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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.

No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.

In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.

In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.

In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.

In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.

The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.

So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.

If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.

Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.

Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.

Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.

Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.

That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?

Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.

The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.

Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.

If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.

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Decision ’18: Stacey Abrams “acknowledges” defeat in Georgia governor’s race but won’t concede

Abrams says she will sue over “malpractice” by Republican Brian Kemp in managing election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Saying she sees “no further remedy” to allow her to overcome Republican Brian Kemp’s lead in Georgia’s governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams has acknowledged Kemp’s win but is refusing to concede and vowing to file a federal lawsuit over what she sees as his mismanagement of the election.

“This is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right and proper,” she said amid a somber assembly of supporters in Atlanta Friday afternoon. “As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot accept that.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams acknowledges defeat in Atlanta (From YouTube)

Abrams offered blistering criticism of Kemp, who as Georgia’s secretary of state oversaw the election until resigning two days after the November 6 vote.

“Under the watch of the now former secretary of state, democracy failed Georgia,” she said. “To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”

She announced the formation of a new group, Fair Fight Georgia, which she said would file a federal lawsuit over “gross mismanagement” of the election. It was unclear what remedy the lawsuit would seek, although Abrams indicated the suit would not seek to overturn the results in the governor’s race.

Abrams and Democrats have complained that Kemp purged eligible voters from the polls and improperly rejected registrations from voters because of relatively minor discrepancies with other records. Democrats have also hit elections officials for long lines on election day and for rejecting provisional votes based on discrepancies in handwriting on documents.

“Ballots were rejected by the handwriting police,” Abrams said. “Citizens tried to exercise their constitutional rights and were still denied the ability to elect their leaders.”

Georgia Governor-elect Brian Kemp

Kemp has denied that his office sought to suppress or intimidate voters. In his response to Abrams’s non-concession concession, he said he appreciated “her passion, hard work and commitment to public service.”

“The election is over, and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward,” he said in a statement. “We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.”

Abrams acknowledgement of defeat came as Kemp’s successor as secretary of state, Robyn Crittenden, was poised to certify Kemp as the winner of the governor’s race. His final margin of victory over Abrams was 55,000 votes out of 3.9 million votes cast.

Under a law unique to Georgia, Kemp needed to win a majority of the votes cast, or he would have faced a December runoff against Abrams. He cleared that threshold by about 10,500 votes.

The certification was delayed two days after a federal judge in Atlanta ordered the state to give more time for voters who cast provisional ballots that had been rejected to remedy the errors.

Abrams, 44, from Atlanta, is the former Democratic leader in the Georgia House. Had she been elected, she would have been Georgia’s first black or female governor and the first black woman in U.S. history elected as a state governor.

Kemp, 55, from Athens, served two terms as secretary of state after serving in the Georgia Senate.

Kemp’s victory keeps the governor’s office in Republican hands and marks the fifth straight GOP victory for governor in the Peach State. The incumbent, Governor Nathan Deal, was term limited.

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Decision ’18: Federal judge stops Georgia from certifying election results

Democrat Stacey Abrams faces daunting math in quest for runoff in governor’s race;  7th District U.S. House race still too close to call

ATLANTA (CFP) — A federal judge has stopped Georgia’s secretary of state from certifying election results, extending for at least two more days Democrat Stacey Abrams’s slender hope of forcing her race against Republican Brian Kemp for governor into a runoff.

Meanwhile, a different federal judge ordered elections officials in suburban Gwinnett County to stop rejecting absentee ballots with incorrect or missing birth dates. The 7th U.S. House District, in which incumbent Republican Rob Woodall holds a small lead over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, is centered in Gwinnett.

Ruling in a lawsuit filed by Common Cause Georgia, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg delayed the state’s certification of results until at least Friday at 5 p.m. to give voters who cast provisional ballots in the November 6 election more time to validate their registration information so that their votes can count. The certification of results from the state’s 159 counties had been expected Wednesday.

Totenberg also ordered the state to create a secure phone line or website where voters who cast provisional ballots can find out if their ballot has been rejected and, if so, why. Under state law, voters who cast provisional ballots have until Friday to provide documentation that would validate their votes.

Totenberg was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama. She is the sister of Nina Totenberg, NPR’s Supreme Court correspondent.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, 21,700 provisional ballots were cast statewide, usually by voters who were not listed on the registration rolls of the precinct where they tried to vote or who could not provide an accepted form of identification. However, the Abrams campaign believes the number of provisional ballots is at least 30,820.

Stacey Abrams

Brian Kemp

The latest results show Kemp with a lead of 57,863 votes over Abrams, well beyond the number of provisional ballots. But if Kemp’s margin can be reduced to the point where he no longer has a majority of votes, under a law unique to Georgia, the two would face each other again in a runoff in December.

However the math for Abrams is daunting — if there are 30,800 provisional ballots, as her campaign claims, and all of them are valid, she would have to win 83 percent of them just to get the race to a runoff. If there are 21,700, she would have to win 98 percent.

And in court filings, state elections officials have said that usually only half of provisional ballots can be verified to count. If that is the case with the outstanding provisional ballots, a runoff is a mathematical impossibility unless more provisional ballots are found.

Kemp served as secretary of state during the election but resigned after claiming victory in the governor’s race. His campaign has been insisting that Abrams has no viable path to overcome his lead. His current lead is also large enough that Abrams cannot ask for a recount.

But the Abrams camp — which had criticized Kemp’s stewardship of the election process while serving as both secretary of state and a candidate for governor — established a hotline to locate voters who say they had trouble voting on election day, hoping to locate more potential provisional ballots.

In the 7th District race, Woodall holds a 900-vote lead over Bordeaux. With no third-party candidate in the race, a runoff is not a possibility, but the race is currently close enough to trigger a runoff.

Gwinnett County, the state’s second-largest located northeast of Atlanta, is the population center of the district, which also includes parts of Fulton and Forsyth counties. The county’s handling of absentee ballots has been contentious throughout the election, amid news reports that the county was rejecting absentee ballots at a higher rate than any other county in Georgia.

Bordeaux had gone to court alleging that the county had rejected more than 1,000 absentee ballots for “trivial” reasons. United States District Judge Leigh Martin May agreed with that argument, but only for some 220 ballots that had errors in birth dates.

May is also an Obama appointee.

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Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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Georgia governor’s debate: Candidates clash over allegations of voter suppression

Kemp insists he is “absolutely not” trying to keep down the minority vote; Abrams says voters are “scared”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch full debate on GPB

ATLANTA (CFP) — The charge that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been deliberately disenfranchising minority voters to gain an edge for his campaign for governor took center stage at a debate where he faced off with his Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams.

Abrams and Kemp square off in first debate (Courtesy GPB)

In their first face-to-face encounter, aired October 23 by Georgia Public Broadcasting, Kemp insisted that he has “absolutely not” been targeting voters based on race, a charge made by Abrams and other voting rights advocates amid news reports that more than 50,000 voter registrations are being held in Kemp’s office because of paperwork errors.

But Abrams said Kemp’s office, by systematically removing voters from the registration rolls and holding up new registrations, has created a climate of fear for potential voters.

“They’ve been purged, they’ve been suppressed, they’ve been scared,” she said. “Voting suppression is not only about blocking the vote. It’s about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won’t count.

Kemp insisted that all of the voters with registrations pending will still be allowed to vote and called allegations of voter suppression “a distraction to take away from Ms. Abrams’s extreme agenda.”

He also charged that Abrams has been encouraging illegal immigrants to come out and vote for her, an allegation she denied.

“I only believe that those who have a legal eligibility to vote should cast a ballot,” she said.

Kemp, who oversees elections as secretary of state, also said that he would not recuse himself if the governor’s race ends in a recount because recounts are primarily the responsibility of county officials, not his office.

“I took an oath of office to serve as secretary of state, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do,” he said

While the candidates had expected disagreements on immigration and expanding Medicare, the debate, sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, began with a question about an incident from Abrams’s past that rocketed through cyberspace on the day for the debate – her participation in a 1992 protest where the Georgia state flag, which then featured the Confederate battle ensign, was set on fire.

“Twenty-six years ago, as a college freshman, I along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol,” she said.

“I took an action of peaceful protest. I said that that was wrong, and 10 years later, my opponent, Brian Kemp actually voted to remove that symbol (as a state senator).”

Although the flag burning issue has been gathering widespread attention, neither Kemp nor Libertarian nominee, Ted Metz, brought it up again during the rest of the debate. The Confederate emblem was removed from the state flag in 2001.

In her campaign, Abrams has been calling for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, an idea that has been blocked by Republicans in the Georgia Legislature. In the debate, she touted Medicaid expansion as a way to spur economic development in rural areas.

“Rural Georgia has been losing hospitals at an alarming rate, and because of that loss we have companies leaving, we have people without access to health care, we’re not doing the kind of economic development work we can do,” she said, adding that expanding Medicaid would bring $3 billion in federal money to the state and create 56,000 jobs.

But Kemp, who opposes Medicaid expansion, said that “expanding a broken government program is no answer to solving the problem.”

He also pointed to a book Abrams wrote in which she called for a single-payer government health plan financed by tax increases and cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, an idea he called “radical.”

“Abrams’s plan will make your current insurance plan illegal. It will not allow you to choose your doctor, and she’s going to raise your taxes to pay for it,” he said. “And if you’re on Medicaid or Medicare, this should scare you to death.”

Kemp also criticized Abrams for wanting to extend the state’s HOPE scholarship program for high school students to Georgia graduates who were brought into the country illegally as children, commonly known as Dreamers. He said he also opposes allowing them to attend state colleges.

“I’ve been running my whole campaign on putting Georgians first. I think we need to continue to do that,” he said. “I think we need to continue to fight for our own people, our own state.”

But Abrams said, “I stand by believing that every Georgian who graduates from our high schools should be allowed to attend our colleges, and if they’re eligible, receive the HOPE scholarship.”

Abrams, 44, is an Atlanta attorney and former Democratic minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. Kemp is a former state senator from Athens who has served two terms as secretary of state.

They are scheduled to meet for a second and final debate on November 4, the Sunday before the November 6 election.

With polls showing a close race and Metz on the ballot, the governor’s race in the Peach State could be headed to a runoff.

Georgia is the only state that requires a general election winner to capture a majority of the vote. If neither Abrams or Kemp win a majority, a runoff between them will be held December 4.

In the last open race for governor, in 2010, the Libertarian nominee got 4 percent of the vote

General election runoffs, while rare, have proven to have unpredictable results. In 1992, Republican Paul Coverdell ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler in a runoff, even though Fowler had come out slightly ahead in the initial vote.

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Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets landslide win in GOP runoff for Georgia governor, will now face Stacey Abrams

Democrats pick nominees for two targeted GOP-held seats in Atlanta suburbs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With the backing of both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has won the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, winning a runoff by nearly 40 points after a stunning collapse by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.

Kemp’s win sets up one of the nation’s marquee governor’s races this fall against Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state, who won her nomination in May without a runoff.

Georgia Democrats have also settled on nominees for two Republican-held U.S. House seats in metro Atlanta being targeted this fall, picking Lucy McBath in the 6th District and Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th District.

McBath will now face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, while Bourdeaux will take on U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp

In the GOP governor’s race, Kemp took 69 percent of the vote in the July 24 runoff to 31 percent for Cagle, who had finished 13 points ahead of Kemp in the first round of voting in May but saw his support collapse in the final weeks of the race.

“We have earned a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp told supporters at a election night rally in Athens. “We had the momentum in this race, and those endorsements by the president and vice president — they poured gasoline on the fire.”

Although both men had vied for the Trump vote, the president endorsed Kemp a week before the runoff, and Pence traveled to Georgia to campaign with him. Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, was endorsed by incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal,  who is term limited.

During the campaign, Kemp drew criticism for a humorous ad in which he points a shotgun at a young man who wants to date one of his daughters and gets him to acknowledge “a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.” Kemp was unapologetic, saying in a statement that “liberal media and radical, left-wing activists — who have probably never even held a firearm — are freaking out and creating fake controversy.”

The National Rifle Association had earlier endorsed Cagle after the lieutenant governor proposed stripping a lucrative tax exemption from Atlanta-based Delta Airlines to retaliate against the company for ending a discount program for NRA members in the wake of the massacre of high school students in Parkland, Florida.

The turning point in the race may have been release of secretly recorded audio in June in which Cagle admitted that he had supported “bad public policy” in the legislature to undercut one of his primary rivals and complained that the Republican primary had devolved into a contest of “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”

In a concession speech to supporters in Atlanta, Cagle promised his “full, undivided support” for Kemp in the general election.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it, but at the end of the day, I can promise you my life is so rich,” he said.

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams

Democrats, who have not won a governor’s race in Georgia since 1998, are hoping to turn those fortunes around with Abrams, 44, a Yale-educated Atlanta lawyer who served six years as minority leader of the Georgia House.

During the Democratic primary, Abrams had argued that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to energize and expand the electorate, rather than trying to appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands. That strategy will be put to the test against Kemp, 54, a conservative businessman from Athens who has been secretary of state since 2011.

Kemp went after Abrams in his victory speech, calling her an “out-of-touch radical liberal who cares more for her billionaire backers than for you all.”

“This election is going to be for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “It is going to be about our values, and it is going to be literally a fight for the future of the great state of Georgia.”

While Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for nearly two decades, demographic changes — particularly an influx of new minority voters — have begun to shift the political calculus. In 2004, George W. Bush carried Georgia by 16 points; Trump only won by 5 points in 2016, and he lost two large suburban Atlanta counties — Cobb and Gwinnett — that had not gone Democratic in a generation.

Both of the U.S. House races where Democrats may have a shot this fall are anchored in those same suburbs. In the 6th District, which takes in Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, Trump won by just 1.5 points; in the 7th District, which includes Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, he won by just 6 points.

Lucy McBath

Karen Handel

Handel won the 6th District seat in a special election in 2017 that became nationalized amid rising resistance to Trump. More than $50 million was spent on that race, making it the most expensive House election in history.

The Democrat who Handel defeated in that race, Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch, leaving her to face McBath, a retired flight attendant and gun control activist from Cobb County, who took 54 percent in the runoff to defeat Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who took 46 percent.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Rob Woodall

Carolyn Bourdeaux

In the 7th District, Woodall will face Bourdeaux, from Suwanee, a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate.  In the runoff, she took 52 percent of the vote to defeat Duluth businessman David Kim with 48 percent.

In the runoff, Republicans also settled on their nominees for the posts of lieutenant governor and secretary of state given up by Cagle and Kemp.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, former State Rep. Geoff Duncan from Cumming, a former professional baseball player, edged out State Senator David Shafer from Duluth. However, the two candidates were separated by less than 1,700 votes, which could trigger a runoff.

Duncan will now face the Democratic nominee, Kennesaw businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico.

In the secretary of state’s race, State Rep. Brad Raffensperger from Johns Creek defeated Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. He will now face former U.S. Rep. John Barrow from Athens, who was the last white Democrat left in Georgia’s congressional delegation until he was defeated in 2014.

State Primary Wrap: Stacey Abrams roars to Democratic governor’s nomination in Georgia; GOP faces runoff

Final fields for governor’s races also set in Arkansas and Texas; incumbent survives in Arkansas Supreme Court contest

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has made history in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor, crushing her opponent to become the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state.

Georgia Republicans are headed to a runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, after neither won a majority in the May 22 primary.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson was nominated for a second term and will be heavily favored over the Democratic winner, political newcomer Jared Henderson. And Texas Democrats picked former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to face incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott in November, making her the first Latina and first openly lesbian candidate to be nominated by a major party for Texas governor.

Georgia Democratic governor nominee Stacey Abrams

In Georgia, Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House whose candidacy has drawn national attention, took 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for former State Rep. Stacey Evans, winning all but six of the state’s 159 counties.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Atlanta, Abrams vowed to create a “coalition that reaches across backgrounds, sharing our constant belief in our capacity to win.”

“We have to reach out to those who do not believe their voices matter, who’ve been disappointed again and again by promises made and never kept,” she said. “In the Book of Esther, there is a verse that reminds us that we were born for such a time as this.”

After seeing their party lose four governor’s elections in a row, Democrats who voted in the primary clearly bought into Abrams’s argument that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to expand the electorate, rather than Evans’s argument that Democrats needed a nominee who could appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands.

But while Abrams did win more votes in the primary than any candidate on either side of the ballot, overall, 54,000 more voters picked up Republican ballots, in a state that has no party registration.

Brian Kemp

Casey Cagle

In the Republican primary, Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, took 39 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Kemp, who has been secretary of state since 2011. Cagle beat Kemp in the large suburban Atlanta counties, where the bulk of Georgia Republicans live, and in all of the smaller cities except Athens, which Kemp once represented in the Georgia Senate.

However, Georgia has a long history of the second-place finisher in a primary coming from behind to win a runoff, most notably in 2010, when current Governor Nathan Deal defeated Karen Handel, who returned to political office last year by winning a seat in Congress.

The runoff in Georgia in July 24.

In another Georgia race of interest, former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, won his party’s nomination for secretary of state without a runoff. Republicans will have a runoff between former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and State Rep. Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson took 70 percent to 30 percent for Jan Morgan, a gun rights activist and television pundit who ran at the governor from the right, beating him in five rural counties. In November, he will face Henderson, a former NASA scientist who runs a Little Rock non-profit that advocates on education issues.

The most contentious battle in the Natural State was a non-partisan contest for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson advanced to a runoff against David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Goodson took 37 percent of the vote; Sterling, 34 percent.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise.

She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads. JCN also spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

Although the JCN’s ads targeted Sterling’s opponents, he has insisted that he has no connection to the group.

Goodson and Sterling will now face each other on the November general election ballot.

In Texas, in the Democratic race for governor, Valdez defeated Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Governor Mark White, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Abbott won the Republican nomination outright in the March primary.

Valdez, 70, was elected to four terms as sheriff of Dallas County, the state’s second largest with 2.5 million people. She resigned in 2017 when she launched her campaign for governor.

Valdez starts the race as a decided underdog against Abbott, who has raised more than $43 million for the campaign. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1988.

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