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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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South Carolina Primary: U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford defeated; McMaster, Warren advance to GOP governor’s runoff

Democrat Archie Parnell survives 5th District U.S. House primary despite spouse abuse revelations

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford has become the second incumbent to go down in a primary this year, losing the GOP nomination for his Lowcountry seat after President Donald Trump tweeted a last-minute endorsement of his opponent.

In another key race in the June 12 primary, Governor Henry McMaster secured a runoff spot and will now face John Warren, a Greenville businessman and Iraq war veteran making his first run for political office.

In the 5th U.S. House District, Democrat Archie Parnell advanced to the general election, despite pleas from party leaders to get out of the race over revelations about spousal abuse from four decades ago.

And upstate, in the 4th District, where 12 Republicans were fighting for spots in the runoff, former State Senator Lee Bright from Spartanburg snagged one spot, with State Senator William Timmons from Greenville holding on to second place by a narrow margin in unofficial results.

Sanford

Arrington

In the 1st U.S. House District, which includes Charleston and the Lowcountry along the Atlantic Coast, State Rep. Katie Arrington from Summerville took 51 percent to 46 percent for Sanford, who has held the seat since 2013.

She will now face Democrat Joe Cunningham, a Charleston attorney who swept to an easy victory in the Democratic primary with 71 percent of the vote.

Sanford’s demise could be good news for Cunningham, who will now be competing in an open seat against a lesser known, more conservative candidate. He has also raised more than $500,000 in a bid to flip the 1st District seat.

Trump loomed large in the GOP primary, with Arrington taking aim at Sanford for his previous critical comments about the president. Then, on election day, Trump administered the coup de grace on his Twitter feed: “Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina.”

The final sentence is a reference to a 2009 episode in which Sanford, then governor of South Carolina, disappeared for several days after telling the media he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, while he was actually out of the country with a Argentinian woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

Sanford has been one of the few Republicans in Congress to speak out against Trump, calling his behavior in office “weird,” criticizing Trump’s disparagement of Haiti and countries in Africa and calling his policy of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum “an experiment with stupidity.”

In a concession speech before supporters in Mount Pleasant, Sanford stood by the criticisms that may have cost him his job.

“It may have cost me an election, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president because I didn’t think they would be concurrent with the promises I made when I first ran for office and for the very voices of the people of the 1st District that I represent,” he said.

Sanford had never previously been defeated in a career that stretches back to his first election to the U.S. House in 1994 and includes two terms as governor.

The only other incumbent House member to fall this year so far was North Carolina’s U.S. Robert Pittenger. However, Alabama U.S. Rep. Martha Roby was forced in a July runoff against a challenger who made an issue of her decision to rescind her endorsement of Trump after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in October 2016, in which he bragged about groping women.

Warren

McMaster

In the governor’s race, McMaster — who inherited the office last year when former Governor Nikki Haley became UN ambassador — took 45 percent of the vote to 22 percent for Warren, who edged out Catherine Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney who served in two state executive positions under Haley.

The winner will face State Rep. James Smith from Columbia, who won the Democratic nomination outright with 62 percent of the vote. Florence lawyer Marguerite Willis came in second with 27 percent, while Phil Noble, a Charleston business consultant who was an adviser to former President Barack Obama, came in third with 22 percent.

Democrats have not won a governor’s race in the Palmetto State in 20 years.

McMaster — the first statewide elected official to endorse President Trump in 2016 — was boosted by a tweeted endorsement from the president. Warren was the dark horse in the race, putting in more than $3 million of his own money to be financially competitive with McMaster and Templeton.

Templeton had touted her connections with Haley and campaigned against what she called a “good ol’ boy” network running South Carolina politics — a shot at McMaster, who has been in state politics for more than 20 years. But in the end, she could not hold off a charge by Warren, who cast himself as the “conservative outsider” in the race.

In the 5th District, which stretches from the Columbia suburbs north toward Charlotte, Parnell took 60 percent, surviving a Democratic primary against three little-known challengers after divorce records came to light three weeks before the primary revealing that he physically abused his first wife in the 1970s.

Norman

Parnell

Democratic leaders have urged Parnell to quit, but he has refused. He will now face Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman in November.

In a special election last year to fill the seat vacated when Mick Mulvaney became Trump’s budget director, Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs executive, shocked the political world by coming in just 2 points behind Norman in a district Trump carried by 19 points in 2016.

Based on the closeness of the special election, Parnell has raised more than $3.6 million for the rematch, putting him in the top 20 nationally among House candidates. But the abuse allegations likely extinguished any hope Democrats had of defeating Norman and flipping the seat.

Norman drew national headlines in April when he pulled out a loaded gun during a meeting with gun control advocates at a local diner. The incident came less than two months after the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Norman defended his actions, saying he was “tired of guns being demonized.”

Upstate in the 4th District, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg, Bright, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham in a GOP primary in 2014, took 25 percent to secure a runoff spot for the seat being given up by the retiring U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy.

Timmons was in second place with 19 percent, but he was only 350 votes ahead of State Rep. Dan Hamilton, also from Greenville, so news organizations did not make an immediate call for the second spot in the runoff.

Democrats in the district will also decide a runoff between Doris Lee Turner, a Greenville tax accountant, who took 29 percent, and Brandon Brown, a college administrator from Greenville, who took 28 percent.

South Carolina primary: Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford try to keep their jobs

Democrats in 5th U.S. House District will decide fate of Archie Parnell after spouse abuse revelations

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON (CFP) — Governor Henry McMaster and two of his GOP opponents will jockey for runoff spots in South Carolina’s Republican primary Tuesday, while U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford will try to hang on to his seat against a Republican primary challenger who has made his critical comments about President Donald Trump an issue in the race.

Republicans in the 4th U.S. House District will also cull down a staggering field of 12 candidates vying for the party’s nomination for an open seat, while in the 5th District, Democrat Archie Parnell will find out if his own party will abandon him over revelations about spousal abuse from four decades ago.

Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the governor’s race, recent polling shows McMaster — who inherited the office last year when Nikki Haley became UN ambassador — appears likely to snag one of the top two runoff spots but fall short of the outright majority he needs to avoid a runoff.

Warren

Templeton

McMaster

The chase for the second spot is between Catherine Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney who served in two state executive positions under Haley, and John Warren, a Greenville businessman and Iraq war veteran making his first run for political office.

McMaster and Templeton have both been competing for the imprimatur of the popular Haley, who appointed Templeton to head both the state health and labor departments and served for two years with McMaster as lieutenant governor before leaving for New York.

Haley, who is barred by federal law from getting involved in partisan political campaigns while serving in the executive branch, has remained neutral. But on her campaign website, Templeton features a quote from Haley calling Templeton a “great professional who hasn’t just been good at anything, she’s been great at everything.”

Warren has become the dark horse in the race, putting in more than $3 million of his own money to be financially competitive with McMaster and Templeton.

The Democratic governor’s race also appears headed to a runoff, with three candidates bunched together in pre-election polls. The field includes State Rep. James Smith from Columbia, Phil Noble, a Charleston business consultant who was an adviser to former President Barack Obama, and Marguerite Willis, a Florence lawyer and wife of former longtime Florence Mayor Frank Willis.

The two two finishers in both races will compete in June 26 runoffs. Also for the first time this year, candidates for governor have selected running mates for lieutenant governor, rather than having the office elected independently.

Katie Arrington

Mark Sanford

In the 1st U.S. House District, which includes Charleston and the Lowcountry along the Atlantic Coast, Sanford is facing a strong primary challenge from Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who has made Sanford’s previous comments about Trump an issue.

Sanford has been one of the few Republicans in Congress to speak out against the president, calling his behavior in office “weird,” criticizing Trump’s disparagement of Haiti and countries in Africa and calling his policy of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum “an experiment with stupidity.”

In an era in which anti-establishment outsiders often have the upper hand, Sanford is also a consummate insider, having served 14 years in the House and two terms as governor.

However, Sanford has also proven himself a political survivor, battling his way back to Congress in 2012 after his second term as governor spiraled down in scandal amid public revelations about an extramarital affair with an Argentinian lover.

In one of her ads, Arrington directly alluded to the scandal: “Bless his heart, but it’s time for Mark Sanford to take a hike — for real this time,” a reference to a lie Sanford told to the media that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually out of the country with his paramour.

The winner of the Republican primary will likely face Democrat Joe Cunningham, a Charleston attorney who has raised more than $500,000 in a bid to flip the 1st District seat.

Archie Parnell

In the 5th District, which stretches from the Columbia suburbs north toward Charlotte, Parnell is now trying to a survive a Democratic primary that had once looked like a sure thing, after divorce records came to light three weeks ago revealing that he physically abused his first wife in the 1970s.

Democratic leaders have urged Parnell to quit, but he refused. He faces three little-known candidates — one of whom is a professional circus clown — which should insure Parnell at least a place in a runoff if he can’t win the nomination outright.

In a special election last year to fill the seat vacated when Mick Mulvaney became Trump’s budget director, Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs executive, shocked the political world by coming in just 2 points behind Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, in a district Trump carried by 19 points in 2016.

Based on the closeness of the special election, Parnell raised more than $3.6 million for the rematch, putting him in the top 20 nationally among House candidates. But the abuse allegations probably extinguished any hopes Democrats had of defeating Norman and flipping the seat.

Norman drew national headlines in April when he pulled out a loaded gun during a meeting with gun control advocates at a local diner. The incident came less than two months after the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Norman defended his actions, saying he was “tired of guns being demonized.”

Upstate in the 4th District, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg, 12 Republicans are running for the seat being given up by the retiring U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, virtually ensuring a runoff.

Among the competitors are former State Senator Lee Bright from Spartanburg, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham in a GOP primary in 2014; State Senator William Timmons from Greenville; Josh Kimbrell, a Christian radio host from Spartanburg; and State Rep. Dan Hamilton from Greenville.

On the Democratic side of the ballot, five candidates are competing for runoff spots including Brandon Brown, a college administrator from Greenville; J.T. Davis, a Simpsonville businessman; Eric Graben, a Greenville attorney; Will Morin from Greenville, a former trainer for the U.S. Olympic luge team; and Lee Turner, a Greenville tax accountant.

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