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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Decision will give Democrats a prime pickup opportunity in the Atlanta suburbs
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — After nearly losing his seat to a Democratic challenger in 2018, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall has announced that he will forgo an expected rematch and instead retire from the House in 2020 after four terms.
Woodall is the first Southern congressman to forgo a re-election bid in 2020, opening the 7th District seat in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs, a once a solidly Republican area that has shifted Democratic.
The congressman announced the decision in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing family concerns, including the recent death of his father, for his decision.
“Doing what you love requires things of you, and having had that family transition made me start to think about those things that I have invested less in because I’ve been investing more here,” he said.
He said he wanted to announce his retirement early in the 2020 cycle to “give the next team time to prepare.”
After Woodall’s retirement, Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux — who lost to him by just 433 votes after a recount in what turned out to be the closest House race of 2018 — announced that she will seek the 7th District seat again in 2020, a contest that will be a the top of both party’s target lists.
Bordeaux, a professor at Georgia State University, has scheduled her formal announcement for February 12.
While Bordeaux will be a prohibitive favorite on the Democratic side, the race is likely to draw a large field of Republican candidates, from among both state legislators and local officials.
The 7th District is centered in Gwinnett County, which has been trending less Republican as its growing population has become more racially and ethnically diverse. It also includes parts of Forsyth County, which remains solidly Republican.
Overall, the district is now majority non-white, with large and growing African American, Asian and Latino communities.
Woodall, 48, served as an aide to the district’s former representative, U.S. Rep. John Linder, before being elected to the seat in 2010 when Linder retired.
He won re-election by relatively safe margins before running into Bordeaux and a Democratic suburban wave in 2018 that nearly took him down.
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With Georgia’s 7th District remaining to be called, Democrats have netted 10 seats in the South
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — The South’s last uncalled U.S. House race, in Georgia’s 7th District, is headed for a recount with the Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, holding a slender 419-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Carolyn Bourdeaux.
With that race in the balance, Democrats’ overall gain in the South stands at 10, just a third of the total number of seats that they had targeted heading into the November 6 vote. All of those seats were in urban and suburban areas where the Democratic vote surged.
Bourdeaux said Friday that she will ask for a recount. Under state law, a losing candidate can seek a recount if the winning margin is less than 1 percent; Woodall’s lead is 0.14 percent.
State election officials have not announced a timetable for the recount. But Georgia uses electronic voting machines without paper ballots, so recounts tend to be finished quickly.
The 7th District is located in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.
Across the South, Democrats’ best results came in Virginia, where they ousted Republican incumbents in the 2nd, 7th and 10th Districts, which are located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond and Hampton Roads.
However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.
Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.
Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.
Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.
In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans. Two of the flipped seats were won by African-American candidates and one by a Latina.
Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the next House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.
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After winning her seat in 2017 in the most expensive U.S. House race in history, Georgia Republican concedes to political newcomer Lucy McBath
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — In April 2017, veteran Georgia Republican politico Karen Handel, after twice losing races for statewide office, had arrived at the promised land, at end of a very long road.
She won a special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, narrowly defeating Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff after $50 million was spent in a race fueled by Democratic anger over the election of Donald Trump.
Her future seemed assured in the 6th, anchored in Atlanta’s wealthy northern suburbs. The historically Republican seat had been previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, who gave it up to serve in Trump’s cabinet. And when Ossoff decided not to challenge Handel again in the midterm election, her seat seemed secure and her political career restored.
Until Tuesday’s midterm election, when Handel lost her seat to Democrat Lucy McBath, who didn’t have Handel’s political pedigree but did have a compelling personal story and an issue — gun control.
“After carefully reviewing all of the election results data, it is clear that I came up a bit short on Tuesday,” Handel said in a letter to Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “Congratulations to Representative-Elect Lucy McBath and send her only good thoughts and much prayer for the journey that lies ahead for her.”
The final result was close. Unofficial results showed McBath with a 2,900-vote lead, out of 316,000 votes cast. For Handel, it was déjà vu all over again — in 2010, she lost a Republican primary runoff for governor by 2,500 votes.
McBath, 58, a former flight attendant, had never held political office before. But she became a gun control activist after her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death outside a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida, by a man upset about loud hip-hop music played by Davis and three of his friends.
The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was convicted of first-degree murder in Jordan’s death and sentenced to life in prison.
After her son’s death, McBath became a national spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and was part of a group of mothers of slain African-American teens who appeared at the 2016 Democratic Convention. She decided to run for Congress after last February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died.
“Six years ago, I went from a Marietta mom to a mom on a mission,” McBath said in a statement declaring victory. “After my son was lost to gun violence, I stood up and started demanding more. After Parkland, I was compelled to enter this race for Congress — to provide leadership that would be about the business of putting lives over profit.”
McBath’s quest seemed implausible, running as she was against someone who had been county commission chair in the state’s largest country (Fulton) and secretary of state and came just a percentage point short in a race that would likely have made her governor. Gun control is also not an issue that generally helps Democrats, or anybody else, in Georgia.
Yet, McBath’s victory did not come completely out of left field. The district has become more diverse in recent years, with growing African-Amercian, Latino and Asian populations. Trump had only carried the 6th by 1.5 points in 2016, and Handel had to fight hard to win it in 2017. And toward the end of the campaign, McBath was winning the money chase, outraising Handel by a substantial margin.
Handel also wasn’t the only suburban Southern Republican who found tough sledding in the midterms. Incumbents lost in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond, Dallas, Houston and Miamia and even in Oklahoma City and Charleston, S.C..
But Handel’s loss, and a close call in the adjoining 7th District for Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, harbors a new reality for Georgia Republicans — in the age of Trump, suburbs are no longer safe GOP territory, even in the South.
The race for Georgia governor showed the ominous portents that may await. Democrat Stacey Abrams carried not only Fulton and DeKalb counties, both with large African-American populations, but also seven surrounding suburban counties, including the two biggest, Cobb and Gwinnett. Of the eight congressional districts that contain parts of metro Atlanta, four will now be held by Democrats, and a fifth was very nearly lost.
Republicans will, no doubt, come after McBath in 2020; the 6th is now truly a swing district. But she will have two years to build up her political profile, and she will be running for re-election in a presidential election year, which usually helps Democrats.
And Lucy McBath will always be the woman who won a race she wasn’t supposed to win, against a woman who wasn’t supposed to lose.
Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.
The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.
Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.
However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.
Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.
Abrams has refused to concede.
“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”
Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.
In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.
The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.
In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.
Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.
Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.
Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.
The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.
Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.