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U.S. House Primary Wrap: Democrats pick female Marine fighter pilot for targeted seat in Kentucky

Voters in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas also pick party nominees for House seats that could help decide balance of power

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — In a year in which women candidates have been making noise nationally, Amy McGrath has made her own statement in Kentucky’s Bluegrass country by winning the Democratic nomination for a U.S. House seat over a candidate recruited by party leaders in Washington.

Meanwhile, in other May 22 primaries in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, Democrats narrowed the fields in races for seven GOP-held seats that are being targeted in November, while Texas Republicans picked nominees in four open seats that are expected to stay in Republican hands.

In central Kentucky’s 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, McGrath took 48 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who had been recruited for the race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won the nomination with a plurality and will now face GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November.

Democratic U.S. House nominee Amy McGrath

Declaring victory with her supporters in Richmond, McGrath — a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot whose call sign was “Krusty” — said “what happened tonight is amazing.”

“Six months ago, political pundits and establishment insiders didn’t think we could pull this off,” she said. “What those insiders maybe still don’t know is how this happened. Well, I know how it happened. It’s because you all care about the future of our country.”

McGrath began her campaign in August 2017 with a video in which she told how, as a young girl growing up in Kentucky, she decided she wanted to be a fighter pilot but discovered that women were not allowed to serve in combat. She then wrote letters to members of Congress in which she asked why she was barred from serving, including a letter to Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, which she said was never answered.

After the ban was lifted, McGrath enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps aviator before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

McGrath’s video went viral, triggering a wave of contributions to her long-shot campaign. She now raised almost $2 million in her quest to unseat Barr, who is seeking his fourth term.

Another positive sign for McGrath: More than 100,000 Democrats turned out to vote in the primary, compared to just 49,000 Republicans in a district President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. However, GOP turnout also lagged behind Democratic turnout in 2016, when Barr took 61 percent.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s 3rd District in metro Louisville, Republicans nominated Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department, to face U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who has drawn the particular ire of Republicans nationally with his strong criticism of Trump, including introducing articles of impeachment.

In Georgia, the House races receiving the most attention are in the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election, Democrats have narrowed their field to Lucy McBath, a gun control activist from Cobb County, and Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who will compete in a July 24 runoff.

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.

Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when the man she defeated in the special election, Democrat Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, Democrats Carolyn Bordeaux and David Kim advanced to the runoff for the right to face Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in November.

Bordeaux, from Suwanee, is a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. Kim, from Duluth, is the son of Korean immigrants who owns a company that provides tutoring for students. If elected, he would become Georgia’s first Asian-American congressman, running in a district with a growing Asian population.

While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in the 7th District in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

Arkansas-SQIn Arkansas, the House race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops.

The Democratic nominee will be State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who won the primary without a runoff.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

In Texas, Democrats have picked nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall.

In the 7th District, in metro Houston, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated liberal activist Laura Moser for the right to take on Republican U.S. John Culberson, in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Fletcher had been backed by the DCCC against Moser, who was seen by Democratic leaders as too liberal for the district.

In the 21st District, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes in part of the Texas Hill Country, Republican Chip Roy will face Democrat Joseph Kosper for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a district which Trump carried by 10 points.

Roy served as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Kosper is a former U.S. Army officer and technology entrepreneur.

In the 23rd District — the largest Texas district geographically, sprawling from the suburbs of San Antonio to near El Paso — Democrats picked Gina Ortiz Jones to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in November. Clinton also carried this majority-Latino swing district, which has changed hands four times in the last 12 years.

Jones is a former military intelligence officer who worked as a U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. If elected, she would be the first open lesbian, Iraq War veteran and Filipino American to represent Texas in Washington.

In the 32nd District, in metro Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred defeated businesswoman Lillian Salerno and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who is trying to keep a traditionally Republican seat in a district that Clinton also carried. Allred, a civil rights attorney, played five seasons in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans before his career ended after a neck injury.

Also in Texas, the fields have been set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

A special election is being held in June to fill the remainder of Farenthold’s current term, with Cloud, Holguin and seven other candidates on the ballot.

South Carolina U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy bowing out of Congress

Gowdy, chair of the House Oversight Committee, won’t seek re-election in 2018

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who drew national attention for leading a congressional investigation into the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, has announced he is retiring from Congress after four terms.

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina

In a January 31 statement announcing his departure, Gowdy, a former federal and state prosecutor, said he planned to return to work in the criminal justice system, although he gave no specifics.

“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” the Republican lawmaker said in his statement. “As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding.”

“The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us there is a time and a season for all things. There is a time to start and a time to end. There is a time to come and a time to go. This is the right time, for me, to leave politics and return to the justice system.”

Gowdy, who was named chairman of the House Oversight Committee last summer, becomes the eighth Republican committee chair overall, and the sixth Southern chair, to forgo a re-election bid this year.

His election will open up a seat in South Carolina’s 4th District, in metro Greenville-Spartanburg. The district is solidly Republican, so Gowdy’s successor is likely to be picked in the June primary. Filing for office begins March 30.

Gowdy, 53, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. He quickly rose to prominence after former House Speaker John Boehner appointed him to head a special investigative committee that looked into a terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

The most lasting impact from that investigation was the disclosure that than-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used a private email server during her tenure at the State Department, an issue which dogged her throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

Gowdy joins a growing list of Southern House committee chairs who are leaving Congress, which includes Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chair of the Financial Services Committee; Diane Black of Tennessee, chair of the House Budget Committee, who is running for governor; Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Joe Barton of Texas, chair of the House Energy Commitee; and Gregg Harper of Mississippi, chair of the House Administration Committee.

So far, 15 Southern House Republicans have announced they won’t seek re-election in 2018, including six from Texas and two each from Tennessee and Florida. Only two Southern Democrats aren’t running, both in Texas.

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t run in 2018 after questions about harassment settlement with employee

Farenthold denies wrongdoing but blames political inexperience for allowing “unprofessional” work environment

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his use of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former employee, which he said has become a “political distraction.”

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, are false, but he conceded that his lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

In  2014, Greene, sued Farenthold for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

Farenthold’s decision not to seek re-election came two weeks after after Politico reported that the $84,000 paid to settle that case came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers. The congressman then announced that he would take out a personal loan to reimburse the government for the settlement.

In his Facebook video, Farenthold said he planned to make “meaningful changes” in the operation of his congressional office.

“I owe that to everyone — my constituents, my family, and this institution,” he said.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. He was already facing a 2018 primary challenge from Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun resigned from his post as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to enter the GOP race.

Farenthold is the eighth member of Texas’s 36-member congressional delegation to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Joe Barton, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Texas U.S. Rep. Joe Barton announces retirement from Congress amid flap over nude photos

Barton’s departure sets up competitive race for GOP-held seat in metro Dallas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DALLAS (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, the dean of the Texas House delegation, has announced he will not seek re-election in 2018, a week after acknowledging that he exchanged a nude photograph of himself with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship — a photo which wound up on social media.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas

Barton, 68, who has served in Congress since 1985, told the Dallas Morning News that “there are enough people who lost faith in me that it’s time to step aside.” He said that while he still thinks he could win re-election in the 6th District, “it would be a nasty campaign, a difficult campaign for my family.”

Barton also stressed to the News that unlike a number of other politicians recently ensnared in sex scandals, his conduct was entirely consensual: “I am not guilty of sexual harassment.”

The controversy now ending Barton’s career began when a nude photo purportedly of him began circulating on Twitter, and a woman who said she had a sexual relationship with him told the Washington Post that he had threatened to contact the U.S. Capitol Police if she disseminated the photo.

The woman told the Post that she did not send the photo out on Twitter, and it remains unclear who is responsible.

After the Post story, Barton issued a statement in which he admitting having consensual sexual relationships with other women while separated from his second wife, prior to their divorce in 2015.

“Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down,” he said in the statement. Barton has also said that police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the release of the photo.

Barton’s departure creates a sudden, unexpected opening that will likely draw a crowd of aspiring congressmen, particularly on the Republican side. The 6th District takes a swath of suburbs between Dallas and Ft. Worth, plus Ellis and Navarro counties to the South.

While the district leans Republican, the tilt is not overwhelmingly so — Barton carried it with 58 percent of the vote in 2016, and Donald Trump took just 54 percent. Five Democrats are already running for the seat.

Barton, who is currently the longest-serving member of the Texas delegation, becomes the seventh Texas U.S. House member to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

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