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GOP favored in 7 of 9 Southern contests; Democrats have a shot at 2
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — The 2016 election will feature nine contests across 14 Southern states, all of which are currently held by Republicans. And there appears to be precious little opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in the GOP’s regional hegemony.
Florida and North Carolina appear to be the best shots Democrats have to reverse the region’s GOP tide, although the decision by Marco Rubio to run for re-election significantly bolsters Republican chances in the Sunshine State. Louisiana is another possibility if the 24-candidate free-for-all in the Pelican State’s all-party jungle primary creates an unexpected Democratic opportunity. The other six races are foregone conclusions, barring some unforeseen Republican calamity.
Republicans currently hold 24 of the 28 Southern Senate seats, including both seats in 11 out of the 14 Southern states.
Here is the 2016 rundown:
Alabama: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby is running for a seventh term. Democrats aren’t putting up a fight, letting their nomination go to a marijuana rights activist. Given that a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State since 1990, Shelby is virtually assured of another term, at the end of which he’ll be 88 years old. RATING: SAFE GOP
Arkansas: Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is seeing a second term, despite suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2014 that kept him away from Washington for two months. The Democrats were unsuccessful in getting their top pick, former Governor Mike Beebe, to run, though they did manage to recruit a credible challenger in Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville. Still, a statewide race is a hard slog these days for a Democrat in the Natural State. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Florida: Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s decision to reverse course and seek re-election significantly improved Republican prospects for keeping this seat. Rubio will face U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy from Jupiter, who won the primary over liberal firebrand Alan Grayson with support from the Democratic establishment. Rubio has to be considered a favorite here, but if Hillary Clinton turns out to have coattails in the Sunshine State, this could be a race in November. RATING: GOP FAVORED
Georgia: Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is running for re-election, despite publicly disclosing that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Peach State Democrats have recruited Jim Barksdale, the owner of an Atlanta investment firm, to take on Isakson. However, that strategy didn’t work in 2014 with Michelle Nunn, and there is little indication that Isakson is in trouble this time around. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Kentucky: Now that Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul ended his presidential run, he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election. Democrats have managed to recruit a high-profile challenger with deep pockets, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. But in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, Gray will have a big mountain to climb. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Louisiana: After losing a bid for governor, Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate, leaving his seat up for grabs. A gaggle of 24 candidates are seeking the seat, running in the state’s all-party jungle primary in November, with the top two advancing to a December runoff.
Democrats running include Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer. The Republican side of the ballot includes two sitting U.S. House members, Charles Boustany of Lafayette and John Fleming of Minden; State Treasurer John Kennedy; Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese-American who represented the New Orleans area in Congress from 2009 to 2011; and Rob Maness, who made a spirited but unsuccessful Tea Party-backed bid for the Senate in 2014. White racist David Duke also filed on the GOP ticket.
While Republicans should be favored to keep this seat, Vitter’s loss to a Democrat in the governor’s race shows a flip for the Democrats is possible, if they can unite behind a high-profile challenger. Democrats could also benefit by having fewer candidates dividing up their vote in the primary. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Oklahoma: Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford is facing voters for the second time in two years after being elected to serve out the remainder of former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn’s term in 2014. Given that Lankford cruised to victory with 68 percent of the vote last time and Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Oklahoma in 25 years, this race is a foregone conclusion. RATING: SAFE GOP
North Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr is running for a third term, and he dodged a major bullet when former Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, who was bounced from the Senate in 2014, decided not to run against him. Instead, he will face Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor. North Carolina is a state where Democrats can still win statewide races, but Ross starts from well behind. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
South Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, is facing voters for the second time in two years, after being appointed in 2013 to replace former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. This time, he’s running for a full term in his own right, and he has not drawn a major challenger. He took 61 percent of the vote in 2014; count this race as a slam dunk. RATING: SAFE GOP
GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.
The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.
Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.
However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.
The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.
Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:
Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.
Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.
West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.
Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.
Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.
Poll has Democrat Hagan and Republican Tillis within the margin of error
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
The Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed Hagan’s support at 45 percent to 43 percent for Tillis, which was within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
The poll found a significant gender gap in the race. Hagan held an 18-point lead among women, while Tillis had a 14-point lead among men.
Hagan, 61, who is seeking a second term, is one of the top Republican targets in this election cycle. Tillis, 53, won a hotly contested GOP primary to win the right to take her on.
Outside groups supporting both candidates have already poured more than $10 million into the race.
Tillis turns back a challenge from Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon and will now face Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in November
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
CHARLOTTE (CFP) — North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis has beaten back a Tea Party challenger to win the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, avoiding a divisive and expensive primary runoff that could have hurt GOP chances to take the seat out of Democratic hands.
Tillis captured 46 percent in the May 6 primary, ahead of Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon with 27 percent and Mark Harris with 18 percent. Under state law, Tillis needed to clear 40 percent to avoid a runoff, which would have extended the primary fight until July 15.
He will now face Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in a race Republicans have targeted in their quest to gain a Senate majority.
Speaking to supporters at his victory rally in Charlotte, Tillis called Hagan an “echo chamber” for President Obama and vowed “to beat Kay Hagan and make (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid irrelevant in American life.”
“I want you all to grab a broom, and let’s sweep Kay Hagan out of office, and let’s sweep Harry Reid right into the back row,” he said.
Brannon, 53, an obstetrician from Cary making his first bid for political office, ran with the backing of Tea Party organizations and FreedomWorks, an anti-establishment conservative group.
Brannon had hoped a last-minute, high-profile visit from Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul on the day before the primary would enable him to force Tillis into a runoff.
Harris, 48, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, was one of the leaders behind a 2012 ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the Tar Heel State and was endorsed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In his first television ad, Harris vowed to “stand up and defend the values that are the foundation of our country.”
Hagan, 60, first elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year.
In a statement issued after the primary results came in, Hagan said Tillis’ “priorities are out of sync with our common sense North Carolina values.”
“As we say in our state toast, North Carolina is supposed to be a place ‘where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow great.’ I still believe in this ideal, but it is on the line this year as Thom Tillis has abandoned this shared value,” she said.
North Carolina is one of four Southern states carried by Romney in 2012 where seats held by Democrats are up for grabs this year.The others are Arkansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia.
Republicans face a tall order of ousting incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina and keeping a seat in Kentucky
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
This year, 13 of the 14 Southern states — all save Florida — will have a Senate election. And a look at the map shows that the GOP needs to make a Shermanesque march across the South to have any hope of taking the Senate.
Barring any unforseen upsets, we can take nine of the 15 Southern races off the board — Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and two in Oklahoma.
In all of those states except Virginia and Georgia, Republican incuments are running again and are likely to win. One of the GOP-held seats in Oklahoma is open but unlikely to turn blue.
In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner is running and favored, although the entry into the race of former Bush aide and GOP bigwig Ed Gillespie could make it interesting. The seat in Georgia is open, but, given the Peach State’s Republican proclivities, the party’s nominee would be in the driver’s seat.
That leaves five Southern races that will be pivotal — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. Democrats hold four of those seats; Republicans, only Kentucky.
If Republicans sweep all five of those seats, they will make a net gain of four seats. That would be enough to take control of the Senate if, as expected, the GOP takes away open Democratic seats in Montana and South Dakota.
But that also means that there is little room for error. Nearly all of the Southern dominoes have to fall the right way. And that’s easier said than done.
Louisiana is perhaps the weakest link for Republicans, who have been trying, and failing, to get Mary Landrieu out of the Senate for the past 18 years. She has proven herself to be the tabby cat of Louisiana politics — and of her nine lives, only three are spent.
North Carolina is also no slam dunk for the GOP, which is trying to defeat freshman Senator Kay Hagan. This is a state, after all, that Barack Obama carried in 2008 and almost carried in 2012, and the place where John Edwards won a Senate seat not that long ago.
In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor is in the political fight of his life against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton. Yet, Pryor holds one of the most storied names in Arkansas political history. And this, remember, is the Land of Clinton, where Democrats still hold most of the statewide offices.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a brutal primary fight with Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin, with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes waiting in the wings.
Smart money is still on McConnell, mainly because he has a mountain of money and is running in a state Obama lost by more than 20 points. But there is no question he faces a battle for survival.
At the end of the day, Republicans are likely to some of these Southern seats, maybe even most of them. But a complete sweep would seem to be a stretch.
So if they want to take back the Senate, Republicans may need to expand the map.
The best prospects for that are races in Michigan and Iowa, where Democratic incumbents are retiring, and New Hampshire, where one-time GOP star Scott Brown may cross the border from Masschusetts to take on Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Another possibility is Alaska, where Republicans have high hopes of ousting Democatic Senator Mark Begich.
Virgnia is another possibility, although Democrats could potentially also make Georgia competitive.
Any way you slice it, though, the South is where Senate control will be won or lost — and where the GOP will need the run of a lifetime in 2014.