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Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Carolina for 2020 campaign kickoff
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has become one of President Donald Trump’s most vigorous and unlikely defenders in the Senate. And now, he’s reaping the rewards.
Graham officially launched his 2020 re-election bid on March 30 with Vice President Mike Pence by his side at stops in Myrtle Beach and Greenville. And Pence brought greetings from the commander-in-chief.
“South Carolina and America need Lindsey Graham in the United States Senate, and I’m not the only one who thinks that where I work,” Pence told a rally in Greenville. “We’re standing next to this man because of the way he stood next to us.”
Graham also put his relationship with Trump front-and-center in his re-election campaign.
“Purpose No. 1 is to help President Trump in his second term, to be an ally of this president who has kept his word, who is making America great again and will continue to do so,” Graham said. “I want to help him because I believe in what he’s doing.”
It was not always thus. During the 2016 campaign, when he was running against Trump for president, Graham called him a “kook” who was “unfit for office.” In the general election, he voted for third-party candidate Evan McMullin, rather than embracing his party’s nominee — and openly admitted his apostasy to the press.
Graham had long been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, the polar opposite of Trump’s stance on immigration policy. And his closest friend in the Senate was the late John McCain, Trump’s most persistent Senate critic.
But over the last year, Graham and Trump have warmed to each other, frequently playing golf together, and his previous criticism has been replaced with praise. And he has sided with the president in some very visible fights, most notably his defense of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I’ve come to find common ground with him,” Graham said of Trump in Greenville. “I like him, and he likes him, and that seems to be working for both of us.”
“Every day with President Trump is like Christmas. You don’t know what’s under the tree, but you know there’s something under it,” Graham said. “Some days it’s a good shotgun you’ve been wanting, and other days it’s a sweater. But it all works.”
Graham, 63, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is seeking his fourth term in the Senate in 2020. In his last two campaigns in 2008 and 2014, he faced primary challenges from opponents on the right who criticized him for being insufficiently conservative, particularly on the immigration issue.
Graham won both of those primaries, but in 2014 was held to 56 percent of the vote, not the strongest of showings for an incumbent senator.
If Graham needed a lesson in the perils of getting sideways with the president’s followers, it came last summer when then-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a Trump critic who represented the Lowcountry in Congress, was bounced in a Republican primary in which the president endorsed his opponent.
Having Trump on side in 2020 will make it much more difficult for successful challenge to Graham from within the party.
Graham has already drawn three Republican challengers, but none of them are well known and are unlikely to be a threat.
In his three previous Senate elections, Graham won the general election easily in a state where Republicans are dominant. But he could face a Democratic challenge in 2020 from Jamie Harrison, a Columbia attorney and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who has formed an exploratory committee for the 2020 race.
Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Palmetto State since 1998.
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Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets landslide win in GOP runoff for Georgia governor, will now face Stacey Abrams
Democrats pick nominees for two targeted GOP-held seats in Atlanta suburbs
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — With the backing of both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has won the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, winning a runoff by nearly 40 points after a stunning collapse by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.
Kemp’s win sets up one of the nation’s marquee governor’s races this fall against Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state, who won her nomination in May without a runoff.
Georgia Democrats have also settled on nominees for two Republican-held U.S. House seats in metro Atlanta being targeted this fall, picking Lucy McBath in the 6th District and Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th District.
In the GOP governor’s race, Kemp took 69 percent of the vote in the July 24 runoff to 31 percent for Cagle, who had finished 13 points ahead of Kemp in the first round of voting in May but saw his support collapse in the final weeks of the race.
“We have earned a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp told supporters at a election night rally in Athens. “We had the momentum in this race, and those endorsements by the president and vice president — they poured gasoline on the fire.”
Although both men had vied for the Trump vote, the president endorsed Kemp a week before the runoff, and Pence traveled to Georgia to campaign with him. Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, was endorsed by incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who is term limited.
During the campaign, Kemp drew criticism for a humorous ad in which he points a shotgun at a young man who wants to date one of his daughters and gets him to acknowledge “a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.” Kemp was unapologetic, saying in a statement that “liberal media and radical, left-wing activists — who have probably never even held a firearm — are freaking out and creating fake controversy.”
The National Rifle Association had earlier endorsed Cagle after the lieutenant governor proposed stripping a lucrative tax exemption from Atlanta-based Delta Airlines to retaliate against the company for ending a discount program for NRA members in the wake of the massacre of high school students in Parkland, Florida.
The turning point in the race may have been release of secretly recorded audio in June in which Cagle admitted that he had supported “bad public policy” in the legislature to undercut one of his primary rivals and complained that the Republican primary had devolved into a contest of “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”
In a concession speech to supporters in Atlanta, Cagle promised his “full, undivided support” for Kemp in the general election.
“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it, but at the end of the day, I can promise you my life is so rich,” he said.
Democrats, who have not won a governor’s race in Georgia since 1998, are hoping to turn those fortunes around with Abrams, 44, a Yale-educated Atlanta lawyer who served six years as minority leader of the Georgia House.
During the Democratic primary, Abrams had argued that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to energize and expand the electorate, rather than trying to appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands. That strategy will be put to the test against Kemp, 54, a conservative businessman from Athens who has been secretary of state since 2011.
Kemp went after Abrams in his victory speech, calling her an “out-of-touch radical liberal who cares more for her billionaire backers than for you all.”
“This election is going to be for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “It is going to be about our values, and it is going to be literally a fight for the future of the great state of Georgia.”
While Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for nearly two decades, demographic changes — particularly an influx of new minority voters — have begun to shift the political calculus. In 2004, George W. Bush carried Georgia by 16 points; Trump only won by 5 points in 2016, and he lost two large suburban Atlanta counties — Cobb and Gwinnett — that had not gone Democratic in a generation.
Both of the U.S. House races where Democrats may have a shot this fall are anchored in those same suburbs. In the 6th District, which takes in Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, Trump won by just 1.5 points; in the 7th District, which includes Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, he won by just 6 points.
Handel won the 6th District seat in a special election in 2017 that became nationalized amid rising resistance to Trump. More than $50 million was spent on that race, making it the most expensive House election in history.
The Democrat who Handel defeated in that race, Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch, leaving her to face McBath, a retired flight attendant and gun control activist from Cobb County, who took 54 percent in the runoff to defeat Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who took 46 percent.
McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
In the 7th District, Woodall will face Bourdeaux, from Suwanee, a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. In the runoff, she took 52 percent of the vote to defeat Duluth businessman David Kim with 48 percent.
In the runoff, Republicans also settled on their nominees for the posts of lieutenant governor and secretary of state given up by Cagle and Kemp.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, former State Rep. Geoff Duncan from Cumming, a former professional baseball player, edged out State Senator David Shafer from Duluth. However, the two candidates were separated by less than 1,700 votes, which could trigger a runoff.
Duncan will now face the Democratic nominee, Kennesaw businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico.
In the secretary of state’s race, State Rep. Brad Raffensperger from Johns Creek defeated Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. He will now face former U.S. Rep. John Barrow from Athens, who was the last white Democrat left in Georgia’s congressional delegation until he was defeated in 2014.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster gets Donald Trump’s backing in quest to keep his job
OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Oklahoma Republicans will go to the polls Tuesday to decide what is shaping up to be a tight three-way race for governor, picking a nominee to face a stronger-than-usual Democratic challenge in November in a political climate rocked by April’s statewide teachers’ strike.
In the state’s 1st U.S. House District in metro Tulsa, five Republicans and five Democrats are scrambling for spots in runoffs for an open seat.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Republicans will decide a runoff between Governor Henry McMaster and Greenville businessman John Warren, with McMaster hoping for a last-minute boost from President Donald Trump, who visits the state Monday.
Upstate in the 4th U.S. House District, former State Senator Lee Bright from Spartanburg will face State Senator William Timmons from Greenville in the Republican runoff for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy. Democrats in the district will choose between Doris Lee Turner, a Greenville tax accountant, and Brandon Brown, a college administrator from Greenville.
And in Mississippi, Democrats will decide a runoff to pick a nominee for the uphill task of trying to defeat Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, while Republicans in the 3rd U.S. House District will settle a runoff for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is also retiring.
In the 3rd District, Michael Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, will face Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour.
Polls in all three states will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
In Oklahoma, voters will be going to the polls in the first statewide election since a teachers’ strike in April over low pay and what teachers saw as inadequate state support for education. The strike ended after legislators raised taxes to improve pay and school funding.
The open Republican race for governor, which drew 10 candidates, is shaping up as a battle between Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt, a wealthy Tulsa businessman who founded Gateway Mortgage Group.
Cornett, 59, a former television anchor in Oklahoma City, served 14 years as mayor and was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2016.
Lamb, 46, a former Secret Service agent, is finishing his second term as lieutenant governor, after previously serving in the Oklahoma Senate.
Stitt, running on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City that came under fire during the teacher’s strike, surged in polls in the latter stages of the race after pouring in $2.2 million of his own money.
Oklahoma has primary runoffs, which means that a runoff between the top two vote-getters is likely. The runoff will be August 28.
Incumbent Republican Governor Mary Fallon is term limited.
While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor, former Attorney General Drew Edmonson, who had raised $1.4 million heading into the primary, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Edmundson, 71, comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011. His father was a congressman, his uncle a governor, and his brother, James, serves on the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
In Oklahoma’s 1st District, voters are picking a replacement for former Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who resigned in April after he was confirmed as NASA administrator.
The Republican contest is shaping up as a battle between former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris; Kevin Hern, a Tulsa McDonald’s franchisee; and Andy Coleman, an attorney and minister from Owasso.
In South Carolina, McMaster — who inherited the office last year when former Governor Nikki Haley became UN ambassador — is trying to hold off Warren, a political newcomer who came from the back of the pack to win the second spot in the runoff.
McMaster was the first statewide elected official to endorse President Trump in 2016, and the president returned the favor by tweeting an endorsement and making an appearance on his behalf Monday at a suburban Columbia high school.
Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with McMaster Saturday in Myrtle Beach.
The winner of the GOP runoff will face State Rep. James Smith from Columbia. Democrats have not won a governor’s race in the Palmetto State in 20 years.
Races now set in three competitive seats Democrats are targeting in November
CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The fields are now set for three competitive U.S. House races in North Carolina, including the 9th District where Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has become the first incumbent to go down to defeat in the 2018 election cycle.
Pittenger. seeking his fourth term in Congress, was defeated in the May 8 primary by Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist pastor from Charlotte. Harris took 49 percent, to 46 percent for Pittenger.
“From the beginning, this race has been about giving the people of this district a voice, and you have stood up tonight across the 9th District, and you have made that voice loud and clear,” Harris told supporters at a victory celebration in Indian Trail.
Harris will now face Democrat Dan McCready in November for a metro Charlotte seat that Democrats have high hopes of flipping.
McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and solar energy entrepreneur, easily won the Democratic primary. The most recent Federal Election Commission reports show that he has so far raised $1.9 million for the fall race, about three times as much as Harris.
Harris is the former senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte and former president of the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina. In 2012, he helped lead the fight for a state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, and he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
The race in the 9th District, which includes parts of Charlotte and its southern and eastern suburbs and stretches east to Fayetteville, was a rematch of a primary battle between Pittenger and Harris in 2016 that the incumbent won by just 134 votes; this time, Harris won by 814 votes.
Pittenger had the backing of House Republican leaders, and Vice President Mike Pence came to North Carolina to campaign for him. Harris countered with anti-establishment campaign that painted Pittenger as part of the Washington “swamp.”
In addition to the 9th District, Democrats are eyeing two other seats, the 2nd District and the 13th District, in an attempt to cut into the GOP’s dominance in the Tar Heel State’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold 10 of 13 seats.
Coleman, a former state representative and Wake County commissioner, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in both 2012 and 2016. However, she starts the general election with a substantial financial disadvantage against Holding, who is seeking his fourth term.
That is not the case in the 13th District, where the Democrats’ nominee, Kathy Manning, has raised $1.3 million and has $1 million in cash on hand, outstripping the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has raised $880,000 and has just $362,000 on hand, according to FEC records.
Manning, a lawyer from Greensboro, is making her first bid for elective office in the district, which stretches from the northern suburbs of Charlotte to Greensboro. Budd, first elected in 2016, is trying to win a second term.
In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by 10 points, the 9th District by 12 points and the 13th District by 9 points.
Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam battle to lead the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginians decide Tuesday whether to raise their Democratic lieutenant governor to the state’s top job or turn the reins over to a senior operative from George W. Bush’s White House.
The lone off-year governor’s race in the South pits Ed Gillespie, a Bush aide and former head of the Republican National Committee, against Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who has spent the past decade in state politics.
In addition to the marquee governor’s race, statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are on the ballot, and energized Democrats are trying to flip a slew of state House seats to gain bragging rights heading into the 2018 midterms.
Polls across the commonwealth open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Of seven non-partisan public polls conducted since October 29 in the governor’s race, six showed results within the margin of error, making the results statistically insignificant. Just one poll, from Quinnipiac University, showed Northam with a lead of at least 1.2 percent outside the margin of error.
However, that Quinniapiac poll showed Gillespie had made up substantial ground against Northam in the final week of the campaign, particularly among independents, among whom the difference between the candidates was statistically insignificant.
Conspicuously absent from the race — President Donald Trump, who was never invited to cross the Potomac to campaign with Gillespie, although Vice President Mike Pence did make an appearance on his behalf. Trump did, however, endorse Gillespie on Twitter.
Virginia was the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, due in part to her stronger-than-usual showing the Republican-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. So the Gillespie campaign had to thread a difficult needle of not galvanizing anti-Trump voters by campaigning with the president, while at the same time not antagonizing ardent Trump supporters in more conservative parts of the state.
Indeed, the potency of the Trump brand among the Republican base nearly took Gillespie down in June when, despite being a prohibitive favorite, he almost lost the party’s primary to Corey Stewart, Trump’s one-time state campaign manager.
Stewart, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told Politico that Trump supporters were “bewildered” and “offended” by Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from Trump, predicting that it would hurt Gillespie by discouraging the president’s supporters from turning out.
Northam, in turn, has tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, running a TV ad during the final weekend of the campaign accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
Northam, 58, joined the U.S. Army to complete his medical training after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and has worked as a pediatric neurologist at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992. He has admitted to voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 before he became active in state politics, saying that he had been “underinformed” at the time.
In 2007, he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia Senate, representing a district that included parts of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. In 2013, he became lieutenant governor, running alongside incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, under state law, can’t run for a second consecutive term.
Northam was challenged in the primary by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who tried to counter Northam’s establishment support by mobilizing Bernie Sanders supporters. In the end, Northam won by 12 points, though he has continued to face criticism from his left flank during the campaign for supporting two controversial gas pipeline projects and opposing the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia.
After working as Bush’s communications director in the 2000 campaign, Gillespie, 56, started a lobbying firm in Washington and was elected chairman of the RNC in 2003. He went back to the White House in 2007 as a counselor to the president and served until the end of Bush’s second term in 2009.
In 2014, Gillespie challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Though Warner’s seat was considered safe, Gillespie came within 18,000 votes of beating him, in what would have been the biggest upset of the 2014 campaign.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, from Fauquier County west of Washington, is facing Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who lives in surburban Fairfax.
A controversy erupted in the closing days of the campaign when Northam’s campaign dropped Fairfax, who is African-American, from a direct mail piece sent to voters because of his opposition to the two pipeline projects Northam supports.
Critics called his exclusion racist, a charge that Northam’s camp denied. But the flap could have consequences for a race in which Northam will need strong African-American support to win.
In the race for attorney general, the incumbent Democrat, Mark Herring, is being challenged by Republican John Adams, a Richmond lawyer who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In addition to the three statewide races, 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the lower house of the legislature, are up for grabs. Despite Virginia’s status as a swing state in presidential politics, Republicans currently hold 66 seats, to just 34 for Democrats.
However, Democrats are contesting 88 of those seats in 2017, including challenges in 17 Republican-held seats that Clinton carried in 2016. So the results in Virginia are likely to be viewed as a bellweather for what might happen in 2018, particularly if Democrats make gains in suburban districts near Washington and Richmond.
State Senate seats are not up in Virginia this year; Republicans control the Senate, 21 to 19.
Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to wrest away traditionally GOP seat in suburban Atlanta
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — The most expensive U.S. House race in American history is drawing to a close, with Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff making last-minute pitches in a special election runoff to fill Georgia’s vacant 6th District seat.
Polls in the June 20 runoff open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT, with the results expected to draw outsized national attention.
A victory by Ossoff in a district the GOP has held for decades will be seen as a harbinger of potential doom for House Republicans in 2018. But a win by Handel would make Republicans three-for-three in winning House special elections this year, possibly tempering the speculation about how much President Trump’s historic unpopularity ratings are really eroding the party’s electoral health.
No matter the outcome, the competitiveness of the race wasn’t what Trump had in mind when he appointed Tom Price to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, leaving an open seat that Republicans expected to defend easily.
Fueled by liberal anger at Trump’s election, Ossoff — a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide seeking office for the first time — raised a staggering $23.6 million by the end of May, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That figure doesn’t include any additional money raised during the first three weeks of June, as his runoff with Handel moved toward its climax.
Handel, a former Fulton County Commission chair and secretary of state, raised just $4.5 million by the end of May, although outside GOP-aligned groups have spent additional money on her behalf.
When all of the candidate and outside spending is tallied, the total is expected to approach $50 million, shattering all previous records for U.S. House races. To put that spending in perspective, a $50 million race would come to roughly $71 each for every man, woman and child in the district — and would be the equivalent of a $700 million statewide race in Georgia.
The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Price, now in Trump’s Cabinet.
While Price won the district by 76,000 votes in November, Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Ossoff had initially begun his campaign with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” But after coming in first in the April 19 primary, he eschewed nationalizing the campaign and sought to focus on district-specific issues.
For Handel, 55, the second-place finish in the primary was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.
Trump has not campaigned in person for Handel, although he did tape an anti-Ossoff robocall before the primary. But Vice President Mike Pence and Price both came down from Washington to make appearances on her behalf.
Kaine challenges Pence to defend Trump; Pence criticizes Clinton’s foreign policy tenure
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
FARMVILLE, Virginia (CFP) – Vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence have squared off in their first and only debate, with Kaine challenging Pence to defend Donald Trump’s behavior and Pence criticizing Hillary Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal whose tenure as secretary of state has led to chaos around the world.
The October 4 debate, at Longwood University in central Virginia, is the only one of this year’s four national debates to take place in the South, and Kaine, a Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, is the only Southerner on a major party ticket this year.
Kaine was clearly the aggressor, repeatedly interrupting Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, and challenging him to defend controversial statements that Trump, the GOP standard-bearer, has made in the past.
“He’s called women slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting,” Kaine said. “He attacked an Indiana-born federal judge and said he was unqualified to hear a federal lawsuit because his parents were Mexican … And he perpetrated this outrageous and bigoted lie that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.”
Pence, in turn, derided what he termed Kaine’s “avalanche of insults” and tried to turn the tables on the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
“If Donald Trump had said all of the things that you’ve said he said in the way you said he said them, he still wouldn’t have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a basket of deplorables,” Pence said.
However, Pence was willing to defend Trump on one line of Democratic attack—namely, that the Republican nominee may have used nearly $1 billion in business losses to avoid paying federal income taxes for decades.
“Donald Trump is a businessman, not a career politician. He actually built a business,” Pence said. “His tax returns showed he went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used. And he did it brilliantly.”
Kaine responded by taking issue with Trump’s assertion in the first presidential debate that avoiding taxes made him “smart.”
“So it’s smart not to pay for our military?” Kaine said. “It’s smart not to pay for veterans? It’s smart not to pay for teachers? And I guess all of us who do pay for those things, I guess we’re stupid.”
Pence retorted with a question: “Senator, do you take all the deductions you’re entitled to? I do.”
Pence and Trump also sparred over their respective economic plans, with Pence criticizing the Democratic ticket over a proposal to raise income taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers.
“In the wake of a season where American families are struggling in this economy under the weight of higher taxes and Obamacare and the war on coal and the stifling avalanche of regulation coming out of this administration, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want more of the same,” he said. “It really is remarkable that they actually are advocating a trillion dollars in tax increases.”
But Kaine criticized the Republicans for proposing new corporate tax breaks that would benefit “people just like Donald Trump,” which he said would repeat the same mistakes made during the Bush administration that led to the 2008-2009 economic downturn.
“Independent analysts say the Clinton plan would grow the economy by 10.5 billion jobs. The Trump plan would cost 3.5 million jobs,” he said. “Why would (Trump) do this? Because his tax plan basically helps him. And if he ever met his promise and he gave his tax returns to the American public like he said he would, we would see just how much his economic plan is really a Trump-first plan.”
Pence, however, insisted that Trump had not broken his promise and would release his tax returns once an ongoing IRS audit was concluded.
IRS officials have repeatedly said that an audit does not preclude a taxpayer from releasing his tax returns. Because of federal privacy laws, the IRS cannot confirm whether Trump is actually being audited.
Pence also offered sharp criticism of Clinton’s tenure as America’s top diplomat, charging that “America is less safe today than it was the day that Barack Obama became president of the United States.”
“It’s absolutely inarguable. We’ve weakened America’s place in the world. It’s been a combination of factors, but mostly, it’s been a lack of leadership,” he said. “Our primary threat today is ISIS, and because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiation a status-of-forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, ISIS was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.”
But Kaine noted that at the time the Obama administration came into office, Al Queda leader Osama bin Laden was still alive, the United States had more than 175,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program that it has now agreed to give up.
“Under Secretary Clinton’s leadership, she was part of the public safety team that went after and revived the dormant hunt against bin Laden and wiped him off the face of the earth,” Kaine said. “She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.”
Pence also criticized Clinton for using a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state, which he said may have allowed foreign hackers to gain access to sensitive information.
“If your son or my son handled classified information the way Hillary Clinton did, they’d be court martialed,” Pence said, referring to the candidates’ sons who are both serving in the Marine Corps.
Kaine shot back: “That is absolutely false, and you know that,” noting an FBI investigation that resulted in no criminal charges against Clinton or any of her aides over use of the email server.
On other issues:
Immigraton: Kaine said he and Clinton both support comprehensive immigration reform leading to an eventual path to citizenship while Trump “believes in deportation nation.”
“Donald Trump proposes to deport 16 million people, 11 million who are here without documents. And both Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to get rid of birthright citizenship, so if you’re born here, but your parents don’t have documents, they want to eliminate that,” he said. “They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business, and kick out 16 million people.”
Pence insisted that claim was “nonsense,” saying Trump first wants to strengthen border defenses and deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes “and once we’ve done all of those things, … we’re going to reform the immigration system that we have.”
He accused Clinton and Kaine of wanting “to continue the policies of open borders, amnesty, catch and release, sanctuary cities, all the things that are driving wages down in this country.”
Abortion: Pence, who was raised a Roman Catholic and considers himself a born-again Christian, said his opposition to abortion flows from a passage in the Bible where “God says, before you were formed in the womb, I knew you.” He criticized Clinton’s support for repealing a provision in federal law that forbids use of taxpayer funds for abortions—a provision Kaine has supported in the past.
But Kaine, a Roman Catholic who has said he is personally opposed to abortion, said he and Clinton support the right of women to make their own decisions on the issue.
“I think you should live your moral values. But the last thing, the very last thing government should do is have laws that would punish women who make reproductive choices,” he said.
In an interview earlier in the campaign, Trump indicated he might support criminal penalties for women who have abortions. But he quickly walked back from that position, and Pence told the debate audience that he and Trump “would never support legislation that punished women who made the heartbreaking choice to end a pregnancy.”