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Insight: Will Joe Biden really make a play for Georgia and Texas in 2020?

Why, despite the summertime chatter, putting resources into these states makes little strategic sense

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried Georgia, The Cover Girls (remember them?) were wishing on a star. The last time a Democrat carried Texas, people were still wearing bell bottoms.

Every four years, the pundit class and Democrats in these states insist that this time will be different — this year, finally, these states are going to flip. And every four years, Republicans scoff at their wishful thinking and hubris.

It’s deja vu all over again. Joe Biden’s campaign is making noises about competing in the Peach and Lone Star states, committing significant resources for a serious ground game in places where one hasn’t been seen in a generation.

So what are the chances this will actually happen? Probably pretty slim — not because it isn’t possible for Biden to win these states but because, if they are within reach, winning them won’t be necessary.

First, the numbers. Donald Trump carried Georgia by slightly more than 5 points in 2016, the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Bob Dole won by less than 2 points in 1996 in a three-way race. (By way of contrast, George W. Bush won by nearly 17 points in 2004.)

In Texas, Trump’s margin was larger, just under 9 points, but that was also the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Dole. (Bush won by more than 20 points.)

Clearly, the trend lines are headed in the Democrats’ direction, as even Republicans in these states would concede. These states are within (a long) reach.

However, in considering Electoral College strategy, it is helpful to think of the presidential race as a tug-of-war, with states arrayed along the rope in order from most Democratic to most Republican. The goal is to pull the rope far enough that there are at least 270 electoral votes on your side.

In 2016, six states on Trump’s side of the rope were closer than Georgia — the Southern states of Florida and North Carolina, along with Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. Those six and Ohio were closer than Texas.

So, if Georgia is truly within reach for Biden in 2020, six Trump states are likely already in Biden’s hands; make that seven if Texas is in play. And if Biden is already carrying all of those states, he won’t need to bother with Georgia or Texas. He’s already won.

This is why, strategically, it would make little sense for the Biden campaign to put resources into Georgia and Texas. But there are three reasons we might see them do it anyway.

First, engaging in these states could help drive up Democratic turnout, which could help in U.S. Senate and down ballot races. However, presidential campaigns aren’t known for their altruism; we’re only likely to see this if the race is a blowout for Biden and he can spare the resources to benefit other candidates.

Second, making a play for Texas or Georgia could be an insurance policy in the event that something unexpected happens in one of the closer states, as happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Michigan and Wisconsin. However, given that experience, Biden won’t be caught napping like Clinton was, making such a surprise less likely.

And third, putting resources into Georgia or Texas could be a way to troll the Trump campaign and force it to engage in these states. Even talking about the possibility forces the Trump forces to consider countermeasures.

However, if Trump needs to shore up either of these states come November, his battle is already lost, and what happens in Texas and Georgia won’t matter (although Biden could make a play for them to run up the score.)

So, all this summertime chatter about competing in Georgia and Texas may make interesting cable news conversation, but the smart money says that in the end, Biden won’t bite.

Then again, betting on presidential politics these days might, admittedly, be a bit of a fool’s errand.

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North Carolina Primary: Mark Meadows ally fails to win his open U.S. House seat

In 11th District GOP race, Madison Cawthorn defeats Lynda Bennett, who was endorsed by Meadows and Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Madison Cawthorn, a 24-year-old political newcomer whose campaign featured his life story as the survivor of a near-fatal car crash that left him in a wheelchair, has won the Republican nomination for the North Carolina U.S. House seat vacated by White House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows.

Cawthorn took 66% in Tuesday’s Republican runoff in the 11th District to defeat Lynda Bennett, a close friend of Meadows and his wife who had been endorsed not only by Meadows but by his boss, President Donald Trump. She took 35%.

The district takes in 17 mostly rural counties in the state’s western panhandle.

In December, Meadows announced he would not seek re-election just 30 hours before the filing deadline closed, and Bennett, a Maggie Valley real estate agent, jumped into the race. The chain of events rankled some Republicans in the district, who accused Meadows of trying to engineer Bennett’s election as his successor.

Both Meadows and Bennett have denied any coordination, although Meadows later endorsed her.

Cawthorn, a real estate investor and motivational speaker from Hendersonville, will be a heavy favorite in November in the heavily Republican district against the Democratic nominee, Moe Davis, an Asheville attorney and former chief prosecutor in terrorism trials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

The Constitution requires members of the House to be at least 25; Cawthorn will turn 25 before the new Congress takes office in January.

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President Donald Trump returns to campaign trail with raucous rally in Tulsa

Smaller-than-anticipated crowd attends event, the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TULSA (CFP) — After being sidelined from the campaign trail for three months by the coronavirus lockdown, President Donald Trump was back in his element Saturday night, addressing thousands of adoring supporters as he returned to the campaign trail in Tulsa.

“I stand before you today to declare that the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Trump told the crowd at the BOK Center. “We”re going to stop the radical left. We’re going to build a future of safety and opportunity for Americans of every race, color, religion and creed.”

Donald Trump rallies supporters in Tulsa (From Fox News via YouTube)

Trump touted the achievements of his first term, saying that “together, we are taking back our country. We are returning it to you, the American people.”

While the campaign claimed that more than 1 million people had registered for the event and had set expectations of a capacity crowd, parts of the arena were visibly empty. According to the Tulsa Fire Department, only 6,200 people attended, based on a count conducted by the fire marshal.

Trump and Pence had been scheduled to address the crowd in an overflow area set up outside the arena, but that event was canceled, and crews began dismantling the stage as Trump was speaking inside.

Trump campaign officials issued a statement saying “radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters.” Trump told the audience that “a bunch of maniacs” had interfered with the rally, although news media coverage showed no significant violence or obstructions outside of the arena.

State and local police and National Guard units had been brought in to provide security for the event and separate rally-goers from groups who were protesting the event in downtown Tulsa near the arena.

In his return to active campaigning, Trump, who had promised his supporters a “wild evening,” didn’t disappoint, offering up plenty of political red meat in a speech that lasted for nearly an hour and 50 minutes.

He attacked the “fake news” as “sick,” called coronavirus “kung flu,” complained that an “unhinged left-wing mob is trying to desecrate our history,” and called activists trying to defund the police “stone cold crazy.”

And he heaped particular scorn on the Democrat he will face in November, Joe Biden, repeatedly calling him “Sleepy Joe,” implying that Biden is unwell, and charging that he has “surrendered to the left-wing mob.”

“If Biden is elected, he will surrender the country to these mobsters,” Trump said. “If Democrats gain power, the rioters will gain control.”

Trump also called for a new law mandating jail time for people who burn the American flag and decried protests against police violence from NFL players, saying “we will never kneel to our national anthem or our great American flag.”

The rally was the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown began in March. While attendees were screened with temperature checks before entering, there was little social distancing among the crowd, and most people — including Trump — did not wear face masks, which were optional.

The doors of the arena opened four hours before the event began, with people sitting in close proximity the entire time.

Local health officials in Tulsa expressed concerns about holding the rally amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The Oklahoma Supreme Court Friday rejected a request to force attendees to abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would have required social distancing and masks.

Attendees had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the campaign if they were exposed to coronavirus. On the morning of the event, Trump campaign officials acknowledged that six workers who had helped set up the rally tested positive for coronavirus.

In his remarks, Trump did not address the coronavirus concerns surrounding the rally, but he did tout his administration’s response to the pandemic, which he said saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Biden took to Twitter to chide the president for going ahead with the rally despite concerns about exposing attendees to the virus.

“Donald Trump is so eager to get back to his campaign rallies that he’s willing to put people at risk and violate CDC guidelines — as long as they sign a waiver promising not to hold his campaign liable,” Biden said. “Unbelievable.”

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Virginia GOP U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman ousted at party convention amid gay wedding controversy

Challenger Bob Good defeats Riggleman in drive-thru convention; Riggleman hints at challenge to results over “irregularities”

LYNCHBURG, Virginia (CFP) — Last summer, freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia agreed to preside at the wedding of two men who had supported him during his 2018 campaign for Congress.

That gesture of friendship and inclusivity has now cost Riggleman his seat, even with Donald Trump’s support and a solid conservative voting record.

Riggleman, center, presides at gay wedding (From Facebook/Christine Riggleman)

In a party convention Saturday, Riggleman, who represents the state’s 5th District, was defeated by Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, a former athletics official at Liberty University who was recruited to run for the position by conservative activists unhappy with the congressman’s participation in a same-sex wedding.

Good took 58 percent of the convention delegates to 42 percent for Riggleman. Because of the coronavirus, more than 2,400 convention delegates cast their ballots from their cars in the parking lot of Tree of Life Ministries in Lynchburg.

However, Riggleman indicated Saturday night that he might challenge the results over what he termed “voting irregularities and ballot stuffing.”

“Voter fraud has been a hallmark of this nomination process, and I will not stand for it,” Riggleman tweeted shortly before the results were announced. “We are evaluating all our options at this time.”

Speaking to supporters after results were announced in the early hours of Sunday morning, Good said delegates had “embraced true and conservative principles that we have presented for this campaign and the true contrast that we showed.”

“We believed from the beginning that the 5th District was a bright red district that would embrace us,” he said. “The voters have embraced our values, they have embraced our principles, and they have embraced our platform.”

Party officials in the 5th District had opted for a convention, rather than a primary, which Virginia law allows. Riggleman had derided the drive-thru convention format as a “Dairy Queen convention,” although he was selected as the nominee in a convention two years ago.

The voting process took more than 10 hours, and it took six hours to tabulate the votes.

The district stretches through central Virginia from the Washington D.C. suburbs to the North Carolina border, including Charlottesville and suburban areas near Roanoke and Lynchburg. Riggleman carried it by 7 points in 2018.

Democrats running in the June 23 primary in the 5th District immediately pounced on the news of Good’s win, which will set up a fall race with a nominee who describes himself as “biblical conservative,” rather than embracing Riggleman’s more libertarian positions.

“Denver Riggleman voted with Trump 94% of the time and got his endorsement. Virginia Republicans did not think that was enough,” said Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski in a statement posted on Twitter. “Just imagine what Bob Good will do to our district. It is revolting. We need this seat.”

“I don’t fall on the same side of a lot of issues as Denver Riggleman, but the fact that there is there is no longer space in the Republican Party for someone not pushing an agenda as extreme and radical as Bob Good should send a chill down every Americans spine,” said Claire Russo, a former Marine intelligence officer and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a Twitter video.

“Republicans just doubled-down on partisan bickering and chaos in Washington,” said RD Huffstetler, a Marine veteran and technology executive in a statement posted on Twitter. “Bob Good’s divisive and partisan ideology is plainly out of step with what the people of our district want or need.”

Also running in the Democratic primary is Cameron Webb, a Charlottesville physician and former Obama White House aide, who told journalist Amy Friedenberger of the Roanoke Times that Good’s nomination “is a reflection of how misguided and off-base the Republican Party in VA-05 is when comes to understanding the needs and concerns of the folks who live here.”

Good told his supporters that he was looking forward to running against the Democratic nominee, “who will undoubtedly embrace the radical socialist agenda of the Democrat Party.”

In July 2019, Anthony LeCounte and Alex Pisciarino asked Rigglemen to preside at their wedding, held at a winery in the Blue Ridge foothills. The men have said they got involved in Riggleman’s 2018 campaign because of his record on LBGTQ issues, including his support for same-sex marriage.

But after the Washington Post and other media outlets picked up the story of a conservative congressman marrying two men, the backlash was immediate. Several GOP county committees in the district voted to censure him, although the larger 5th District committee rejected censure.

However, Trump endorsed Riggleman in a tweet, and he also had the support of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Good’s former boss. However, Falwell’s brother, Jonathan, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, supported Good, as did the two most recent occupants of the 5th District seat, former U.S. Reps. Tom Garrett and Virgil Good.

Good, 54, was senior associate athletic director at Liberty, his alma mater, from 2005 until earlier this year. In 2015, was elected as a supervisor in Campbell County, just south of Lynchburg. There he helped pass a measure declaring the county a “2nd Amendment sanctuary” to oppose efforts by Democratic legislators in Richmond to advance gun control measures.

Riggleman, 50, is a former Air Force intelligence officer who operates a distillery in Afton.

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Texas Democrats’ virtual convention full of optimism about finally turning red to blue

Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi rally the Lone Star party faithful with predictions of fall success

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — A Democrat hasn’t carried Texas in a presidential race since 1976, won a Senate race since 1986, or won the governorship since 1988. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the legislature and control every statewide partisan office.

But you wouldn’t know that from the tone at the week-long virtual Texas Democratic Convention that concluded on Saturday, where past woe was eclipsed by present optimism.

Whether that optimism is cockeyed or not will be decided in November after a political season completely disrupted by the coronavirus crisis.

Joe Biden gives virtual address to Texas Democratic Convention

“I think we have a real chance to turn [Texas] blue because of all of the work that you have done,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said in his address to delegates. “We’re building the diverse coalition to win up and down the ballot in the fall.”

The key to turning Texas blue, according to Biden, will be Latino voters, who make up a quarter of the state’s registered voters.

Donald Trump‘s anti-Latino, anti-immigrant agenda has targeted Latinos, with dire consequences,” Biden said, pledging to introduce immigration reform on “day one” if he’s elected president.

In her address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “Republicans in Washington know how strong and formidable our members and candidates are” which is why Republicans are “running for the exits” — a reference to the six GOP House members who are retiring in 2020.

“Know your power,” Pelosi said. “Your engagement in organizing today is more important than ever before.”

Republicans, of course, see such bravado from Democrats as wishful thinking. Responding to a debate during the convention between the two Democratic candidates in the U.S. Senate runoff, the Texas GOP chair, James Dickey, called it a “race to socialism, each vying to be the most leftist and most extreme.”

Biden, Dickey said, would lead Democrats “off a cliff” in November.

In 2016, Trump carried Texas by nine points, about 800,000 votes ahead of Hillary Clinton. That would be large margin to overturn in 2020, and, if as Biden says, Latino voters are the key, it is worth noting that Trump’s share of the Latino vote in 2016 nationally was comparable to what Republicans usually earn, despite his position in favor of tighter border controls.

Also, in Texas, about 30 percent of Latinos identify as Republican — higher than in any other state except Florida — and an analysis of polling in 2019 found that partisanship trumps immigration and other issues as a barometer of whether they are likely to shift allegiance.

However, the coronavirus crisis has pushed the entire election process into unpredictable territory, disrupting both conventional wisdom and conventional modes of campaigning — as witnessed by the fact that Texas Democrats opted for a virtual convention with speeches on Facebook, rather than gathering party activists together in a hall.

Texas Republicans, by contrast, are still planning to hold an in-person convention in Houston from July 16-18. Social distancing measures will be in place, although face masks will be optional.

In addition to the presidential race, Texas Democrats are also trying to defeat Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn and are targeting seven U.S. House seats, three where Republicans are retiring and four where Democrats are trying to unseat incumbents.

State Democrats also have hopes of flipping the nine seats in the Texas House they would need to win to take control for the first time in 18 years.

In the U.S. Senate race, the July 14 Democratic runoff pits MJ Hegar, 44, a former Air Force pilot who narrowly lost a House race in 2018, against State Senator Royce West, 67, one of Dallas’s leading African-American political figures who has served in the legislature since 1993.

Hegar, who has the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, came in first during the first round of primary voting in May but was well short of a majority in the crowded field with 22 percent. West earned a runoff spot with just 15 percent of the vote.

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