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Former Vice President Joe Biden makes comeback with blowout win in South Carolina

Biden revives his fortunes heading into Super Tuesday with nearly 30-point triumph in the Palmetto State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden revived his flagging presidential campaign Saturday with a clear, convincing win in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primary, giving him crucial momentum heading into next week’s Super Tuesday contests.

Biden won 48 percent of the vote and carried all 46 counties, defeating Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who came in a distant second at 20 percent.

“Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden told jubilant supporters in Columbia. “Now, thanks to you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we’ve just won, and we won big.”

Joe Biden declares victory in South Carolina (From SkyNews via YouTube)

Biden used his victory speech to draw a contrast with Sanders, urging Democrats in the Super Tuesday states to “nominate someone who will build on Obamacare, not scrap it; take on the NRA and gun manufacturers, not protect them; [and] stand up to give the poor a fighting chance and have the middle class restored, not raise their taxes.”

The result in South Carolina was welcome news for Biden, who finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a distant second to Sanders in Nevada. It also marked the first ever primary win for Biden in his third try for the White House.

The key to his win Saturday was a strong performance among African American voters, who made up 56 percent of the Palmetto State electorate. Exit polls showed that Biden took 60 percent of the black vote, running more than 40 points ahead of his nearest rival, Sanders.

Coming in third place in the statewide results was California billionaire Tom Steyer at 11 percent; followed by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttegieg, 8 percent;  U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 7 percent; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at 3 percent; and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii at 1 percent.

After the results came in, Steyer dropped out of the race.

Biden and Sanders were the only two candidates on the ballot Saturday who cleared the 15 percent threshold needed statewide and in congressional districts to claim delegates to this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Biden took 39 delegates, to 14 for Sanders.

However, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $500 million of his own fortune on his campaign, did not compete in South Carolina. He will make his debut in contests on Tuesday in 14 states, including seven in the South.

Only Democrats had a primary in South Carolina; Republicans canceled their primary in deference to President Donald Trump.

For Sanders, South Carolina marked his first defeat of the campaign, after tying for first in Iowa and winning outright in New Hampshire and Nevada. He also got a smaller percentage of the vote in than he did in 2016, when he won 26 percent in a two-way race against Hillary Clinton, and once again lost every county in the state.

Speaking to supporters in Virginia Beach, Sanders offered his congratulations to Biden before pivoting to make the case that he and not Biden offers the kind of revolutionary change that can lead to a Democratic victory in November.

“In order to defeat Trump, we are going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of this country,” Sanders said. “Old-fashioned politics — the same old, same old type of politics that doesn’t excite anybody, that doesn’t energize anybody — that is not going to be the campaign that beats Trump.”

Biden, Sanders and the rest of the field now turn their attention to Super Tuesday, with more than 1,300 delegates at stake nationwide, including 621 across the South.

The list of Southern states holding primaries Tuesday includes Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Outside the region, primaries will be held in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maine, Utah and Vermont.

The state of the races in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma is a big unknown, given a paucity of public polling in any of those states. The polling that has been done in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia shows Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg bunched at the top, with the other candidates trailing behind.

The question for Biden is whether his win in South Carolina will give him the momentum to push through in the Super Tuesday states, where he is being outspent by Bloomberg and will face Sanders’s formidable ground operation.

One of the biggest factors in who can carry these Southern states will be performance among African American voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in Alabama and more than a quarter in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

While Biden ran away with the black vote in South Carolina, he will face new competition Tuesday from Bloomberg, who has been organizing across the region and getting endorsements from African American elected officials.

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South Carolina Democrats deciding first-in-the-South presidential primary

Joe Biden faces crucial test against Bernie Sanders in the Palmetto State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON (CFP) — Democrats are going to the polls across South Carolina Saturday to pick their favorite for the party’s presidential nomination, which former Vice President Joe Biden hoping to revive his flagging fortunes heading into Super Tuesday and Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders hoping to add to his list of victories.

Not on the ballot in Saturday’s first-in-the-South primary is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $500 million of his own fortune on his campaign and will make his debut in contests on Tuesday in 14 states, including seven in the South.

Polls in the Palmetto State close at 7 p.m. ET. Only Democrats are voting; South Carolina Republicans opted to cancel their primary in support of President Donald Trump.

Sanders and Biden compete in South Carolina

After finishing fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire and a distant second to Sanders in Iowa, Biden’s campaign hopes his strong support among African American voters — who will make up about 60 percent of the electorate in South Carolina — will propel him to his first victory of the presidential race.

Four years ago, Sanders was crushed nearly 3-to-1 in South Carolina by Hillary Clinton, who carried all 46 counties. But this time around, his chances will be helped by a more fractured field and a strong statewide organization built since his defeat last time around.

Most public polling in the last week of the race showed no statistically significant difference between Biden and Sanders, although some polls showed the former vice president had built a lead.

Five other candidates are on the ballot Saturday: California businessman Tom Steyer, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttegieg, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Polls show Steyer, who wasn’t a factor in the first three contests, in third place behind Biden and Sanders in South Carolina, with the rest of the candidates trailing.

A pot of 54 delegates are at stake Saturday, 12 allocated proportionally based on the statewide results and 35 allocated proportionally based on the results in the state’s seven congressional districts. However, only candidates who win at least 15 percent of the vote statewide or in a congressional district qualify for any delegates.

Pre-election polling indicates that Biden and Sanders could end up splitting all 54 delegates between them, although that will depend on district-level results, where public polling has not been done.

After Saturday, the presidential race in the South turns to seven Super Tuesday states where delegates will be selected — Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

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March Madness: Presidential primary season turns South with a vengeance

10 Southern states hold primaries during March, with nearly 1,000 Democratic delegates at stake

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

The 2020 presidential primary calendar finally turns to the South on the last day of February, when South Carolina Democrats cast their ballots in their state’s first-in-the-South primary.

Then, buckle up. The political version of March Madness is about to take off.

During March, 10 Southern states will hold Democratic presidential primaries, with 981 delegates at stake — nearly 25 percent of the total pledged delegates who will officially pick the party’s presidential nominee in Milwaukee in July.

Louisiana, which votes in April, and West Virginia and Kentucky, which vote in May, are the only three Southern states who won’t pick delegates in March.

On March 3, seven Southern states — Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and North Carolina — will vote, with 621 Democratic delegates on the line, including 228 alone in the Lone Star State. Florida, with 219 delegates, goes two weeks later, and Georgia, with 105, goes the week after that.

In most of these states, the amount of public polling on the Democratic race has been sparse to non-existent. That, combined with the fluidity of the race after Iowa and New Hampshire, means all of the Southern races are shrouded in uncertainty.

So the presidential race takes on a twang, here are some things to watch for:

If Biden Bites the Dust: The former vice president’s campaign will be on life support, or worse, if he loses in South Carolina, which will particularly shake up the landscape in the South because of his heretofore solid support among African American voters.

Black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana; they are a smaller but still powerful group everywhere else. If Biden exits after South Carolina, his African American supporters will be looking for a new home, opening up an avenue for someone to come in and hoover up a crop of Southern delegates. Or, the black vote could fracture between multiple candidates, adding even more uncertainty to the overall race.

Bloomberg’s Debut: The March 3 Super Tuesday primaries (seven in the South and seven in other parts of the country) will be the first test for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been building staff and airing ads across the region while his competitors dallied and debated in the early states. If he can tap into Biden’s African American support, Bloomberg could become an unstoppable force; his performance across the South will tell us whether that’s probable or even possible.

Bernie, Bless His Heart: Four years ago, Hillary Clinton plum wore out Bernie Sanders all across the South. The only states he carried were West Virginia and Oklahoma (and how on earth did a self-described socialist win Oklahoma?), a haul that gave her an insurmountable delegate lead. Against a much more fractured field, Sanders is likely to improve on that dismal performance, but if Bloomberg or one of the other candidates puts together a coalition that sweeps the South, it could be deja vu all over again for Bernie and his ‘bros.

Wave the Rainbow Shirt: Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to make a serious run for the presidential nomination in either political party. How will this play in the evangelical South? Or among culturally conservative African American voters? Polling to date has shed little light on this; the results in March might, although there are a myriad of reasons Buttigieg might falter in the South that have nothing to do with his sexual identity, particularly his sparse political resume.

Danged Yankees: The 2020 Democratic race features one current (Bloomberg) and one former (Sanders) New Yorker, along with candidates from Boston, Delaware, Minnesota, and Indiana. Indeed, for the first time since the modern primary process took root in the 1950s, a competitive Democratic primary race is taking off with nary a Southerner among the major players (if one remembers that for all her New York bona fides, Hillary Clinton was once first lady of Arkansas.) So to the degree that any regional political affinity remains, it won’t be in play in 2020, although Elizabeth Warren does try to remind folks at every opportunity that she grew up in Oklahoma. (As if that compensates for moving to Boston and becoming a Red Sox fan.)

Expanding The Map: If one considers that the primary — perhaps only — purpose of a presidential primary process is to pick a candidate who can win in November, the outcomes of Democratic primary season would seem a poor barometer to predict what might happen in the general election. After all, no matter how well a Democrat does in Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi in March, she or he is not going to carry these states in November, unless something goes catastrophically wrong on the Republican side.

However, Florida and North Carolina will be hotly contested in the general election, and Democrats have hopes of flipping Texas and Georgia. So time, energy and money (think Bloomberg) expended in those states in the primary seasons could pay dividends down the line. (It’s worth noting that after Barack Obama organized in Virginia and Indiana to compete against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, he flipped both of those states in November.)

What About Trump? The GOP is holding primaries at the same time as Democrats in all of the Southern states except for South Carolina and Virginia, where they have been cancelled in deference to President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, has no serious opposition, but his campaign has embarked on a strategy of trying to drive up his vote totals in uncontested primaries as a sign of strength. So don’t be surprised if you see Trump parachuting into the South during March to rally his faithful — and, as a delightful bonus, to irritate the Democrats.

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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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10 takeaways from the first Democratic 2020 debate

Donald Trump draws surprisingly little fire; Texan Julián Castro has breakout performance

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — The first 10 Democrats took the stage in Miami Wednesday night for the first of two nights of debate among the more than two dozen candidates running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the proceedings.

1. Life at the Top: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was the only one of the candidates in the top five in national polling to take the stage in the first debate, and she got pride of place to both open and close the proceedings. She made the most of her moments and avoided taking shots from the other candidates, although there was long stretches in the second half of two-hour debate where she faded out of the conversation. Her best moment came when she was asked if she had a plan as president to deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and she responded, “I do” — then made a few fiery comments about energizing Democrats “to make this Congress reflect the will of the people.”

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has breakout performance at first Democratic debate (From MSNBC)

2. Breakout Performance: Among the candidates further back in the pack, the breakout performance of the night may have come from former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, one of two Southerns in the race, who got quite a bit of screen time and dominated the immigration portion of the debate, on a day when the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border dominated the news cycle. As the only Latino in the 2020 race, Castro spoke with authority that other candidates were hard pressed to match.

3. Private Insurance Fault Line: When the candidates were asked if they supported creating a Medicare-for-all system that would abolish private insurance that employees receive from their employers, only two candidates — Warren and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio — raised their hands, although both former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey indicated they supported versions of Medicare-for-all that stopped short of ending private insurance. The greatest pushback on the idea came from former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland: “I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken.”

4. Texas Immigration Tangle: Castro called for repeal of the section of federal law that makes it a crime to illegally cross the U.S. border, which he said had been used by the Trump administration to target migrants. Then he tried repeatedly to get O’Rourke and the other candidates on the stage to follow his lead — and interrupted O’Rourke as he tried to explain his immigration policy without taking a position on repeal, in what proved to be one of the few direct confrontations of the evening.

5. Personal Touch: In discussing issues brought up by the moderators, O’Rouke tried to set himself apart from his competitors by inserting personal stories of Americans whom he has met on the campaign trail and other anecdotes into his responses. This approach perhaps reached its nadir when he was asked if his Justice Department would pursue charges against President Donald Trump once he left office — and he launched into a non sequitur about a painting in the U.S. Capitol that shows George Washington resigning his commission as head of the army.

6. Biggest Threat? When candidates were asked who or what they thought presented the biggest threat to the United States, most said China or climate change. Only one —  DeBlasio — said Russia “because they’re trying to undermine our democracy.” But Washington Governor Jay Inslee triggered a cascade of applause with his answer: “Donald Trump.”

7. A Different Kind of Democrat? Three of the candidates mired near the bottom in national polls tried to set themselves apart by portraying themselves as a different kind of Democrat. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio called for the party to pay more attention to blue collar voters in the Midwest, saying its center of gravity needed to shift away from coastal elites. Delaney issued a call for pragmatism, saying Democrats needed to adopt “real solutions, not impossible promises.” And U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran and major in the Army National Guard, called for a complete U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, saying “we are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when we began.”

8. Mayor Pushy: DeBlasio did his best to live up to the stereotype of New Yorkers as loud and obnoxious, frequently interrupting the proceedings and interjecting himself at high volume. He gave several lectures on how Democrats need to represent working people and invoked his biracial son to make a point about police reform. True, he got noticed among the flash mob on the stage, but probably not for the right reasons.

9. Where’s The Donald?: With the notable exception of Inslee’s line about Trump being the nation’s biggest existential threat, the Democrats spent surprisingly little time during the debate directly castigating the president — despite the fact that the 2020 election is shaping up as a referendum on the incumbent and the Democratic base sees the president in a slightly less favorable light than Satan.

10. Winners and Losers: Among the evening’s winners were Warren, who needed to get through the debate without stumbling and made a case that she can take on Trump, and Castro, who perhaps put himself back in the national conversation. The losers included DeBlasio, who came off as wild, goofy and unlikable, and O’Rourke, whose vague and often rambling responses couldn’t disguise the fact that he generally wasn’t answering the moderators’ questions. If his ardent supporters were looking for the debate to push him to the front ranks of the race, they’re probably going to be disappointed.

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Democrats’ 2020 White House roadshow descends on South Carolina

Nearly two dozen candidates for Democratic nomination speak at marathon session of state party

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — The Democratic Party’s vast field of 2020 White House hopefuls turned up in South Carolina Saturday, jockeying for political position in the first-in-the-South primary state.

Over the course of nearly nine hours, a parade of 23 candidates spoke to delegates at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual convention, as party leaders interspersed business with eight-minute pitches from contenders — major, minor and obscure.

“It is the price we pay for all of these people wanting to see you,” quipped Trav Robertson, the state party chair.

Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses South Carolina Democrats (From MSNBC)

During his speech, former Vice President Joe Biden — who held a 20-point lead over the rest of the field in the Palmetto State in a recent poll by Post and Courier newspaper — did not address his controversial remarks about being able to work with segregationist senators, which drew sharp criticism from his Democratic rivals.

He did, however, go directly after President Donald Trump, saying it was “imperative” to defeat him in 2020.

“You all know in your bones this election is more important than any other election you’ve been involved in,” Biden said. “Four more years of Donald Trump will permanently change the character of this country.”

In her remarks, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was in second place behind Biden in the Post and Courier poll, offered a litany of specific policy proposals, saying “people across this country understand its time for big structural change. The time for small ideas is over.”

The centerpiece of the program she outlined is a 2 percent increase on income tax for the wealthiest Americans to fund universal childcare and pre-K and tuition-free college tuition.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appearance in Columbia marked a return to the campaign trail after he returned home to deal with the fallout after a black man was shot by a police officer.

“We already know why such deep wounds are surfacing, why our whole community hurts,” Buttigieg said. “My community is full of people who believe in safety and justice. We will heal, and we will become stronger in the broken places.”

Buttigieg, who placed third behind Biden and Warren in the Post and Courier poll, said Democrats “need a new generation of leadership” to draw a contrast with Trump.

“We are not going to win by going on the president’s show,” he said. “Are you ready to stand with me and change the channel?”

The two Southerners in the Democratic field — former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro — were among the candidates who spoke Saturday.

Beto O’Rourke goes down in the crowd to deliver remarks (From MSNBC)

O’Rourke, who eschewed the podium and gave his speech on the floor amid a scrum of delegates and photographers, offered blistering criticism of the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are children sleeping on cold concrete floors with aluminum foil for blankets, in the worst, most inhumane conditions,” O’Rouke said. “That cannot be us. That cannot be America. But for as long as this man is in office, it will be.”

Castro made a call for police reform, rattling off a list of African Americans and Latinos who died at the hands of police.

“They deserve justice too,” said Castro, who said if he’s elected, “we won’t have any second-class citizens in the United States.”

In his remarks, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed back on comments made earlier in the week at a gathering of party centrists that the self-described Democratic socialist presents “an existential threat” to the party.

“Why am I an existential threat? Maybe it’s because I will take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and pass a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” Sanders said. “Maybe it’s because we’re going to break up the major banks on Wall Street … Maybe it’s because we’re going to take on the fossil fuel industry.”

Sanders has been running second to Biden in most national polls, but he has been trying to regain his footing in South Carolina, where his support has dropped to just 9 percent in the latest Post and Courier poll, putting him in fourth place.

The day of speeches kicked off with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who criticized what she called Trump’s “rap sheet” in pushing tax cuts, tariffs and embracing “dictators” around the world.

“Let’s prosecute that case, and let’s not turn back the clock,” she said. “Let’s start the next chapter.”

The breakout performances of the day among the candidates at the back of the pack came from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Klobuchar highlighted her working class background and called for an “optimistic economic agenda” that works for all parts of the country.

“I don’t come from money. I have grit. And I got into politics for a reason,” Klobuchar said. “I know how to win.”

Booker said Democrats can’t be satisfied with just beating Trump but must embrace “bold dreams.”

“Beating Donald Trump gets us out of the valley, but it doesn’t get us to the mountaintop,” he said. “He wants to make this election about hate; we need to make this election about love. He wants to make this election about tearing people down; we need to make this election about building people up.”

South Carolina’s 2020 presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 29, will be the fourth contest, after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It will be the first test of candidates’ appeal in the South and among African Americans, who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the state.

The Post and Courier’s latest poll found Biden was the choice of 37 percent of likely primary voters, bolstered by his strong support among black voters, among whom he tops 50 percent.

Warren was followed at 17 percent and Buttigieg at 11 percent. None of the other candidates were in double digits.

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Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation

Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.

Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.

In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”

Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.

“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”

The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.

In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”

Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.

“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.

Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”

“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”

Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.

The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave

The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.

But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.

Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”

“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”

Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart,  House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.

If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.

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