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Decision sets up a open Senate race in Tennessee for the second election cycle in a row
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, bringing down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and setting up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.
“The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state,” Alexander said in a statement announcing his retirement. ” I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.”
“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”
Alexander’s decision means that Tennessee will have an open Senate contest for the second election cycle in a row. His longtime seatmate, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, did not seek re-election this year.
The contest will likely draw a large field, particularly on the Republican side. Among candidates being mentioned are outgoing Republican Governor Bill Haslam and two unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor in 2018, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and Randy Boyd.
Given the result of the 2018 Senate election — which Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won by 11 points — the GOP candidate will be heavily favored. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990.
Alexander, 78, is serving his third term in the Senate and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he has been a key player in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Alexander’s service in political office began in 1978, when he was elected governor on his second try. During that campaign, he walked more than 1,000 miles across the entire length of Tennessee to meet voters, wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt that became his trademark.
After leaving the governorship in 1987, Alexander became president of the University of Tennessee, a post he left in 1991 when he was named education secretary by President George H.W. Bush.
Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Senate and was easily re-elected in 2008 and 2014.
He is the only Tennessean ever elected as both governor and senator, and his 2008 vote total — 1.58 million votes — still stands the largest ever recorded by a statewide candidate.
In the Senate, Alexander had a conservative voting record but was also willing to work with Democratic colleagues on bipartisan measures. He drew a Tea Party challenger in his primary in 2014, Joe Carr, but won easily after getting the backing of the entire state GOP establishment.
Unlike Corker, Alexander has not been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, although he did publicly criticize the president’s executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries and opposed a program to separate migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alexander is also a trained pianist who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Tennessee seat will be one of 12 Southern Senate seats open in 2020, 10 of which are held by Republicans. Alexander is so far the only Southern incumbent to announce his retirement.
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Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.
The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.
Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.
However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.
Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.
Abrams has refused to concede.
“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”
Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.
In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.
The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.
In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.
Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.
Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.
Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.
The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.
Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.
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Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.
In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.
Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.
O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.
Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.
In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.
After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.
But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Republicans currently have a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.
Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.
Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.
In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.
Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.
The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.
In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.
While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.
The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.
Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.
Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.
In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.
When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.
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Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.
Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.
Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”
“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”
Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”
“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.
The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.
“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”
Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.
“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”
Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”
“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”
At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”
On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”
“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.
But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.
“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”
Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.
“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.
But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”
“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.
Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.
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Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.
“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”
“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”
While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.
President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”
“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.
Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.
Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.
Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”
In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”
“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”
Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.
Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.