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Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne first to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in 2020
Byrne’s past criticism of President Donald Trump could become an issue in the GOP primary
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff. Video below story.
MOBILE (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne has become the first Republican to enter the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama, drawing a contrast between what he called “bedrock” Alabama values and the priorities of Washington — and between his positions and those of the Democrat now holding the seat, Doug Jones.
“Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there,” Byrne said at his campaign kickoff February 20 at an oyster house in Mobile. “Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”
Byrne drew a contrast with Jones over his opposition to Brent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, his stand in favor of legal abortion, and his opposition to the president’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When the people we charge with patrolling our Southern border, with protecting you and me, tell us we need to build some more border wall, we build a border wall,” Byrne said, to applause from his supporters.
Byrne also warned his supporters that “the people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it, and they will stop at nothing.”
Byrne, 64, from Baldwin County just across the bay from Mobile, was elected to Alabama’s 1st District U.S. House seat in a 2013 special election and has won re-election easily three times. He had previously served in the State Senate and as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.
While Byrne offered full-throated support of Trump in his campaign kickoff, his previous comments about the president could come back to haunt him in a Republican primary in a state where the president remains popular.
During the 2016 campaign, after a video surfaced in which Trump was heard describing how he groped women’s genitals, Byrne withdrew his endorsement and called on Trump to exit the race, saying he could not defeat Hillary Clinton. However, he later made it clear that he did not support Clinton and would vote for the Republican ticket.
Byrne was joined by two of his House colleagues from Alabama, Martha Roby and Mo Brooks, in criticizing Trump during the campaign — and both of them discovered, as Byrne might, the political consequences of running afoul of the Trump faithful.
Brooks came in third place in the Republican primary in a 2017 special election to fill the Senate seat Jones now holds against two candidates who criticized him for his comments about Trump. Roby was forced into a primary runoff in 2018 for the same reason, although she survived.
Jones, 64, won a special election to the Senate in 2017 after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls, allegations which Moore denied. Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2020, in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 28 points.
During his time in the Senate, Jones has not tried to tack to the right to appeal to Alabama’s conservative electorate. He has supported the Democratic leadership on key votes, which included voting against the Republican tax cut plan and the Kavanaugh nomination, and he also supports same-sex marriage and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants.
Jones ended 2018 with $2.1 million in cash on hand for the 2020 race, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Given Jones perceived vulnerability, the race is expected to draw an number of Republican challengers into the primary with Byrne. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has formed an exploratory committee, and others considering the race are U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover and State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh from Anniston.
The Senate race in Alabama is one of 13 Southern Senate races in 2020. Only two of those seats are held by Democrats, Jones and Virginia’s Mark Warner.
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Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff:
Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation
Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.
Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.
In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.
“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”
But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”
Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.
“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”
The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.
Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.
In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”
Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.
“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”
Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.
Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”
“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”
Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.
The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave
The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.
But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.
Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”
“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”
Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.
If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.
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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he is not in racist photo, refuses to resign
Northam’s amended narrative comes after growing number of Democrats pressure him to step down
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — A day after saying he was “deeply sorry” for a photo on his medical school yearbook page in which two men are shown wearing racist costumes, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he believes he is not pictured in the photo and will not resign.
But while addressing reporters Saturday with his political career hanging by a thread, Northam admitted to another incident that could compound his difficulties — that he darkened his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984, the same year the offensive photo was published.
After the news conference, during which the governor offered a frequently disjointed narrative under questioning from reporters, his political position deteriorated further.
Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, called for his resignation, saying they “no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia.”
And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax — a Northam ally who would take over if he departs — issued a statement that stopped just short of calling on the governor to go.
“I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation,” said Fairfax, who is African American. “At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature.”
The Democratic governor said his initial statement on Friday — made after the photo appeared on a conservative website, Big League Politics — was an apology directed at people who were offended by the photo, not an admission that he had participated in it.
“When my staff showed the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Northam said the news conference in the Executive Mansion, standing next to his wife, Pam. “When I was confronted with these images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo.”
“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content,” he said. “It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”
The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.
The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of him, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
Northam said that after looking more closely at the photo and talking to his medical school classmates overnight, he does not believe he is the man in blackface and that “there is no way I have ever been” in a KKK uniform.
He also said he had no recollection of attending the party where the photo was taken.
The governor conceded that he understands “that many people will find this difficult to believe.”
Northam has come under intense pressure to resign, not only from Republicans but from within his own party. But he said he would stay as governor and try to repair relationships with those offended by the photo.
“If I were to listen to the voices calling on my to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”
However, Northam indicated he might revisit the issue of resignation if the controversy affected his ability to serve as governor.
The lengthening list of Democrats calling for Northam to step aside includes his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe; Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee; and six Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African Americans.
Missing from that list are Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
During the news conference, Northam said in 1984, while an Army doctor in San Antonio, he “darkened” his face with shoe polish while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he said he won because he could moonwalk.
He said he recalled the episode years later while talking about blackface with an African-American aide, which made him realize how offensive his conduct had been.
“In the time and place where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognized as abhorrent today were commonplace,” he said.
Northam — who ran for state office four times without anyone making the yearbook photo an issue — also said “there was an agenda involved” with whomever provided the yearbook page to Big League Politics, although he declined to speculate on a possible motive.
The website did not reveal the source of the photo.
The photo’s release came amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Northam over comments he made in support of a bill easing restrictions on late-term abortions, which led conservative critics to accuse him of endorsing infanticide.
Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, he served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.
He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate.
Fairfax, 39, an attorney from the Washington D.C. suburbs, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.
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Decision ’18: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith wins special election runoff in Mississippi
Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat in April, defeats Democrat Mike Espy
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest.
With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.
“The reason we won is because Mississippians know me and they know my heart,” Hyde-Smith told supporters in Jackson. “This victory, it’s about our conservative values.”
In his concession speech at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Espy told supports that his showing — the best by a Democrat in a Senate race in the state in 30 years — was “the beginning, not the end” of efforts to change Mississippi’s politics.
“When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” he said.
Hyde-Smith and Espy were facing in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters picked a permanent replacement in the special election.
During both the primary and special election, Hyde-Smith enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who tweeted on her behalf and made two appearances in the state on the day before the runoff vote.
Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.
Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993.
During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.
Given the state’s overwhelming Republican tilt, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate. However, she became ensnared in a series of controversies during the runoff campaign that gave Democrats hope for an upset.
Five days after the first election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.
During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.
“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.
Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.
Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting on a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is seen donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle while visiting Jefferson Davis’s home in Biloxi.
The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign accused news organizations of practicing “gotcha” journalism in an attempt to paint her as a racist. But the controversies put race front and center in the campaign, in the state with the largest African-American population in the country.
The election results illustrated those racial divisions. Espy easily carried Jackson and the majority African-American counties in the Mississippi Delta; Hyde-Smith won lopsided victories in majority white areas — up to 80 percent in some counties in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.
With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans will hold 24 out of the 28 Senate seats in the South, to just four Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.
Only one Senate seat changed hands in 2018 — in Florida, where Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.
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Decision ’18: Democrat Bill Nelson concedes defeat in Florida U.S. Senate race
Republican Governor Rick Scott will move from Tallahassee to Washington after winning recount
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space.
Scott’s victory means there will be just four Democrats among the 28 senators representing Southern states, down one from the last Congress. And Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction in 1875.
In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.”
“It’s been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience,” he said.
He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life.
“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable,” he said.
Scott, who has now won three consecutive statewide elections by thin margins, issued a statement thanking Nelson “for his years of public service.”
Nelson’s concession came after a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties and a hand recount of ballots with under-votes or over-votes in the Senate race did not overturn Scott’s margin of victory.
Scott defeated Nelson by just 10,033 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million cast.
Scott had led on election night, but late reports of ballots from Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties began narrowing the lead. Both Scott and President Donald Trump suggested that fraud was occurring in both counties, although evidence seemed to point to mismanagement rather than deliberate malfeasance.
In the following days, both campaigns went to court, and protests erupted outside elections offices in Broward — scenes reminiscent of the recount battle that erupted in the Sunshine State after the 2000 presidential election.
Nelson’s last hope was turning up uncounted ballots in Broward, where 25,000 fewer people voted in the Senate election than in the race for governor. But the hand recount confirmed that those ballots were indeed under-votes, which could have been caused by a flawed ballot design.
In Broward, the Senate race was listed at the bottom of a column underneath voting instructions, which could have resulted in some voters not seeing it.
Scott, 65, went into politics after building a fortune in the health care industry. Financial disclosure reports put his net worth at around $250 million.
He won the governorship in 2010 with a margin of just 1.2 percent and won re-election in 2014 in an even closer race, 1 percent. His margin over Nelson in the Senate race was narrower still, 0.12 percent.
Scott’s win means Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the next Senate to 47 for Democrats, a net pickup of two seats. One seat remains to be decided in Mississippi, where Republicans are favored.
Nelson, 76, won his first election, to the Florida House, in 1972. He served 12 years in the U.S. House and six years as Florida’s insurance commissioner before winning election to the Senate in 2000.
In 1986, while a sitting member of the House, Nelson went into space as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia. His district included the Kennedy Space Center.
Just 10 days after his return, a different space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during launch, which ended NASA’s program of sending civilians into space.
With Nelson’s defeat, the only Democrats representing Southern states will be Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.