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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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Election Preview: GOP’s Southern U.S. House wall faces Democratic challenge in suburbs

Democrats have put 31 Republican-held seats in play across the South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Will the Republican’s big, blue Southern wall that has been the linchpin of their U.S. House majority hold, or will Democrats reverse a decade of disappointment and eat away at GOP dominance in the South?

That question will be answered in Tuesday’s midterm elections, in which voters will decide all 152 House seats in 14 Southern states.

Heading into the vote, Republicans hold a 112-to-40 advantage across the region. But at least 31 GOP-held seats are on the Democrats’ radar for possible takeaways in 2018, which could portend the biggest comeback for the party in Congress since 1994, when scores of traditionally Democratic seats in the South melted away, seemingly for good.

By contrast, none of the 40 Democrat-held seats in the region are expected to flip.

The possible Republican-to-Democrat flips are concentrated in four states — Florida, with nine; Texas, with eight; and Virginia and North Carolina, with four each.

But Democrats have also targeted Republican seats in West Virginia, Arkansas and Oklahoma, where they were shut out in 2016, and South Carolina, where they won but a single seat.

Many of the most competitive races are in suburban areas around major cities that have traditionally been solidly Republican, including districts in and around Dallas, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.

The elephant in the room in all of these races has been President Donald Trump, with Democrats trying to make inroads in normally Republican districts where Trump underperformed in 2016, as he was overperforming in rural areas on his way to capturing the White House.

This election might also portend the revival of what has in recent years become something of a endangered species in Congress — the white Southern Democrat.

Currently, just 13 white Democrats who are not Latino or Asian hold Southern House seats. But of the 31 competitive seats this year, 22 feature a white Democrat trying to oust a Republican.

Among the Southern races drawing the most national attention are in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, raised more than $7.8 million in a bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr — a race which drew a visit from Trump on Barr’s behalf.

Kentucky has the nation’s earliest poll closing, at 6 p.m. in the part of the state located in Eastern time zone. So the McGrath-Barr race should provide an early indication of how the national results may develop.

Another possible bellweather race: West Virginia’s 3rd District, where Democratic State Senator Richard Ojeda is battling Republican State Rep. Carol Miller for an open seat in a district that Trump carried by a whopping 49 points in 2016.

Polls close in the Mountaineer State at 7:30 p.m. ET; an Ojeda win or a close vote could be a harbinger of a difficult night for the GOP.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is in the fight of his political life in suburban Dallas, where he faces Colin Allred, a lawyer and former NFL linebacker who worked in the Obama administration.

Sessions, first elected in 1996, is the chairman of the House Rules Committee and was one of the architects of the Republican wave in 2010, which swept the party back into control of Congress.

While he won re-election with 71 percent of the vote in 2016, Hillary Clinton was narrowly carrying his district, which made him a top Democratic target in2018.

Another Texas Republican whose race is a toss-up is U.S. Rep. John Culberson, whose metro Houston district was also carried by Clinton in 2016. He faces Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Democratic attorney.

Culberson’s district has been in Republican hands since former President George H.B. Bush won it in 1966.

Barbara Comstock

The most endangered Southern Republican is U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Polls have shown her trailing Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton in a district where Clinton scored a 10-point win.

In Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s former health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to win an open Republican-held seat in a district Clinton won by 20 points. But she has run into a stiff challenge from Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular journalist on Spanish-language TV.

Karen Handel

Meanwhile, in suburban Atlanta, Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel — who won her seat in a sensational 2017 special election in which $50 million was spent — is in a tight race with Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate whose son died in a racially charged shooting.

In Virginia, U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, the giant-killer who ousted former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary, is being challenged by Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative.

In North Carolina, three Republican incumbents find themselves in competitive races — George Holding, Richard Hudson and Ted Budd — and the GOP is trying to keep control of an open seat in metro Charlotte.

The news is better in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, where Republican incumbents are all expected to survive without any trouble.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. House races.

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U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger goes down in North Carolina GOP primary

Races now set in three competitive seats Democrats are targeting in November

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The fields are now set for three competitive U.S. House races in North Carolina, including the 9th District where Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has become the first incumbent to go down to defeat in the 2018 election cycle.

Mark Harris

Pittenger. seeking his fourth term in Congress, was defeated in the May 8 primary by Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist pastor from Charlotte. Harris took 49 percent, to 46 percent for Pittenger.

“From the beginning, this race has been about giving the people of this district a voice, and you have stood up tonight across the 9th District, and you have made that voice loud and clear,” Harris told supporters at a victory celebration in Indian Trail.

Harris will now face Democrat Dan McCready in November for a metro Charlotte seat that Democrats have high hopes of flipping.

McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and solar energy entrepreneur, easily won the Democratic primary. The most recent Federal Election Commission reports show that he has so far raised $1.9 million for the fall race, about three times as much as Harris.

Harris is the former senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte and former president of the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina. In 2012, he helped lead the fight for a state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, and he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The race in the 9th District, which includes parts of Charlotte and its southern and eastern suburbs and stretches east to Fayetteville, was a rematch of a primary battle between Pittenger and Harris in 2016 that the incumbent won by just 134 votes; this time, Harris won by 814 votes.

Pittenger had the backing of House Republican leaders, and Vice President Mike Pence came to North Carolina to campaign for him. Harris countered with anti-establishment campaign that painted Pittenger as part of the Washington “swamp.”

In addition to the 9th District, Democrats are eyeing two other seats, the 2nd District and the 13th District, in an attempt to cut into the GOP’s dominance in the Tar Heel State’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold 10 of 13 seats.

In the 2nd District, centered in metro Raleigh, Democrat Linda Coleman had an easy primary victory and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding in November.

Coleman, a former state representative and Wake County commissioner, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in both 2012 and 2016. However, she starts the general election with a substantial financial disadvantage against Holding, who is seeking his fourth term.

That is not the case in the 13th District, where the Democrats’ nominee, Kathy Manning, has raised $1.3 million and has $1 million in cash on hand, outstripping the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has raised $880,000 and has just $362,000 on hand, according to FEC records.

Manning, a lawyer from Greensboro, is making her first bid for elective office in the district, which stretches from the northern suburbs of Charlotte to Greensboro. Budd, first elected in 2016, is trying to win a second term.

In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by 10 points, the 9th District by 12 points and the 13th District by 9 points.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds ruling invalidating North Carolina’s congressional map

Decision could affect current challenge in Texas and future GOP efforts to pack black voters into districts

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling striking down the congressional map approved by North Carolina lawmakers after the 2010 census because it relied too heavily on racial considerations in drawing the new lines.

The May 22 ruling will have little impact in North Carolina because lines were already redrawn after the state lost the case in the lower court. But in the long term, it could limit the ability of Republican majorities in Southern statehouses to pack black voters into a small number of districts, thereby maximizing the number of safe GOP seats.

It could also have an impact on pending litigation in Texas, where the U.S. House map is being challenged by Latino and Democratic groups over alleged racial gerrymandering.

After the high court’s ruling, a federal judge in San Antonio overseeing the case asked Texas’s lawyers to consider whether legislators might “voluntarily” meet in special session to consider changes to the state’s map. There was no immediate response from state leaders.

The case in North Carolina was the high court’s latest attempt to resolve the tension between the 14th Amendment, which forbids using race as the primary consideration in drawing political lines, and the Voting Rights Act, which requires legislators in most Southern states to maximize the potential of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.

At issue were the 1st and 12th districts, which were changed substantially after the 2010 census as part of an effort to make the state’s districts equal in population, as required by earlier Supreme Court rulings.

Under the new lines, the black voting age population in the 1st District rose from 48.6 percent to 52.7 percent, largely by adding majority-black areas of Durham into the district. The black voting age population in the 12th District also rose from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent, which was done by replacing existing white voters with black voters not previously in the district.

The state had defended the changes by arguing they were made to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, rejected that argument, noting that both seats had already been represented by African-American Democrats without the addition of more black voters.

Kagan wrote that the Voting Rights Act “gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race.”

Kagan was joined in the opinion by her fellow liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, along with conservative Clarence Thomas, the only African-American on the court.

Three other conservatives justices — Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy — agreed with the majority that the 1st District had been impermissibly drawn but disagreed about the validity of the 12th District. The court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, did not take part in the case.

After losing the case at U.S. District court, North Carolina’s legislature redrew the state’s entire map, which was used in the 2016 elections. African-American incumbents in the 1st and 12th districts — G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams — both won, although Adams was forced to move to Charlotte and run in new territory after her home in Greensboro was drawn out of her previous district.

The new map did not change the political balance in the state’s congressional delegation, which remained at nine Republicans and three Democrats. Its only significant effect was forcing two Republican incumbents — George Holding and Renee Ellmers — to run against each other. Holding won.

Over the last 30 years, as Republicans have taken control of state legislatures across the South, majority black districts created to comply with the Voting Rights Act have sent African-American representatives to Congress, in many cases for the first time since Reconstruction.

However, the packing of black voters into these districts have reduced black voting age populations in surrounding districts, making them more Republican. One result has been that white Democrats, who were once the mainstay of Southern congressional delegations, have all but disappeared.

Only six Southern states — Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia — are currently represented by any white Democrats. And out of 40 Southern Democratic representatives in Congress, only 15 are non-Latino whites, compared with 20 African Americans and five Latinos.

Out of 109 Republicans representing the region, 105 are white, three are Latino and just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, is African-American.

Texas, where the congressional map is currently being challenged, presents a particular wrinkle in application of the Voting Rights Act because it contains large concentrations of both African-American and Latino voters.

While black voters tend to be strong, partisan Democrats, Latino voters are somewhat less so, which makes it difficult to advance the argument that lines are being drawn for political reasons, which is legal, rather than for racial considerations, which is not.

North Carolina voters bounce Renee Ellmers from Congress

Ellmers ends campaign with disparaging comment about a female GOP official’s weight

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Running in a redrawn district and facing a tsunami of outside spending aimed squarely at her, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina has lost her bid for a fourth term, becoming the first GOP lawmaker to fall in a primary in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

Ellmers lost the June 7 GOP primary to U.S. Rep. George Holding, who opted to run against Ellmers after a court-ordered redraw of the Tar Heel State’s U.S. House map moved his district to another part of the state.

Her campaign ended on a bizarre note when a television camera captured Ellmers making a disparaging remark about Maggie Sandrock, a former chair of the Harnett County Republican Party, as she made her way into a polling place to vote.

“You’re eating a little too much pork barbecue. Woo,” Ellmers said in an exchange captured by Raleigh TV station WNCN.

Reacting to the comment, Sandrock, a former Ellmers supporter who now backs one of her opponents, said the congresswoman had “become a mean girl on steroids.”

Holding took 53 percent of the vote in the the 2nd District primary. Ellmers managed just 24 percent, edging past Greg Brannon, who jumped into the race after losing a U.S. Senate primary back in March.

The House primary was delayed three months after a federal court panel ordered state lawmakers to redraw the map passed after the 2010 Census. The judges ruled that two districts were improperly gerrymandered using racial considerations.

Ellmers’s district in suburban Raleigh was substantially redrawn in the new map, forcing her to run in unfamiliar territory. Her task became more difficult after Holding decided to give up his 13th District seat, which had been moved west to the Greensboro area, and run against Ellmers instead.

Ellmers, 52, a nurse, was first elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave as a critic of Obamacare, with the support of outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

But those groups turned on Ellmers with a vengeance this year, spending more than $1 million to paint her as a Washington insider who supported wasteful spending.

In her concession speech, Ellmers said she was “disappointed” that the outside spending derailed her re-election bid, despite a high-profile endorsement from Donald Trump.

“The special interest groups with their deep pocks in Washington, unfortunately, have won today,” she said. “I hold my head up high. I’ve done what is necessary to serve the people of the (district).”

Ellmers also ran afoul of anti-abortion groups when she forced Republican leaders to carve out a rape exception in a bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks.

In October 2015, Ellmers publicly denied rumors that she was having an extramarital affair with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, which came to light after McCarthy abruptly abandoned a run for House speaker.

Holding will now face Democrat John McNeil, a Raleigh lawyer, in November, in a district with a strong Republican tilt.

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