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GOP leaders dodge bullet in West Virginia as Morrisey wins U.S. Senate primary

Jailed former mine owner Don Blankenship finishes a distant third

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican leaders in West Virginia are breathing a sigh of relief after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the party’s U.S. Senate primary, ending an insurgent bid by Don Blankenship, who went to prison for his role in a deadly mine explosion.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Pre-election fears that Blankenship would win the GOP primary and hand the race to Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November did not come to pass, as Blankenship finished a distant third.

Morrisey took 35 percent, defeating U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, with 29 percent and Blankenship with 20 percent.

In his victory speech, Morrisey cast the upcoming race against Manchin in ideological terms, criticizing “Washington elites” who he said “push their liberal agenda down our throats.”

“The spend our money, they raise our taxes, and they sneer at our culture, our values, our jobs and our priorities,” he said.

He also faulted Manchin — perhaps the Senate’s most conservative Democrat — with being insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump.

“When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help on so many issues, Senator Manchin said no,” Morrisey said. “Senator Manchin has repeatedly sided with (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and his liberal friends over President Trump.”

Morrisey, 50, was first elected attorney general in 2012, the first Republican to hold that post in nearly 70 years.

Although he now casts himself as a champion of West Virginia values, Morrisey grew up in New Jersey, where he ran for Congress in 2000. While working as a lobbyist in Washington in 2006, he moved to Jefferson County, in the West Virginia panhandle which is part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

With Republicans clinging to a one-seat Senate majority, the race in West Virginia — which Trump won by a stunning 42 points in 2016 — presents a prime pickup opportunity.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin, 70, seeking a second full term in the Senate, easily won the Democratic primary. Despite being a former two-term governor and serving in statewide office since 2001, Manchin is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the 2018 cycle because of the size of Trump’s win in 2016.

On the eve of the primary, Trump weighed in on Twitter against Blankenship, telling Mountaineer State voters that the former coal mine company CEO could not win in November. He urged them to vote for either Morrisey or Jenkins, though he stopped short of endorsing either man.

Morrisey paid tribute to Trump’s tweet in his victory speech: “Mr. President, if you’re watching right now, your tweet was h-u-u-uge.”

Blankenship, 68, spent a year in prison for violating mine safety laws stemming from a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 miners. He launched his Senate bid after being released, pouring at least $3.5 million of his own money into his campaign to brand himself as an anti-establishment outsider.

Also on the primary ballot in West Virginia was the race in the 3rd U.S. House District, which Jenkins gave up to run for the Senate.

On the Republican side, State House Majority Whip Carol Miller of Crab Orchard won her party’s nomination. In November, she will face the Democratic nominee, State Senator Richard Ojeda, an Iraq war veteran who may be the best hope Democrats have for winning a House seat in West Virginia in 2018.

Report: Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker to stick with retirement

Decision clears way for Senate showdown between GOP U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After reconsidering his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate, Republican Bob Corker has now ruled out seeking another term this year, setting up a general election match-up between U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen that could determine control of the Senate.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

In an February 27 interview with Politico, Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, said the senator has decided to stick with the decision he made last September not to seek a third term, despite being urged by other Republicans to reconsider amid fears that Blackburn could have trouble keeping the seat in GOP hands in November.

A week earlier, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, Blackburn’s chief opponent in the Republican primary, ended his campaign and publicly called on Corker to run again.

Central to the considerations about whether to reverse course was Corker’s contentious relationship with President Donald Trump.

Last August, the senator said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and also referred to the White House as an “adult day care center.” After his criticisms triggered a presidential pillorying on Twitter, Corker said Trump “debases our country” and has “great difficulty with the truth.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Blackburn, 65, who was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state, served on Trump’s transition team and has positioned herself as a strong supporter. She has also been critical of the current Republican leadership in the Senate, in which Corker chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

Although the departures of Fincher and Corker have cleared the Republican field for Blackburn, she will face a formidable obstacle in Bredesen, 74, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011 and has the distinction of being the last Democrat to win a statewide election in the Volunteer State. He is also a multimillionaire who could pour his own resources into the campaign.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen had initially declined to run for the Senate seat after Corker announced his retirement. But in December, a week before Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Alabama that had been thought to be unwinnable, Bredesen jumped into the race. Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee, then dropped out.

With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate, the unexpectedly competitive race in Tennessee complicates the GOP’s efforts to keep control. However, Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee in 28 years.

The contest in Tennessee is one of five Southern U.S. Senate races that could potentially be competitive in 2018:

Of the 28 senators representing Southern states, only four are Democrats, three of whom are up for re-election in 2018. The fourth is Doug Jones, who won a special election in Alabama in December.

West Virginia U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins will challenge Joe Manchin in U.S. Senate race

Jenkins hopes to parlay state’s increasing GOP tilt to unseat venerable Democratic incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — In 2014, GOP U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins toppled a West Virginia political giant to get to Congress. In 2018, he’ll try to be a giant killer again.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-West Virginia

Jenkins announced that he is giving up his House seat in an effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, in what is expected to become one of the South’s hottest Senate races.

In a campaign video released May 8, Jenkins went after Machin, accusing him of straying from the values he was elected to represent by supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Joe changed when he got to Washington. West Virginia values? Not anymore,” Jenkins said. “Somewhere alone the way, Joe became one of them.”

Jenkins also tied himself firmly to Donald Trump, who won the Mountaineer State by a staggering 41 points in 2016, his second strongest showing in any state, behind only Wyoming.

“With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve got a real chance to turn things around,” Jenkins said. “He needs our help, and I need your help … We can’t let liberal New York millionaires and D.C. lobbyists buy this race or the Senate.”

Jenkins, 56, was elected in 2014 to represent the 3rd District, which takes in the southern and western parts of the state. In that race, he unseated Nick Rahall, a Democrat who had been in Congress since 1977 and was, like Manchin, a political institution in West Virginia.

Jenkins had served 18 years in the state legislature as a Democrat before switching parties to run against Rahall.

West Virginia’s changing political climate has made Machin is a top Republican target in 2018. In 2014, the GOP captured all three U.S. House seats and a majority in the state legislature for the first time since 1931. In 2016, Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate election since 1956.

Trump’s win was also the fifth in a row for Republican presidential candidate, in what had been considered a Democratic stronghold into the 1990s.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

However, Machin, 69, is a political institution in West Virginia, where he was first elected to political office in 1982 and was governor for six years before being elected to the Senate in 2010.

Manchin has styled himself as a political moderate, opposing legal abortion, supporting a balanced budget amendment and opposing efforts by the Obama administration to curtail use of coal, which is a mainstay of the West Virginia economy. He also broke ranks with other Democratic senators to support Trump’s Cabinet nominees and his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Clourt.

One question mark in the race will be the issue of gun rights. Although Manchin has long received support from the National Rifle Association, he drew fire from some gun rights advocates after co-sponsoring legislation to strengthen background checks on firearms after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Jenkins took direct aim at Manchin on the gun issue in his opening campaign video, accusing the senator of violating a pledge he made in his first campaign to protect gun rights.

Jenkins’s decision to run against Manchin will open a House seat in West Virginia that could be a potential target for Democrats, although the GOP will be favored.

Jenkins may also have to survive a primary for the right to oppose Manchin, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is thought to be eyeing the race.

Conservative Southern U.S. House members go down

Republicans make a net gain of four seats across the region

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — Four embattled Democratic incumbents who represent conservative U.S. House districts lost their seats in the November 4 midterm election, while the GOP lost a  seat in the Florida Panhandle.

The four Democrats — Nick Rahall in West Virginia, John Barrow in Georgia, Joe Garcia in Florida and Pete Gallego in Texas — all represented districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. The GOP also took an open Democrat-held seat in North Carolina where Romney also won.

With those wins, the GOP will hold a 112-39 advantage in Southern U.S. House seats come January.

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

The Democrats’ only good news came in Florida’s Tallahassee-centered 2nd District, where Gwen Graham, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, narrowly defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent.

Democrats had also targeted five open seats in Arkansas, Virginia and West Virginia. Republicans held all five.

Barrow, who represents Georgia’s 12th District, had survived four previous attempts by Republicans to push him from Congress, which included having his district gerrymandered twice by the state legislature. But the fifth time proved the charm as he lost to Republican Rick Allen by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall

Despite 19 terms representing West Virginia in Congress, Rahall could not overcome President Obama’s marked unpopularity in the Mountaineer State, losing to State Senator Evan Jenkins in the 3rd District, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. .

In Florida’s 26th District, Garcia lost to Republican Carlos Curbelo by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. This Latino-majority district, which stretches from southwest Miami-Dade County to Key West, has now switched hands in the three straight elections.

The GOP also won in Texas’s 23rd District, a vast district that sprawls across more than 500 miles of southwest Texas, from the suburbs of San Antonio to the suburbs of El Paso.

Will Hurd, a former CIA agent who, uniquely, was a black candidate running in a majority Latino district, defeated Gallego by a margin of 50 percent to 48 percent. This closely divided district has now switched hands three times since 2006.

Republicans also picked up a seat in North Carolina’s 7th District, which opened up when Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre decided to retire. Former State Senator David Rouzer easily defeated New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield.

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