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Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call

GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lgWASHINGTON (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.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

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.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

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.

North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.

Poll: Louisiana U.S. Senate race heading for a runoff

Control of the Senate could be in limbo until December if a runoff is needed to settle the race

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — The U.S. Senate race in Louisiana appears headed for a runoff that’s still to close to call, which could leave the balance of power in the Senate up in the air until December, according to a new poll.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

The CNN/ORC International poll released September 28 shows incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu at 43 percent among likely voters, ahead of GOP U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy at 40 percent and Rob Maness, a Republican with Tea Party backing, at 9 percent.

In Louisiana, all candidates, regardless of party, run in the November “jungle” primary. If no one reaches a majority, the top two vote getters meet in a runoff December 6.

With a  margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, the poll indicates that a runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy is likely.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

In a hypothetical match up in the runoff, Cassidy was the choice of 50 percent to 47 percent for Landrieu, which was within the poll’s margin of error. However, among the larger pool of registered voters, Landrieu led Cassidy 51 percent to 45 percent — an indication that increasing voter turnout may be key to Landrieu’s survival.

The Louisiana race is one of eight contested Senate races across the South that are likely to decide which party controls the Senate.

A runoff would be nothing new for Landrieu. She faced a runoffs in 1996 and 2002 and survived both times.

The poll also found that just 37 percent of likely voters in Louisiana approved of President Obama’s job performance, compared to 61 percent who disapproved.

Edwin Edwards running for U.S. House seat in Louisiana

The former governor, who served eight years in prison for corruption, is attempting a comeback at age 86

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

louisiana mugBATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CFP) — Edwin Edwards, the colorful and controversial former Louisiana governor, will attempt a political comeback by seeking the state’s 6th District U.S. House seat.

Edwards, 86, a Democrat who served eight years in federal prison on corruption charges, announced his run March 17 during an appearance at the Baton Rouge Press Club.

House hopeful Edwin Edwards

House hopeful Edwin Edwards

“I’m positive I can run, and I’m confident I can win,” said Edwards, who was accompanied by his wife, Trina — 51 years his junior — and their 1-year-old son.

Edwards said he did not think his run would be an embarrassment to Louisiana.

“It might be something the state should be proud of because forgiveness, understanding and second chances are important in life and in politics,” he said.

Edwards is seeking the House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. The district takes in parts of nine parishes in and around Baton Rouge.

Edwards told reporters that he had considered challenging Landrieu before deciding on the House race. As a convicted felon, Louisiana law bars him for running for a statewide office.

The district is heavily Republican, giving Mitt Romney 67 percent of the vote in 2012. However, with 10 Republicans in the race, Edwards has a good shot at making it through the state’s jungle primary, where candidates from all parties run in the same race and the two top vote getters advance to a runoff.

Edwards served a record four terms as Louisiana’s governor between 1972 and 1996. In 1991, after being acquitted of federal corruption charges, he won a runoff against white supremacist David Duke. During that campaign, a popular bumper sticker urged Louisianians to “Vote For the Crook. It’s Important.”

In 2001, Edwards was convicted on 17 counts of bribery, extortion, fraud and racketeering stemming from his last term as governor. Among the charges was that he took $400,000 from former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo for help him secure a casino license.

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Edwards was released in 2011 after serving eight years. Less than a month later, he married Trina Edwards, who had been a prison pen pal. The couple starred in a reality television show, The Governor’s Wife, which aired on the A&E cable network in 2013.

U.S. Senator David Vitter running for Louisiana governor

Vitter says the governorship will be his last political job “period”

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Trying to swap the swamps of Washington for the bayous of Baton Rouge, Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter will seek the governorship of his home state of Louisiana in 2015.

U.S. Senator David Vitter

U.S. Senator David Vitter

“I can have a bigger impact in addressing the unique challenges and opportunities we face in Louisiana, helping us truly reach our full potential,” Vitter said in YouTube video announcing his candidacy posted January 21.

Vitter, 52, who served five years in the U.S. House before being elected senator in 2004, also said the governorship “will be my last political job, elected or appointed, period.”

Because Louisiana holds its state elections in off years and his Senate term doesn’t end until 2016, Vitter can pursue the governorship in 2015 without giving up his seat. And if he is elected governor, he will be in the unique position of being able to appoint a successor for the rest of his Senate term.

He will face at least one fellow Republican in the governor’s race, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, 59, who issued a statement saying Vitter’s entry was “expected.”

“It is my hope that the governor’s race will offer Louisianians the opportunity to compare and contrast the records of all the candidates, as well as the merits of their ideas to keep our state growing,” Dardenne said.

In Louisiana, Vitter, Dardenne and all other candidates from any party run together in a single primary, with the top two vote getters vying in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

One Democrat has also announced, State Rep. John Bel Edwards, 47, from Roseland. There has also been speculation that another prominent and popular Democrat, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu might make the governor’s race if he wins re-election in February.

Landrieu is the brother of Vitter’s seatmate in the Senate, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, who is up for re-election in 2014.

One question in the 2015 governor’s race will be whether any of Vitter’s opponents dredge up a prostitution scandal that ensnared the senator in 2007.

After Vitter’s number turned up in a published list of phone records of a Washington madam, Debora Jeane Palfrey, he admitted to what he termed “serious sin,” although he did not directly admit to patronizing prostitutes. Vitter, a Roman Catholic, said he had been forgiven by God and his family.

In 2010, his Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, attempted to make the prostitution scandal an issue, even airing TV ads about the allegations. But in the end, Vitter buried Melancon, capturing 57 percent of the vote.

A poll taken in November by Southern Media and Opinion research put Vitter’s approval rating in Louisiana at 58 percent,  compared to 46 percent for Senator Landrieu and just 38 percent for President Obama.

Vitter’s approval rating was 42 percent among Democrats and 84 percent among Republicans.

Watch the video of Vitter’s announcement:

Analysis: GOP needs an (unlikely) Southern sweep to take back the Senate

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

southern states smThis 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.ME sm

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.

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