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Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.
Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.
Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.
Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.
The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.
In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.
The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.
One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.
In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.
However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.
Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.
The Power of Trump
The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.
Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.
And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)
Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.
Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.
Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.
Adding to the MAGA Squad
Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.
In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)
Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.
Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?
No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.
Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.
Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.
A victory by either in November will make history.
Palmetto State “RINOs”
The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.
Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.
Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.
As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.
Thinking Outside The Box
After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.
Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.
Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.
Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.
Beto O’Crist for Governor
The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.
But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.
But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.
Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?
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Jennifer Strahan comes out swinging in 14th District race with broadside against “unserious” politicians
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — Saying “this is not the time for unserious politicians who just want to hear themselves talk,” Georgia health care consultant Jennifer Strahan has launched a Republican primary campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose tumultuous tenure in Congress has trailed clouds of controversy.
“I’m a no-nonsense conservative who believes our country and our culture have gotten off track,” Strahan said in her announcement video released September 15. “Like a lot of you, I’m tired of out-of-touch people in Washington putting what’s good for themselves ahead of what’s good for the country.”
Strahan’s entry in the race will sets up what is likely to be one of the most contentious GOP primary contests of the 2022 cycle, with the polarizing Greene a magnet for campaign cash from both her detractors and her admirers.
Four Democrats have also entered the race to unseat Greene but would be long shots in the overwhelmingly Republican 14th District, which takes in the state’s northwest corner.
Strahan, who lives at the southern edge of the district, holds a doctorate in health care leadership and runs a health care consulting company. This is her first bid for political office.
Watch Strahan’s announcement video at end of article.
Responding to Strahan’s entry into the race, Greene released a statement calling herself “the most effective member of the GOP conference this session because I’ve stood on the House floor and demanded roll call votes on the Democrats’ Communist agenda and the rest of the party has joined my efforts.”
Greene said she has led efforts “to Impeach Joe Biden, Fire Tony Fauci, Expel Maxine Waters, Eliminate The ATF, and Ban Vaccine Mandates” and that if Republicans want to regain control of the House in 2022, “we aren’t going to do it with pathetic empty campaign promises written by DC consultants.”
Greene was elected to the open seat in 2020 after parachuting into the 14th District, where she did not then live, after Republican incumbent Tom Graves retired. During the campaign, she had to explain her previous dalliance with the QAnon conspiracy theory and suggestions that the Parkland school shooting in Florida was a hoax.
Arriving in Washington with a take-no-prisoners style, she led objections to President Joe Biden’s Electoral College certification, advancing unsupported claims that Donald Trump actually won the election. The House Democratic majority voted to boot her from her committee assignments after she was accused of threatening Democratic members.
Greene has also been fined twice for refusing to wear a mask on the floor of the House and raised eyebrows by telling attendees at a political event in Alabama that people might shoot Biden’s “police state friends” trying to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. Twitter has suspended her repeatedly for posting vaccine disinformation.
She also repeatedly compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and even voted against giving the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who protected the Capitol during the January 6th attack by a pro-Trump mob.
But Greene has also spun all of that controversy into campaign gold, raising nearly $4.8 million for her re-election contest and giving her a head start over Strahan and her other challengers.
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Greene expresses regret for embracing conspiracy theories but does not address past support for violence against Democratic colleagues
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — On a largely party-line vote, the U.S. House Thursday took the unprecedented step of removing Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments after GOP leaders refused to do so in the wake of Greene’s past online support for conspiracy theories and violence against Democrats.
Family members of victims of the deadly 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida — which Greene has in the past questioned as a hoax — lobbied members to take action against Greene.
The move means that while Greene will remain a voting member of Congress, she won’t be able to participate in any of the committee work that is a key part of a member’s job.
The vote came after Greene took the floor to express regret about her past embrace of QAnon and conspiracy theories about school shootings and the 9/11 terror attacks, during which she also blamed the news media for mischaracterizing her views and lamented “cancel culture.”
“I think it’s important for all of us to remember that none of us is perfect,” she said, adding that if Democrats “want to condemn me and crucify me in the public square for words that I said and I regret a few years ago, then I think we’re in a real big problem.’
In her remarks, Greene did not address her past expressions of support for violence against Democrats, including liking a Facebook post in 2019 that called for putting “a bullet in the head” of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Those threats were front and center in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s impassioned argument for the resolution, during which he brandished a campaign poster showing Greene carrying a AR-15 rifle next to pictures of three Democratic women known as “The Squad,” over a caption reading “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.”
“I ask my colleagues to look at that image and tell me what message you think it sends,” he said. “These three faces are real people.”
The three members of The Squad are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. In 2019, Greene posted a video arguing that Omar and Tlaib could not serve in Congress because they are Muslim.
Greene — calling herself a “very regular person” and wearing a mask emblazoned with the phrase “Free Speech” — explained that she became interested in the QAnon conspiracy in 2018 due to her frustration about events in Washington, including “Russian collusion,” which she dismissed as a false conspiracy theory.
“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong,” she said.
She also noted that she did not advance QAnon during her campaign for the House last year or since she was elected to represent Georgia’s 14th District, which covers the northwestern corner of the state.
Despite previous expressions of support for conspiracy theories holding that mass school shootings were staged and expressing skepticism about official accounts of the 9/11 attacks, she said she now believes that “school shootings are absolutely real” and that “9/11 absolutely happened.”
However, she also said the news media is “just as guilty as QAnon in presenting truth and lies.”
“You only know me by how Media Matters, CNN, MSNBC and the rest of the mainstream media is portraying me,” she said. “Big media companies can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.”
In her remarks Thursday, Greene did not address one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories that she supported in 2018, which posited that wildfires in California may have been ignited by lasers from outer space by a cabal that included a Jewish-owned bank.
The fuse leading to Thursday’s vote was lit when Republican leaders appointed Greene to the budget and education committees, with the latter appointment triggering particular outrage because of her past comments about school shootings.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has condemned Greene’s earlier comments but declined to strip her of her committee assignments, prompting Democrats to take action, which McCarthy dismissed as a “partisan power grab.”
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Freshmen group includes youngest member in nearly 60 years, wave of Republican women
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Members of the new 117th Congress will be sworn into office on Sunday, including 25 new Southern U.S. House members and two new Southern senators.
The Southern House freshmen include seven Republican women, part of a wave elected in November that more the doubled the number of GOP women in the chamber, and 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who is the youngest member of the House sworn in since 1965.
Also among the new Southern House members is former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, whom President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to elevate to Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018. He will represent now represent the Texas Panhandle.
Republican Stephanie Bice from Oklahoma City is making history as the first Iranian-American to serve in Congress. Her father emigrated from Iran in the 1970s.
Byron Donalds, the new member representing Southwest Florida, will be one of just two African American Republicans in the House and three in Congress overall.
Full list of new Southern House members at bottom of story
In the Senate, Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, and Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, will join a Southern contingent that now includes 25 Republicans and just three Democrats, after Tuberville defeated Doug Jones in November.
Lawmakers were sworn in during a rare Sunday session because the Constitution prescribes January 3 as the date for opening a new Congress.
Sunday’s House session is scheduled to include a moment of silence for Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died from COVID-19 days before he was set to be sworn in.
While both the House and Senate were observing coronavirus precautions, including masks and social distancing, one new member from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was spotted on the floor without a mask, prompting admonishment by House staff.
During orientation for new members, she had dismissed masks — which are required on the House floor — as “oppressive.”
Among the new members sworn in Sunday was one very familiar face — Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, who served 11 terms in the House before being defeated in 2018, then claiming a seat from a different district in November.
Sessions and Jackson are part of a group of seven new members from Texas, marking a turnover in nearly a fifth of the Lone Star State’s delegation amid a wave of retirements. All are Republicans.
Florida has five new members; Georgia, four; North Carolina, three; and Alabama, two. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia each have one new member. Delegations from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia were unchanged.
Eleven of the 25 new Southern members are women (seven Republicans and four Democrats), part of the largest group of women (121) ever sworn into a single Congress. The new Congress will also feature a record number of Republican women at 29, up from 13 in the last Congress.
The service of one Southern House member in the 117th Congress will be brief — Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who will leave to become a senior aide to President-elect Joe Biden once he is sworn in on January 20.
Special elections will be held in Louisiana for Richmond and Letlow’s seats in March; neither are expected to change hands between parties.
The Constitution requires members of the House to be at least 25 years of age, a threshold Cawthorn met in August after winning the Republican primary in his Western North Carolina district. He will be the youngest House member since Jed Johnson Jr., a Democrat who represented Oklahoma for a single term between 1965 and 1967.
Sessions represented a Dallas-area seat during his first stint in the House, which he lost in 2018 to Collin Allred. Rather than try to reclaim it in 2020, he ran in a vacant seat in a district that includes Waco, where he grew up.
Of the 25 new Southern members, 21 were Republicans and just four were Democrats. Overall, Republicans hold 99 Southern seats and Democrats 52, with Letlow’s seat vacant.
Four Southern states — Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia — have no Democrats in their House delegations, while five others — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — have just one.
In only one Southern state do Democrats hold a majority of seats, Virginia, which is sending seven Democrats and only four Republicans to Washington.
Here is a list of new Southern House members, by state:
Kat Kammack, R, 3rd District (Gainesville, North-Central Florida)
Scott Franklin, R, 15 District (Lakeland, eastern Tampa suburbs)
Byron Donalds, R, 19th District (Fort Myers, Southwest Florida)
Carlos Giménez, R, 26th District (south Miami-Dade, Florida Keys)
Maria Elvira Salazar, R, 27th District (Miami-Dade)
Nikema Williams, D, 5th District (Atlanta)
Carolyn Bourdeaux, D, 7th District (northeast Atlanta suburbs)
Andrew Clyde, R, 9th District (Gainesville, Northeast Georgia)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, R, 14th District (Rome, Northwest Georgia)
Stephanie Bice, R, 5th District (metro Oklahoma City)
Nancy Mace, R, 1st District (Charleston, Low Country)
Diana Harshbarger, R, 1st District (Tri-Cities, East Tennessee)
Pat Fallon, R, 4th District (Northeast Texas)
August Pfluger, R, 11th District (Midland, San Angelo, west-central Texas)
Ronny Jackson, R, 13th District (Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Panhandle)
Pete Sessions, R, 17th District (Waco, central-east Texas)
Troy Nehls, R, 22nd District (western Houston suburbs)
Tony Gonzales, R, 23rd District (West Texas)
Beth Van Duyne, R, 24th District (metro Dallas-Forth Worth)
Bob Good, R, 5th District (Charlottesville, central Virginia)
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Marjorie Taylor Green’s victory in the 14th District primary puts her on track to go to Washington; Andrew Clyde wins GOP runoff in 9th District
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
ROME, Georgia (CFP) — In what may become an ongoing headache for Republican leaders in Washington, Marjorie Taylor Greene — who has been denounced for posting racist and anti-Muslim videos, peddling an anti-Semitic trope and giving credence to the QAnon conspiracy theory — has won the party’s nomination for the 14th District in northwest Georgia, putting her on track to win a seat in Congress in November from the heavily Republican district.
Greene, a businesswoman from Milton who did not even live in the district when the race began, took 60 percent in the Republican runoff to defeat John Cowan, a Rome neurosurgeon who had denounced her as “crazy” and a “circus act.”
After Greene came in first place in June, videos she posted on social media surfaced in which she decried an “Islamic invasion,” said African Americans were “slaves” to the Democratic Party, and pushed a false conspiracy theory that liberal megadonor George Soros had collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.
She also expressed her belief in the validity of QAnon, a conspiracy theory that posits that a secret “deep state” is working to undermine President Donald Trump.
Greene pushed back against the string of negative stories by denouncing them as “fake news” pushed by news media outlets trying to derail her campaign.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who may soon have Greene in his caucus — called the videos “appalling” but did not get directly involved in the runoff. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise supported Cowan and raised money for him.
The 14th District is solidly Republican. The only person standing between Greene and Congress is Democrat Kevin Van Ausdel, a financial technology professional from Catoosa who has raised less than $20,000 for the race.
The seat opened when Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves announced his retirement. Greene was initially running in the 6th District, where she lived, but switched to the 14th District race after Graves announced his departure.
Gurtler, from Tiger, was defeated by Andrew Clyde, who owns a firearms business in Jackson County.
During his four years in the legislature, Gurtler had so irritated Republican leaders that they unsuccessfully tried to defeat him in a primary in 2018. Party leaders who did not want to see Gurtler in Congress pulled out all the stops to support Clyde, who was making his first run for political office and had little public profile before the race began.
Clyde will now face Democrat Devin Pandy, a retired Army veteran and actor from Commerce, who won his party’s runoff.
Like the 14th District, the 9th is also solidly Republican. The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate.