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Georgia runoffs will decide control of U.S. Senate Tuesday

President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden both rally the Peach State faithful on campaign’s closing day

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With control of the U.S. Senate and the legislative prospects of the incoming Biden administration hanging in the balance, voters across Georgia will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two U.S. Senate runoffs, after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden made last-minute appeals to supporters Monday.

Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide. In the other race, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church making his first bid for elected office.

From top left: Ossoff, Perdue, , Loeffler, Warnock

In-person polling runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, although more than 3 million people have already cast their ballots through early and absentee voting.

If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

If either Loeffler or Perdue win, Republicans will control the upper chamber, giving them a check against Biden’s legislative program and approval of his nominees.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups have poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Biden emphasized the unusual impact that voters in a single state can have during an address to a rally Monday in Atlanta, where he told Peach State supporters that they “can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”

“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said. “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career.”

The president-elect spent most of his 16-minute speech touting Ossoff and Warnock, saying their election will help move coronavirus relief through Congress, “restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now.”

He also had harsh words for what he termed the Trump’s administration’s “God-awful” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, using the issue to take a swipe a Trump for his singular focus on election fraud claims since his loss in November.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Trump, in what was likely the last campaign rally of his presidency, spent much of his 80-minute speech in Dalton relitigating his November election loss and railing against what he termed a “rigged” process in Georgia, where he lost after the vote was recounted twice.

He also promised that he would produce new information that would change the election outcome and gave a lengthy recitation of fraud allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by elections officials in several states and in every court where lawsuits have been filed.

Trump also cast the consequences of Tuesday’s vote in Georgia in apocalyptic terms, casting Ossoff and Warnock as radical socialists who don’t reflect Georgia values.

“The stakes of this election should not be higher,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Hanging over the last day of the campaign was a controversial phone call Trump made to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a recording of which was obtained by the news media on Saturday.

In it, the president asks the state’s top election official to “find” more than 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column; a local prosecutor in Atlanta says she is looking at possible criminal charges.

Neither Biden or Trump brought up the phone call in his speech, but Trump took a shot at both Raffensperger and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has also refused the president’s entreaties to overturn the Georgia election results.

“I’m going to be here in a year and a half, and I’m going to campaign against your crazy governor and secretary of state,” Trump said.

Also looming over Tuesday’s vote is an effort by Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, turning what is normally a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from winning the White House.

Hours before the Dalton rally with Trump, Loeffler finally announced the she would back the challenge, after refusing to take a position for several days. Perdue also said he backs the challenge, although, because his Senate term ended when the new Congress convened on Sunday, he will not vote on it.

Taking the stage next to Trump, Loeffler told the crowd that “this president fought for us. We’re going to fight for him.”

But during his speech in Atlanta, Biden hit both senators for taking a stand that he said was in defiance of the Constitution.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump, not to Georgia,” Biden said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not to the United States Constitution.”

In his speech, Trump also alluded to the fact that Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session Wednesday where the Electoral College votes will be counted.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said, then joked that “of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia is the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue, running for a second term, defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men are facing each other again Tuesday.

Perdue has been off the campaign trail in quarantine after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and he did not appear with Trump at Monday’s night rally.

The four candidates in the race have, combined, raised more than $445 million, with outside groups adding at least another $437, according to figures from OpenSecrets.org.

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Georgia’s new Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler takes oath of office

Loeffler, appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, will have to defend her seat in November special election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, is now officially Georgia’s newest U.S. Senator.

Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to replace Johnny Isakson, a veteran GOP lawmaker who resigned his seat due to declining health.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Loeffler is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence (From C-SPAN)

Loeffler, who has no previous elected political experience, was picked for the Senate seat by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in December after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators.

She joins the Senate just in time to participate in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler’s appointment had initially received a lukewarm reception from the White House and vocal opposition from some of Trump’s most fervent partisans, although that opposition has dissipated over the past month as Loeffler held a series of private meetings with conservative activists around the state.

Loeffler, 50, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who has said he may challenge Loeffler in the special election. A Collins run could pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Louisiana voters will decide governor’s race in Saturday runoff

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.

“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.

Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.

One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.

Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.

However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.

Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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Mississippi Decides: Jim Hood wins Democratic nod for governor; Tate Reeves, Bill Waller Jr. in GOP runoff

Reeves’s commanding margin in Republican race not enough to avoid runoff

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves will face former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. in an August 27 runoff for the Republican nomination for governor, with the winner taking on Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in November.

Reeves took 49 percent in Tuesday’s GOP primary, just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Waller came in second place at 33 percent.

State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County, who received national press attention during the campaign after refusing to travel alone with a female reporter, finished third with 18 percent.

Hood, as expected, won his primary over seven lesser-known challengers, taking 69 percent of the vote and setting up what is likely to be the Magnolia State’s most competitive governor’s race in two decades to replace incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who is term limited.

In down ballot statewide races, Republicans settled on nominees for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and state treasurer, but the GOP race for the open attorney generalship is also headed to a runoff.

Tate Reeves and Bill Waller Jr. advance to runoff in Republican race for governor

Reeves, 45, has served two terms as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, an office he first won when he was just 29 years old. In the runoff, he will face Waller, 67, who served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor.

Waller is trying to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., who served as governor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1976.

During the campaign, Foster drew national media attention after refusing to let a female reporter for the website Mississippi Today accompany him on the campaign trail because of a rule he has of not being alone with any woman other than his wife.

Foster defended the practice, followed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence, and used the controversy to raise money and appeal to religious conservative voters after he was criticized for it in national media outlets. But in the end, he carried only his home county of DeSoto and Tate County to the south.

Waller won the counties in metro Jackson; Reeves carried most of the rest of the state, including Hattiesburg and the populous Gulf Coast counties.

Hood, 57, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted ways with national Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes. He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.

Mississippi has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1999.

Of the eight elected statewide executive posts, five are open in 2019. Tate and Hood’s campaigns for governor opened up their positions as lieutenant governor and attorney general; Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann gave up his post to run for lieutenant governor; and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch left hers to run for attorney general.

Hoseman who his primary with 86 percent of the vote. Fitch made the Republican runoff for attorney general, taking 44 percent; in the runoff, she will face Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who narrowly edged out State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon for second place.

In the Republican race for secretary of state, State Senator Michael Watson from Hurley defeated Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton from Laurel by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

The winner of the Republican primary for state treasurer was Ridgeland attorney David McRae, who took 62 percent to 38 percent for State Senator Buck Clarke from Hollandale.

In the only other contested statewide Democratic primary race, former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the party’s nominee for governor in 2011, defeated Maryra Hunt to win the nomination for secretary of state. He will face Watson in November.

Mississippi is one of three Southern states holding off-year elections for governor and other state office in 2019,  joining Kentucky and Louisiana.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham launches re-election bid with full-throated embrace of Donald Trump

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.”

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham campaign in Greenville (From WSPA via YouTube)

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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