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Former presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton eulogize civil rights icon at Ebenezer Baptist Church
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — Three former U.S. presidents and more than 50 U.S. House colleagues gathered in Atlanta Thursday to say a final farewell to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who represented the city for more than 30 years in Congress.
From the pulpit of Ebeneezer Baptist Church, once pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former President Barack Obama called Lewis “perhaps [King’s] finest disciple.”
Lewis’s life redeemed “that most American of ideas — the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo and decide that it is within our power to remake this country that we love,” Obama said.
“He believed that in all of us there exists the capacity for great courage, and in all of us, there is a longing to do what’s right,” Obama said. “He knew that non-violent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness and to put the spotlight on injustice and make the powers that be uncomfortable.”
“What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way.”
Former President George W. Bush said Lewis “believed in the Lord, he believed in humanity, and he believed in America.”
“His lesson for us is that we must all keep ourselves to hearing the call of love, the call of service, and the call to sacrifice for others,” Bush said.
Bush noted that while he and Lewis often disagreed politically, “in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”
Joining Obama and Bush to speak at the funeral service were former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who grew emotional when she presented his family with the flag that was flying over the Capitol on the night that Lewis died.
“When this flag flew there, it said good-bye. It waved good-bye to John, our friend, our mentor, our colleague, this beautiful man we had the privilege of serving with,” said Pelosi, who served with Lewis in Congress for 33 years.
“Every time he stood up to speak [in the House], we knew that he was going to take us to a higher place of our understanding, of what our responsibilities were and what our opportunities were,” Pelosi said. “When he spoke, people listened. When he led, people followed.”
Not attending Thursday’s event was President Donald Trump, whose impeachment Lewis had vigorously supported last year. Trump also did not join he crowds who paid tribute to Lewis when his casket was displayed at the U.S. Capitol.
The funeral was the culmination of nearly a week of events honoring Lewis, including a memorial service in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, and lying in state at both the Alabama and Georgia state capitols.
The crowd inside the church for the private service was limited due to coronavirus, and mourners wore masks. The service was broadcast on a television screen outside of Ebenezer, where crowds gathered in the summer heat.
Lewis, 80, died on July 24 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
During his long and illustrious life, Lewis, who grew up on a farm in rural Alabama during the Jim Crow era, had a first-hand presence at some of the most pivotal moments of American history.
In 1960, as a student at Fisk University, he participated in protests to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and, a year later, became of the original “freedom riders,” risking his life to desegregate buses in the South.
By 1963, he had risen to a leadership position in the civil rights movement, as president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and, at just 23, was the youngest person to address the historic March on Washington, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
During the summer of 1964, he went to Mississippi to register black voters, part of the “Freedom Summer” to break the power of segregation in its most redoubtable citadel.
In 1965, baton-wielding state troopers fractured Lewis’s skull as as he tried to lead marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, a shocking scene captured on national television that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act.
A campaign is now underway to rename the bridge for Lewis.
In 1968, he was in Los Angeles working for the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy when Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary.
Lewis had eventually extended his activism into politics, winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1986 that he held for more than three decades, becoming known as the “conscience of Congress” — opposing military action, supporting gay rights, leading a sit-in for gun safety.
Through all the beatings and tragedies, and the twists and turns of political life, Lewis never wavered from the philosophy of non-violence — and never stopped advocating for equality. He made his last public appearance in June at the dedication of a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Washington, the latest incarnation of the cause to which he had dedicated his adult life.
In his eulogy, Obama exhorted the audience to honor Lewis’s legacy by working to “revitalize” the Voting Rights Act and fighting against restrictions on voting access.
“Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting, by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision — even undermining the postal service in an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick,” he said.
Georgia Democrats have selected State Senator Nikema Williams to replace Lewis on the November ballot and take his place in Congress representing the 5th District, which includes much of the city of Atlanta and suburbs to the west and south.
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Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam battle to lead the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginians decide Tuesday whether to raise their Democratic lieutenant governor to the state’s top job or turn the reins over to a senior operative from George W. Bush’s White House.
The lone off-year governor’s race in the South pits Ed Gillespie, a Bush aide and former head of the Republican National Committee, against Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who has spent the past decade in state politics.
In addition to the marquee governor’s race, statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are on the ballot, and energized Democrats are trying to flip a slew of state House seats to gain bragging rights heading into the 2018 midterms.
Polls across the commonwealth open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Of seven non-partisan public polls conducted since October 29 in the governor’s race, six showed results within the margin of error, making the results statistically insignificant. Just one poll, from Quinnipiac University, showed Northam with a lead of at least 1.2 percent outside the margin of error.
However, that Quinniapiac poll showed Gillespie had made up substantial ground against Northam in the final week of the campaign, particularly among independents, among whom the difference between the candidates was statistically insignificant.
Conspicuously absent from the race — President Donald Trump, who was never invited to cross the Potomac to campaign with Gillespie, although Vice President Mike Pence did make an appearance on his behalf. Trump did, however, endorse Gillespie on Twitter.
Virginia was the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, due in part to her stronger-than-usual showing the Republican-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. So the Gillespie campaign had to thread a difficult needle of not galvanizing anti-Trump voters by campaigning with the president, while at the same time not antagonizing ardent Trump supporters in more conservative parts of the state.
Indeed, the potency of the Trump brand among the Republican base nearly took Gillespie down in June when, despite being a prohibitive favorite, he almost lost the party’s primary to Corey Stewart, Trump’s one-time state campaign manager.
Stewart, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told Politico that Trump supporters were “bewildered” and “offended” by Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from Trump, predicting that it would hurt Gillespie by discouraging the president’s supporters from turning out.
Northam, in turn, has tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, running a TV ad during the final weekend of the campaign accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
Northam, 58, joined the U.S. Army to complete his medical training after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and has worked as a pediatric neurologist at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992. He has admitted to voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 before he became active in state politics, saying that he had been “underinformed” at the time.
In 2007, he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia Senate, representing a district that included parts of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. In 2013, he became lieutenant governor, running alongside incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, under state law, can’t run for a second consecutive term.
Northam was challenged in the primary by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who tried to counter Northam’s establishment support by mobilizing Bernie Sanders supporters. In the end, Northam won by 12 points, though he has continued to face criticism from his left flank during the campaign for supporting two controversial gas pipeline projects and opposing the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia.
After working as Bush’s communications director in the 2000 campaign, Gillespie, 56, started a lobbying firm in Washington and was elected chairman of the RNC in 2003. He went back to the White House in 2007 as a counselor to the president and served until the end of Bush’s second term in 2009.
In 2014, Gillespie challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Though Warner’s seat was considered safe, Gillespie came within 18,000 votes of beating him, in what would have been the biggest upset of the 2014 campaign.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, from Fauquier County west of Washington, is facing Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who lives in surburban Fairfax.
A controversy erupted in the closing days of the campaign when Northam’s campaign dropped Fairfax, who is African-American, from a direct mail piece sent to voters because of his opposition to the two pipeline projects Northam supports.
Critics called his exclusion racist, a charge that Northam’s camp denied. But the flap could have consequences for a race in which Northam will need strong African-American support to win.
In the race for attorney general, the incumbent Democrat, Mark Herring, is being challenged by Republican John Adams, a Richmond lawyer who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In addition to the three statewide races, 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the lower house of the legislature, are up for grabs. Despite Virginia’s status as a swing state in presidential politics, Republicans currently hold 66 seats, to just 34 for Democrats.
However, Democrats are contesting 88 of those seats in 2017, including challenges in 17 Republican-held seats that Clinton carried in 2016. So the results in Virginia are likely to be viewed as a bellweather for what might happen in 2018, particularly if Democrats make gains in suburban districts near Washington and Richmond.
State Senate seats are not up in Virginia this year; Republicans control the Senate, 21 to 19.
Stewart enters race just a month after losing race for governor
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WOODBRIDGE, Virginia (CFP) — Just a month after narrowly losing a Republican primary for Virginia governor, Corey Stewart started a new race against U.S. Senator Tim Kaine with an unapologetic vow to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” he can to unseat the Democratic incumbent.
“I’m going to go after him very, very hard,” said Stewart, who gained national prominence while serving as President Trump’s Virginia state chairman during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I think that Republicans have been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules for too long, and Democrats have been fighting a UFC fight.”
In his opening campaign salvo at his home in suburban Washington, D.C. on July 13, Stewart also made it clear that he would wrap himself in the Trump mantle in the Senate race, as he did in his unsuccessful race for governor.
“Tim Kaine is doing everything in his power to stop the president of the United States from making the economy great again, from bringing back jobs, from reforming health care and from making America great again,” he said, accusing Kaine of having a “blind hatred” for Trump that makes him “so focused on taking down the president of the United States that he is ignoring the true needs of Virginians and other Americans.”
However, Stewart didn’t stop with attacking Democrats. He began his announcement by saying how “disgusted” he had been by the 1989 inaugural address of President George H.W. Bush, a pillar of the GOP establishment.
“I was disgusted at the phrase kinder, gentler nation,” he said. “I knew right then that it was the end of the Reagan revolution.”
Stewart, 48, has been chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors since 2006. He was Trump’s state chairman in Virginia until a month before the 2016 election, when he was sacked after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made lewd sexual comments.
In the June 13 GOP gubernatorial primary, Stewart nearly defeated former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time aide to President George W. Bush who had been seen as a presumptive favorite. Stewart said his surprisingly strong showing in that race, which he lost by only 4,500 votes, was part of the reason he decided to set his sights on unseating Kaine.
In the governor’s race, Stewart ran as an anti-establishment candidate and vowed to resist efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy. He is not, however, a native Southerner, having been born in Minnesota.
Running as a Trump champion could be problematic in Virginia, which was the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
Kaine — Clinton’s vice presidential running mate — also has a venerable political pedigree in the Old Dominion, having served as governor and lieutenant governor before being elected to the Senate in 2012. And no Republican has won a Senate race in the commonwealth since 2002.
Stewart’s vow of viciousness at the starting line drew a rebuke from Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, who called him “more extreme than Donald Trump.”
“Corey has completely ignored the needs of families in Prince William County to instead spend his time name calling, bashing immigrants and re-litigating the Civil War,” she said in a statement. “When he rarely turns his attention to the county he was elected to represent, he calls his colleagues ‘slimeballs’ and pushes an anti-immigrant, backwards agenda that has left working families behind.”
“The last thing Virginians need in the Senate is a rubber stamp for President Trump,” she said.
And before he gets to Kaine, Stewart will likely have to face down a primary challenge. Among the Republicans considering the race is Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 but later relocated to Virginia, where she had lived earlier in her business career.
Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.
To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.
So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.
And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.
In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.
But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.
And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.
If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.
So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.
Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.
Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.
The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.
In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.
While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.
Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.
After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.
After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters. To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.
So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.
With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.
Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.
Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.
Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.
The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.
In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.
By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.
In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).
The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.
In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.
The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.
In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.
By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.
This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.
Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.
The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.
The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.
But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.
Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.
As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.