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Veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren leaves Republican Party to become independent

Decision by Hendren, nephew of Governor Asa Hutchinson, sparks speculation about 2022 bid for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Saying he was disturbed by the corrosive effects of hyper-partisanship and the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, veteran Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren announced Thursday that he was leaving the Republican Party, becoming an independent and forming a new centrist political organization, Common Ground AR.

The move prompted speculation that Hendren could launch an independent bid for governor in 2022, setting up a general election showdown with a Donald Trump-aligned Republican candidate.

State Senator Jim Hendren, I-Arkansas, announces party switch (From YouTube)

In a statement posted to YouTube, Hendren said the attack on the Capitol was the “final straw” that prompted him to leave the GOP, which he has represented for nearly 15 years as a legislator, including four years as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2019.

“I asked myself what in the world I would tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it?” Hendren said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell my family, my friends, and the people I serve that I did everything I could to do right by them.”

“I’m still a conservative. But I’m one whose values about decency, civility and compassion I just don’t see in my party anymore,” he said. “I haven’t changed. My party has.”

Watch video of Hendren’s full statement at end of story.

Hendren, 57, who represents a district in Northwest Arkansas, comes from a prominent and politically connected Arkansas political family. His father, Kim, is a former legislator, and he is the nephew of Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson.

While not mentioning Donald Trump by name, Hendren made it clear that his decision to leave was prompted by Trump’s impact on the Republican Party.

“I watched the former president actively fan the flames of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies, and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business,” Hendren said. “As he did this from the highest office in the land, I realized that my daughters and granddaughters were hearing it, too. And I worried about the example this set for my sons and grandsons.”

“And I watched as this behavior went on with nobody holding him to account and our party leaders too often taking a back seat rather than leading,” he said.

As for a run for governor in 2022, Hendren told the Arkansas publication Talk Business & Politics that he was putting that on the “back burner,” although he said he believes there would be a “hunger” among state voters for such a candidate.

The Republican contest for governor is shaping up as a battle between former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has also been a staunch Trump supporter.

Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin announced last week that he was dropping out of the governor’s race and would instead run for attorney general.

Responding to Hendren’s decision to leave the GOP, Republican state chair Jonelle Fulmer said Hendren had never voiced his concerns to party leaders and noted that he had welcomed support from the party, including during his re-election race in November.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to garner press for a future independent candidacy for governor, knowing that he cannot compete with the conservative records” of Sanders and Rutledge, she said.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders running for governor of Arkansas

Former White House press secretary will face battle in competitive Republican primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained national prominence battling reporters from the White House podium in defense of President Donald Trump, is running for governor of Arkansas.

Sanders, 38, whose father Mike Huckabee, served as the Natural State’s chief executive from 1996 to 2007, announced her entry into the 2022 governor’s race in a video released Monday.

Watch Sanders’s full announcement video below

Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces run for Arkansas governor

“Everything we love about America is at stake, and with the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense,” Sanders said. “Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”

While Sanders will take the Trump brand with her into her run for governor, she faces what is shaping up to be a contentious Republican primary against two current statewide officeholders, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Sanders acknowledged the tough primary ahead, saying “my opponents will do everything in their power to destroy me, but I will not apologize for who I am or who I’m fighting for.”

Griffin, in a statement, welcomed Sanders to the race, saying he looked forward “to comparing our experience, track record and vision for the future of Arkansas.” He served as a federal prosecutor and two terms in Congress before being elected as lieutenant governor in 2014.

Rutledge, in a tweet, noted that she has been friends with the Huckabee family “for a long time, and will continue to be after this election.” But she added that the race is “about who has a proven record and not merely rhetoric.”

Rutledge is in her second term as attorney general and served as legal counsel to Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Republican incumbent Governor Asa Hutchinson is term-limited in 2022. No Democrats have yet announced for the post.

Sanders served two years as White House press secretary before stepping down to return to Arkansas in 2019. Her tenure was marked by frequent battles with reporters in the Washington press corps, who challenged her truthfulness — which she pointed to as a badge of honor in her announcement video.

“I look on the media, the radical left and their cancel culture, and I won,” Sanders said. “I’ve been tested under fire, successfully managing one crisis after another in one of the most difficult, high-pressure jobs in all of government.”

During the investigation into Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Sanders admitted to investigators that she lied to reporters in the White House briefing room in 2017 by telling them that she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who supported Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. She later described the episode as a “slip of the tongue.”

If Sanders wins in 2022, she will return to the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock where she spent her teenage years when her father was governor. She would also be the first woman to serve as Arkansas governor.

Sanders was national political director for Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008. She joined Trump’s campaign in 2016 and was named as deputy press secretary, before ascending to the top spot in 2017 when Sean Spicer left after a stormy six months.

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Republican South Carolina U.S. Rep. Tom Rice votes for impeachment

Rice is only Southern GOP member to support removing President Donald Trump over last week’s Capitol riot

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — In a last-minute decision that surprised constituents and colleagues alike, U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina joined a group 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-South Carolina

Rice was the only one of the 99 Southern Republicans in the House who supported a resolution accusing Trump of inciting insurrection in last week’s deadly riot by his supporters in the Capitol.

“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years,” Rice said in a statement explaining his vote. “I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.”

Rice hit Trump for not doing more to quell the violence in Capitol, both while it was happening and in the days since.

“Once the violence began, when the Capitol was under siege, when the Capitol Police were being beaten and killed, and when the Vice President and the Congress were being locked down, the President was watching and tweeted about the Vice President’s lack of courage,” Rice said.

“The President has not addressed the nation to ask for calm. He has not visited the injured and grieving. He has not offered condolences. Yesterday in a press briefing at the border, he said his comments were ‘perfectly appropriate.'”

Rice had not signaled, either to his constituents or the news media, that he was going to support impeachment before casting his vote on the House floor Wednesday.

It came a week after Rice joined with the rest of the Palmetto State’s Republican delegation to object to the counting of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win — a vote that came after a mob sacked the Capitol, leaving five people dead.

Rice’s decision drew immediate fire from South Carolina’s GOP state chair, Drew McKissick, who said “to say I’m severely disappointed in Congressman Tom Rice would be an understatement.”

Rice, 63, from Myrtle Beach, has represented South Carolina’s 7th District since 2013. Prior to coming to Congress, he was a tax lawyer.

The district takes in the eastern side of the state along the North Carolina border, including Florence and Myrtle Beach.

The impeachment resolution passed by a vote of 232-197, making Trump the only president to be impeached twice.

While just 10 Republicans supported impeachment, that was the largest number of lawmakers from a president’s own party to ever support removal.

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The night the GOP’s lights went out in Georgia: Democrats gain Senate control

Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s two hotly contested U.S. Senate runoffs Tuesday, handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and removing a significant impediment to President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

In the last act of a long and contentious political season, Warnock — the senior pastor of Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church who was making his political debut — defeated Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, leading by about 564,000 votes, or margin of 50.3% to 49.3%.

Ossoff defeated U.S. Senator David Perdue by a smaller 25,000-vote margin, or 50.3% to 49.7%, a sweep of both races in a state that had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

In a victory video posted on his campaign website, Warnock said “we were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

“I am going to the Senate to work for all of the people of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.”

Warnock will make history as the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.

Loeffler, the multimillionaire Atlanta businesswoman appointed to the Senate last year by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, did not concede during brief remarks to her supporters, who gathered in person Tuesday night despite the COVID-19 pandemic: “We have a path to victory, and we’re staying on it.”

In a video post Wednesday morning, Ossoff, who narrowly lost a U.S. House race in 2017, thanked supporters and said he would focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic once he gets to Washington.

“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state,” said Ossoff, who, at 33, will become the youngest person to serve in the Senate in the last 40 years. “They will be my guiding principles as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate.”

Perdue’s campaign released a statement saying that “this exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate.”

“We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted,” the statement said. “We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”

However, Ossoff’s margin was more than twice as large as Biden’s win in November, which held up through two recounts.

Perdue, who was seeking a second term, had been in quarantine and off the campaign trail in the closing days of the race after a campaign staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

Tuesday’s results are yet another electoral rebuke to President Donald Trump, who lost Georgia in November and roiled the Senate runoffs with unsubstantiated claims of fraud and biting criticism of Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to validate Trump’s fraud allegations.

The Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will lose his leadership perch, although he will remain as minority leader in a Senate divided 50-50.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia was the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men faced each other again Tuesday.

With the Democratic victories in Georgia, the number of senators representing Southern states will rise from three to five, compared with 23 Republicans.

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Georgia runoffs will decide control of U.S. Senate Tuesday

President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden both rally the Peach State faithful on campaign’s closing day

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With control of the U.S. Senate and the legislative prospects of the incoming Biden administration hanging in the balance, voters across Georgia will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two U.S. Senate runoffs, after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden made last-minute appeals to supporters Monday.

Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide. In the other race, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church making his first bid for elected office.

From top left: Ossoff, Perdue, , Loeffler, Warnock

In-person polling runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, although more than 3 million people have already cast their ballots through early and absentee voting.

If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

If either Loeffler or Perdue win, Republicans will control the upper chamber, giving them a check against Biden’s legislative program and approval of his nominees.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups have poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Biden emphasized the unusual impact that voters in a single state can have during an address to a rally Monday in Atlanta, where he told Peach State supporters that they “can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”

“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said. “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career.”

The president-elect spent most of his 16-minute speech touting Ossoff and Warnock, saying their election will help move coronavirus relief through Congress, “restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now.”

He also had harsh words for what he termed the Trump’s administration’s “God-awful” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, using the issue to take a swipe a Trump for his singular focus on election fraud claims since his loss in November.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Trump, in what was likely the last campaign rally of his presidency, spent much of his 80-minute speech in Dalton relitigating his November election loss and railing against what he termed a “rigged” process in Georgia, where he lost after the vote was recounted twice.

He also promised that he would produce new information that would change the election outcome and gave a lengthy recitation of fraud allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by elections officials in several states and in every court where lawsuits have been filed.

Trump also cast the consequences of Tuesday’s vote in Georgia in apocalyptic terms, casting Ossoff and Warnock as radical socialists who don’t reflect Georgia values.

“The stakes of this election should not be higher,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Hanging over the last day of the campaign was a controversial phone call Trump made to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a recording of which was obtained by the news media on Saturday.

In it, the president asks the state’s top election official to “find” more than 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column; a local prosecutor in Atlanta says she is looking at possible criminal charges.

Neither Biden or Trump brought up the phone call in his speech, but Trump took a shot at both Raffensperger and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has also refused the president’s entreaties to overturn the Georgia election results.

“I’m going to be here in a year and a half, and I’m going to campaign against your crazy governor and secretary of state,” Trump said.

Also looming over Tuesday’s vote is an effort by Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, turning what is normally a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from winning the White House.

Hours before the Dalton rally with Trump, Loeffler finally announced the she would back the challenge, after refusing to take a position for several days. Perdue also said he backs the challenge, although, because his Senate term ended when the new Congress convened on Sunday, he will not vote on it.

Taking the stage next to Trump, Loeffler told the crowd that “this president fought for us. We’re going to fight for him.”

But during his speech in Atlanta, Biden hit both senators for taking a stand that he said was in defiance of the Constitution.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump, not to Georgia,” Biden said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not to the United States Constitution.”

In his speech, Trump also alluded to the fact that Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session Wednesday where the Electoral College votes will be counted.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said, then joked that “of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia is the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue, running for a second term, defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men are facing each other again Tuesday.

Perdue has been off the campaign trail in quarantine after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and he did not appear with Trump at Monday’s night rally.

The four candidates in the race have, combined, raised more than $445 million, with outside groups adding at least another $437, according to figures from OpenSecrets.org.

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