat her in Louisville and Lexington, but she won the primary by carrying most of the rest of the state.

So, the key question for 2022 is, can he find enough votes in more heavily populated parts of the state to overcome Paul’s margins in more rural areas? Or can he cut into those margins with an economic appeal to rural voters in poorer counties in Eastern Kentucky, where Democrats still have local influence?

Another wild card in this race is the amount of institutional support Booker might get from national Democrats, for a race that is seen as rather less than winnable. The powers-that-be who went all in for McGrath may be wary of going down that road again, although, as Paul’s foil, Booker should be able to raise enough money on his own to be competitive.

It is not impossible for a Democrat to win statewide in Kentucky, as Governor Andy Beshear proved in 2019. Then again, Beshear was running against Matt Bevin, whose performance as governor had made him as popular as a bad rash. Paul starts the race in much better shape.

Booker starts the race with an audacious belief in his own chances, and he has clearly decided that caution is not the better part of valor. While that may or may not end up making a senator, it will make the Kentucky Senate race among them most compelling of the 2022 cycle.

Video of Charles Booker’s announcement

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Louisiana US. Sen. Bill Cassidy is only Southern Republican to support Jan. 6 commission

All 5 Southern Democrats vote for bipartisan independent panel to take deep dive into Capitol assault by pro-Trump mob

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana stood alone among his Southern Republican colleagues Friday in supporting formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana

The bill setting up the commission died after supporters fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the panel would add an “extraneous layer” of investigation into events at the U.S. Capitol, which was stormed by a pro-Trump mob trying to block certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

All five Southern Senate Democrats — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — voted in favor of the independent probe.

Eighteen Southern Republicans voted no, while four did not vote, including U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who, along with Cassidy, voted to convict Donald Trump in an impeachment trial for his actions that day.

The three other Southern Republicans who did not vote on the commission bill were Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. All three had previously indicated that they were opposed to the commission.

In a statement defending his decision not to support the commission, Burr said several investigations are already underway “being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course. I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”

But Cassidy warned his colleagues that if the independent commission wasn’t approved, Democrats in the House would push ahead with an investigation by a select committee “the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”

The proposed investigative commission — modeled after the panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — would have had 10 members, half appointed by each party. Subpoenas could only have been issued if agreed to on both sides, and the investigation would have wrapped up by the end of 2021, nine months before the 2022 midterm election.

When the measure passed the House, 35 Republicans had voted for it. But when it got over to the Senate, McConnell began urging GOP members to oppose it as unnecessary and potentially politically detrimental.

Trump also came out firmly against the idea, calling it a “Democrat trap” and castigating House Republicans who supported it.

Manchin, the leading centrist voice among Senate Democrats, had been particularly forceful in lobbying his Republican colleagues to support the investigation, saying there was “no excuse for Republicans not to vote for this unless they don’t want to know the truth.”

But Manchin also refused to budge on his long-standing opposition to eliminating the filibuster, the procedure that allowed Republicans to block the commission even though 54 senators were in favor of it.

The Republicans who voted against formation of the commission were:

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Taking Virginia back: State GOP hopes to ride liberal backlash back into power

Reclaiming control in Richmond in November could serve as template for Republicans nationally in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — After Democrats took over the entirety of Virginia state government in 2020, they got to work.

Photo ID requirement to vote — gone. Ultrasounds and waiting periods for abortions — gone. Death penalty — abolished.

New background checks are now required for gun purchases. LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment and housing,  and conversion therapy was outlawed. Undocumented students can get in-state tuition.

Marijuana was first decriminalized and then legalized for recreational use. Utility companies were told to retire their fossil fuel plants by 2045. Cities and counties got the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Democrats even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

What Democrats tout as progressive, long-overdue change, Republicans bash as a misguided, ill-advised liberal toot. In November, Virginia voters will be asked to render their verdict, with Republicans banking on a backlash among Virginia’s more conservative-minded voters to lead them back into power.

As the party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, put it in a Tweet after his victory at the recent state convention, “It’s time to get our Commonwealth back and put Virginia on the right track to make her the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.

If Republicans are successful in their quest to take Virginia back, it could serve as a template for Democrats nationally who are banking on a similar backlash against the Biden administration to break the Democrats’ lock on power on Washington — although Biden is, at least so far, not going nearly as far as his compatriots in Richmond.

What has happened during the last two years in Virginia is an illustration of a split that has also been seen nationally — Democrats from urban and suburban districts whose political interests have radically diverged from their more conservative neighbors in rural areas and small towns.

Once Democrats regained control of the legislature after 25 years out of power, the pent-up demand for liberal innovation could be indulged, to the significant chagrin of conservative Virginians who are angry because they increasingly don’t recognize their state, or at least its government.

Republicans, once dominant in Virginia, have seen their fortunes fade. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George W. Bush, and they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-18 margin in the Senate, which isn’t up for election in November. (Conservative firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, elected as a Republican, sits as an independent after a dispute with her party leadership.)

Most of the attention in November will be the battle for control of the House — which, because of COVID-related census delays, will be fought using districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 — and the governor’s race between Northam and his likely Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls for the June Democratic primary.

McAuliffe, 64, a Clinton confidante and prolific Democratic fundraiser, was forced from office by a rule unique to Virginia that doesn’t allow governors to run for a second term. If his comeback is successful, it will mark only the second time that a former governor has reclaimed the office (the other was Democrat Mills Godwin elected in 1965 and 1973).

Youngkin, 54, is a political newcomer who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and is running as a Christian conservative allied with Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. He made a fortune running a private equity company, allowing him to loan his campaign $5 million during the nomination campaign.

The governor’s race in Virginia is one of just two contests in the off-year election (the other is in New Jersey), making it a key early test for Democrats’ new tenure in Washington.

Four years ago, Democrats took both of those governorships, an early warning sign of the blue wave that would sweep Republicans aside in 2018.

Donald Trump remains a looming presence over this race. Youngkin spent much of the nominating contest dodging questions about whether he thought Joe Biden really won in 2020; after securing the GOP nod, he finally conceded Biden’s election was legitimate.

Democrats will try to tie Youngkin and other Republicans firmly to Trump; they will have to navigate those waters in a way that keeps Trump happy without unduly harming their prospects in the vote-rich suburbs.

The race for control of the House of Delegates will likely be decided in the Washington D.C. suburbs, where Democrats flipped a slew of seats in 2017 and 2019 amid a suburban backlash against Trump. Republicans need a net gain of just six seats to reclaim control.

One of the changes pushed through the legislature by Democrats was to shift redrawing of political maps from legislators to an appointed independent commission. But because 2020 census results have been delayed by the pandemic, the existing maps will be used.

That means House battles will be fought using maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, although Democrats already won a majority with those maps in 2019.

The Republican challenge will be to persuade suburban voters who gave Democrats the keys to the castle two years ago that they have gone too far — that what has been coming out of Richmond isn’t what they voted for.

For the other two statewide offices on the ballot in November, Republicans selected former Delegate Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach for attorney general

Sears, 57, who served a single term in the legislature nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t held office since, was the biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention, dispatching five rivals. A Jamaican immigrant and former Marine from Winchester, she served as national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump in 2020, and her campaign posters and Twitter feed showed her carrying an assault rifle.

Should she prevail in November, Sears would preside of the Democratic-controlled Senate, giving Republicans at least some leverage in the upper chamber.

Eight Democrats are competing in the primary for lieutenant governor, with no clear front-runner.

The attorney general race is the only statewide contest where the incumbent is running, Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. However, he is facing a stiff primary challenge from Delegate Jay Jones.

The survivor will face Miyares, 45, the first Cuban-American to serve in Virginia’s legislature.

The post of attorney general would be a perch which a Republican could try to use to thwart Democrats in the legislature by filing legal challenges. Republican attorneys general have also been leading the charge against Biden administration policies in Washington.

All of the statewide races, and the battle for control of the House, will get out-sized national attention, given the small number of contests this year and the bragging rights that will go to the victors.

As for 2022, November will set up this question: “As Virginia goes, so goes the nation?”

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All-Republican runoff set for vacant Texas U.S. House seat

Susan Wright, widow of late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, will face State. Rep. Jake Ellzey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — Susan Wright, the widow of the late Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, claimed first place Saturday in a special election to fill his Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat and will now face fellow Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey in a runoff.

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez finished just 354 votes behind Ellzey, narrowly missing a chance to set up her party to flip a suburban district in metro Dallas-Fort Worth that Donald Trump carried by just 3 points in November.

Michael Wood — a businessman and former Marine Corps officer who ran openly in the race as an anti-Trump Republican and charged that the GOP has devolved into a “cult of personality” — finished ninth in the 23-person field, showing the limits of that strategy in pro-Trump Texas.

Susan Wright and Jake Ellzey

In a low-turnout Saturday special election with a crowded field, Wright came in first with 15,052 votes (19%), with Ellzey coming in second with 10,851 (14%) and Sanchez in third with 10,497 (13%).

The final day of the contest was rocked by a robocall made in the district accusing Wright of murdering her husband, who died in February from COVID-19 while being treated for cancer. Her campaign contacted the FBI to investigate.

The runoff will be something of a rematch of the Republican runoff for the seat in 2018, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to represent the district, which includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

Susan Wright has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Ellzey has the support of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who will set the date for the runoff.

Sanchez had been the Democratic nominee against Ron Wright in 2018, a race chronicled in the Showtime documentary “Surge.” But this time around, she was unable to coalesce enough of the Democratic vote to win a spot in the all-party contest, with the second and third-place Democrats in the field — Shawn Lassiter and Lydia Bean — winning nearly 10,000 votes between them.

The race — the second special election for a Republican-held seat since Trump’s loss in November — drew national attention due to a number of colorful candidates who entered the wide-open contest.

Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for a House seat in the Las Vegas area in 2020, parachuted into Texas to try again, airing an ad in which he carried an assault rifle and vowed to “strip power” from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a stance that raised eyebrows in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

He finished in 11th place.

Sery Kim, a Korean-American who served in the Small Business Administration under Trump, drew criticism when she said during a forum that she did not want Chinese immigrants in the United States “at all” and blamed them for bringing  COVID-19 into the United States.

She won just 888 votes and finished 16th.

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