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Republican U.S. Senate incumbents trying to fight off Democratic challengers

Florida and North Carolina are Senate battlegrounds; Louisiana holds all-party primary for Vitter’s seat

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — Nine GOP-held Southern U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in the November 8 election, with Republican incumbents heavily favored in six races.

The exceptions are Florida, where Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is facing off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, and in North Carolina, where the GOP incumbent, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, is facing Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor.

And in Louisiana, 24 candidates are running in an all-party “jungle” primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December 10 runoff, which could potentially decide the balance of power in the Senate.

Pre-election polls have shown Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy in the lead, followed by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat; Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette; and Democrat Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer.

If Kennedy and Boustany can both clear the runoff, the GOP would be guaranteed of keeping the seat, now held by U.S. Senator David Vitter. But if Campbell or Fayard can come through, the December 10 runoff will be the last word on Senate races this year — and, if the Senate is closely divided, decide which party controls the chamber.

In addition to Rubio and Burr, Republican incumbents are seeking re-election in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

All are heavily favored, although the race in Georgia between U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson  and Democratic businessman Jim Barksdale is somewhat more competitive.

In Alabama, Richard Shelby faces Democrat Ron Crumpton, a marijuana rights activist; in Arkansas John Boozman is seeking a second term against Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville; and in Kentucky, Rand Paul is running against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

In Oklahoma,  James Lankford faces Mike Workman, a Tulsa political consultant, and in South Carolina, Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, faces Democrat Thomas Dixon, a Charleston pastor.

Rubio, Murphy to face off in Florida U.S. Senate race

Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio handily won renomination in Florida’s Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio took 72 percent in the August 30 vote, easily defeating businessman Carlos Beruff, who garnered just 18 percent. On the Democratic side, Murphy was the clear winner, taking 60 percent of the vote, compared to just 18 percent for his main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The bad news for Grayson continued, as his wife’s attempt to keep his 9th District U.S. House seat in the family sputtered in the Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Meanwhile, in South Florida’s 23rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz  beat back a challenge from Tim Canova, turning aside an effort by angry Bernie Sanders supporters to force her from Congress over accusations that she, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, showed favoritism to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

Wasserman Schultz took 57 percent to 43 percent for Canova, who spent more than $3 million trying to unseat the veteran congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

However, another veteran Democrat was not as fortunate. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was indicted on corruption charges in July, was defeated in the 5th District primary by Al Lawson, a former state legislator from Tallahassee, in what was likely the last chapter in a 34-year-long political career.

Lawson won 48 percent to 40 percent for Brown.

A redraw of state’s congressional map, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, substantially altered Brown’s district, forcing her to run in  a swath of new territory outside of her Jacksonville base. Federal prosecutors have also accused Brown of conspiring with her chief of staff to convert a scholarship fund into a private slush fund used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses. She has denied the charges.

Rubio initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after his White House aspirations fizzled, he reversed course, prompting the departure of three of the four major candidates then in the race, all but Beruff.

Speaking to supporters in Kissimmee, the senator dismissed Murphy as an “old-fashioned liberal” handpicked for the Senate by Democratic leaders and a dilettante whose wealth family has given him “everything he’s every wanted.”

“If Patrick Murphy wants to be a U.S. Senator, he’s going to have to earn it by beating the son of a bartender and a maid who came to this country in search of a better life,” he said, employing details from his own biography that were a staple of his run for president.

But speaking to his supporters in Palm Beach County, Murphy criticized Rubio for his poor attendance in the Senate while he was running for president.

“Marco Rubio is the worst of Washington because he puts himself first every time,” Murphy said. “He gave up on his job. He gave up on Florida.”

Murphy also pounced on Rubio’s statement on CNN a day before the primary that he would not commit to serving his full Senate term, saying “no one can make that commitment because you don’t know what the future’s going hold in your life personally or politically.”

Murphy retorted: “Guess what, senator. I’ve got two words for you. I can.”

In his battle against Grayson, Murphy — who was a registered Republican until 2012, when he switched parties to run for Congress — had the backing of virtually all of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

Party leaders were fearful that a victory by the outspoken Grayson — who regularly subjects reporters to profanity-laden tirades and once had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore” — would spell disaster in November.

During the primary campaign, Grayson also faced domestic abuse allegations made by his ex-wife. He denied ever hitting her, but the story prompted two liberal groups — Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — to reverse their endorsements.

In the end, Grayson not only lost to Murphy by more than 40 points but also barely edged out a lesser known candidate, political newcomer Pam Keith, for second place. Keith had snagged a surprise endorsement from one of Florida’s largest newspapers, The Miami Herald.

In addition to helping torpedo Brown in the 5th District, the new map made the 2nd District, which takes in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, more Republican, prompting Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to retire.

After a nasty campaign with substantial spending by outside groups, Republicans chose Neal Dunn, a Panama City urologist, over Mary Thomas, a state government lawyer from Tallahassee. Dunn took 41 percent to 39 percent for Thomas, who was trying to become the first Indian-American woman ever elected to Congress.

After Grayson gave up his 9th District to run for the Senate, both his wife, Dena Grayson, and one of his top aides, Susannah Randolph, launched campaigns to succeed him. But State Senator Darren Soto beat them both in the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Orlando-based district.

Grayson took 36 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent each for Randolph and Dina Grayson.

In the 18th District, which Murphy gave up to run for the Senate, Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan.

The 18th District, which takes in parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is likely to be a genuine toss-up in November.

The 26th District, which takes in the Florida Keys and southwest Miami-Dade County, will feature a rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

While Curbelo was unopposed in the GOP primary, Garcia eaked out an 800-vote win over  Annette Taddeo in the Democratic primary.

Poll: Rubio opens up big lead in Florida U.S. Senate race

Incumbent Republican leads two possible Democratic challengers by double digits

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — Less than a month after parachuting into Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has opened up a commanding lead over both of his likely Democratic opponents, according to a new poll.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

A Quinniapiac University poll found that Rubio leads Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent. He held nearly the same lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, 50 percent to 38 percent. The poll of 1,015 Florida voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The poll found that Rubio’s only remaining major Republican challenger, businessman Carlos Beruff, was tied with Grayson and trailed Murphy by 6 points, illustrating that at this point, Rubio is a far stronger general election candidate.

The poll did not test how Rubio and Beruff stand with GOP voters ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

For months, Rubio insisted that he would retire from the Senate after his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination proved unsuccessful, But, under pressure from party leaders concerned about losing the seat to a Democrat, Rubio changed course and filed to run for re-election.

In the wake of that decision, three Republicans who had been fighting for the Senate seat — U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera — ended their campaigns, leaving Beruff as Rubio’s only hurdle to the Republican nomination.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly drops out of Senate race, will seek re-election against Charlie Crist

Jolly’s decision removes another obstacle from possible re-election run by Marco Rubio

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugCLEARWATER, Florida (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly is dropping his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat and will instead run for re-election to his 13th District House seat, setting up a likely general election battle with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

“I’ve got unfinished business,” Jolly said at a June 17 news conference at the St.Petersburg-Clearwater airport where he announced the switch. “Today, I’m asking my community simply for the opportunity to keep doing my job.”

Jolly, 43, was elected in a special election in 2014 and easily won a full term that fall to the seat, anchored in Pinellas County in the Tampa Bay area.

However, earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that the state’s congressional map be redrawn, and the new map put a part of St. Petersburg with a large minority population into the 13th, turning what had been a swing district into one that favored Democrats.

Faced with the new map, Jolly decided to jump into the Senate race instead. But he failed to gain much traction in a crowded GOP field, a situation made much worse when Republican leaders in Washington began pressuring U.S. Senator Marco Rubio to seek re-election, which made it difficult for the other candidates to raise money.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Pinellas County, who struggled to find a strong candidate to challenge Crist, had urged Jolly to switch races and seek re-election.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Crist, 59, was elected governor as a Republican in 2006, and, in 2010, decided to run for the Senate rather than seek re-election. However, when it became clear he would lose to Rubio in the primary, he left the GOP and became an independent to continue his Senate quest.

After losing to Rubio in the general election, Crist became a Democrat in 2012 and ran for governor in 2014, losing to Republican Governor Rick Scott. After that defeat, Crist announced he was leaving politics but changed his mind and launched a bid for Congress after the map was redrawn.

Jolly’s decision to switch races clears another obstacle for a possible re-election run by Rubio. Another Republican candidate in the Senate race, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has indicated that he, too, will drop out if Rubio decides to run.

Report: López-Cantera will step aside if Marco Rubio changes his mind about the Senate

Florida’s lieutenant governor tells Politico he has urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — Just days before qualifying is set to begin in Florida’s U.S. Senate primary, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has disclosed that if U.S. Senator Marco Rubio decides to run for re-election, he will end his own Senate campaign.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

López-Cantera, who got into the Senate race at Rubio’s urging, tells Politico that when he met Rubio at the scene of the Orlando nightclub massacre, he urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election in 2016.

Rubio has been under increasing pressure from Republican Senate leaders to reverse course and run again. But his longtime personal and political friendship with López-Cantera has been seen as an obstacle to any Rubio candidacy.

Rubio gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination and has insisted repeatedly that he will not be a Senate candidate. But Florida’s relatively late party primaries, at the end of August, have left him a window of time to change his mind.

Qualifying ends June 24, giving Rubio a little more than a week to make a final decision.

Rubio is seen as the strongest Republican candidate in the Senate race, which Democrats are trying to capture to wrest Senate control away from the GOP. López-Cantera and three Republican rivals have been battling for the nomination; the lieutenant governor is the only one of them who has won statewide.

There has also been speculation that another GOP Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg, will also abandon the race and instead seek re-election to his 13th District House seat.

Jolly opted to take a pass on defending his House seat after a court-ordered redistricting added Democratic voters to what had been a swing district. However, the likely Democratic nominee for that seat is former Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who lost statewide races in 2010 and 2014.

As the incumbent, Jolly would be in the best position to thwart the political resurrection of Crist, a man roundly despised in Republican circles.

The other Republicans in the Senate race include Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Manatee County, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represents a Jacksonville area House district.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando are battling for their party’s nomination.

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