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State of the Races: U.S. Senate 2016

GOP favored in 7 of 9 Southern contests; Democrats have a shot at 2

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(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:

shelby

Shelby

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

Boozman

Boozman

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

rubio sm

Rubio

murphyp-sm

Murphy

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

Isakson

Isakson

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

Paul

Paul

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

Vitter

Vitter

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

Lankford

Lankford

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

Burr

Burr

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

Scott

Scott

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

Republican governors survive in Florida and Georgia

The GOP also takes away an open Democratic governorship in Arkansas

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — The Republican firewall held at the gubernatorial level across the South in the November 4 midterm election, with the GOP keeping endangered seats in Florida and Georgia and taking away a Democrat-held seat in Arkansas.

Republicans will now hold 11 of the 14 governorships in Southern states.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

In Florida, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist lost his bid to resurrect his political career in a battle with Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott won narrowly in the Sunshine State, 48 percent to 47 percent

Meanwhile, up in Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal easily fended off a challenge from State Senator Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Deal took 53 percent, to 45 percent for Carter.

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

In Arkansas, where Democratic Governor Mike Beebe was term-limited, former GOP U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson – making his fourth try for statewide office – defeated former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott crushed Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention last year after filibustering a bill restricting abortion.

Abbott took 59 percent of the vote, to 29 percent for Davis. Republican candidates have now won the last six gubernatorial elections in the Lone Star State.

Elsewhere in the South, Republican incumbents won easy victories victories in Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr resigns over ethics charges

Three days after vowing he would stay in office, Darr says he no longer wants to subject his family to the “toxic business” of politics

♦Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Facing impeachment and pressure for his resignation from within his own Republican Party, Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr says he is quitting, effective February 1.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

“Politics can be a toxic business,” Darr said in a statement announcing his departure. “I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons.  All my forgiveness to those who play the games and all my respect and appreciation to those who serve with class and humility.”

Darr did not identify who he meant by “those who play the games.” However, he made a point in his statement that he was submitting his resignation “to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official.”

That was possibly an oblique reference to the Natural State’s Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, who had called on Darr to step down. The governor learned about Darr’s resignation from local media.

Beebe’s office later released a statement saying Darr’s decision to quit “is the best decision for the state of Arkansas and for Lieutenant Governor Darr.”

Darr said he had notified House Speaker Davy Carter and Senate President Pro-Tempore Michael Lamoureaux of his plans to step aside.

State law calls for a special election to be held to fill the remaining 11 months of Darr’s term. However, legislators are considering waiving that election, as was done in 2006 when then-Lieutenant Governor Win Rockefeller died in office.

The State Ethics Commission fined Darr $11,000 for violations relating to his 2010 campaign and during his time as lieutenant governor.

In its report, the commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card.

He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock. The commission also sanctioned him for misreporting money he raised after the election to pay off loans he made to the campaign.

Darr conceded that he made mistakes and apologized. But in a lengthy defense issued January 7, he insisted there was “no malicious intentional disregard of the law” on his part.

He said he was entitled to accept the contributions to pay off the campaign debt and that he actually saved the state money by seeking mileage reimbursement for use of his personal vehicle, rather than having the Arkansas State Police carry him around.

After the report was issued, Beebe and the state’s entire congressional delegation — including five Republicans — called for his resignation. After a defiant Darr said he would not resign, Democrats in the state legislature said they would seek his impeachment.

Republican legislative leaders ratched up the pressure by saying they would call a special session to consider impeachment, rather than handling it in a budget session scheduled to begin in February. Darr could have been forced to pay the cost of the special session if he were removed.

Darr, 40, was a little-known restauranteur with no political experience when he won the lieutenant governorship in 2010, a campaign he based partially on his opposition to Obamacare.

He abandoned a campaign for the open 4th District U.S. House seat after his ethics problems came to light last summer.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr refuses calls to resign

Democrats plan to push for Darr’s impeachment for violating state ethics rules

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — A defiant Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr says he will not resign, triggering a likely impeachment showdown in the Arkansas legislature over his violations of state ethics rules

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

“I am not downplaying what has occurred, but there is no scandal, no conspiracy and no malicious intentional disregard of the law,” Darr, a Republican, said in a lengthy defense issued January 7.

“Today I put a stake in the ground. Not for this office, not for the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them.”

Darr did not elaborate on who he believes is playing political games. But he insisted that his violations of state ethics rules, which drew an $11,000 fine from the state’s ethics commission, were unintentional.

Democratic Governor Mike Beebe and all five Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation have called on Darr to resign. That would trigger a special election, which Darr said would be a waste of a million dollars of taxpayer money.

But Democrats in the state House of Representatives have said they will push for Darr to be impeached if he does not resign. The next legislative session begins February 10.

Republican House Speaker Davy Carter said his office “is contemplating a couple of avenues in which to provide a proper process should the majority of members decide to pursue impeachment.”

An impeachment in Arkansas would be uncharted territory, as it has apparently never been done under the state’s current constitution, which dates to 1874.

Impeachment requires a simple majority in the House, which currently has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Green Party member. That would mean that Darr would have to hold all of his fellow Republicans in line in order to avoid impeachment.

Darr’s prospects in the Senate — where he is the presiding officer — would seem to be better. There are currently 21 Republicans and only 13 Democrats, with one vacancy. Removing Darr would require at least 24 votes.

Darr, 40, a restaurant owner from Springdale, had never held elective office before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2010. He based his campaign, in part, on opposition to Obamacare.

He abandoned a campaign for the open 4th District U.S. House seat after his ethics problems first came to light last summer.

In its report, the ethics commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card. He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock.

He was also cited for mistakes in his campaign finance reports.

In his statement, Darr conceded that he accepted the travel reimbursement for use of his personal vehicle. But he said that actually saved the state money because he was entitled to use the Arkansas State Police for travel and security, which would have been much more expensive.

He said the improper use of the state-issued credit card was for “purchases that were either for official state use or used by mistake while traveling. As soon as the errors were realized, I reimbursed the state for those charges.”

The mistakes in his campaign finance reports, Darr said, stemmed from repayment of a $170,000 loan that he made to his campaign. After he was elected, he raised money to pay the loan back and made mistakes in reporting those contributions, which he said were corrected as soon as they were brought to his attention.

“I want you to know that at the end of the day, the only money that ever came back to me, in whatever form, was a repayment of campaign debt that was legally owed to me,” Darr said.

Darr apologized to the people of Arkansas and conceded that “this has been an embarrassing time for my family and me.”

“When history is recorded I want my children to know that I have owned up to mistakes and made them right,” he said.

Pressure builds on Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr to resign

Democratic Governer Mike Beebe and state’s Republican congressional delegation all call on Darr to step down for violating ethics rules

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr is under increasing pressure to resign, after the state ethics commission fined him $11,000 for misusing campaign funds during his 2010 campaign.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Darr, a Republican, accepted that fine on December 30. But in a letter to the commission, he blamed sloppy record-keeping for the violations, insisting that he never “intentionally took money that didn’t belong to me.”

While Darr has not made any public statements since the ethics committee announced its decision, his attorney told local media that he has no plans to step aside.

But a day after the fines were handed down, Democratic Governor Mike Beebe said it would be “in everybody’s interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resigned.”

Perhaps more ominously for Darr, his fellow Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation — U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Rick Crawford — issued a very blunt joint statement calling on Darr to go.

“As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust,” the statement said. “Based on Lt. Gov. Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”

Darr is the second statewide constitutional officer to run into trouble this year. Former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned after she was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes from a state contractor that were delivered in a pie box. Her trial is set for July.

If Darr resigns, a special election would be held to pick his replacement.

Darr, 40, a restaurant owner from Springdale, had never held elective office before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2010. He based his campaign, in part, on opposition to Obamacare.

In its report, the ethics commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card. He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock.

He was also cited for mistakes in his campaign finance reports.

The ethics complaint against Darr was filed by Democratic blogger Mark Campbell, first reported in his Blue Hog Report.

After the ethics issues surfaced last summer, Darr abandoned his campaign for the 4th District seat in the U.S. House. He has not announced whether he would seek a second term as lieutenant governor.

Two Republicans, State Reps. Andy Mayberry and Charlie Collins, have announced they are running for lieutenant governor. Democrat John Burkhalter, a state highway commissioner, is also running.

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