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Hot or not, in or out: Our forecast of 2022’s most interesting Southern political races

Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.

Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.

Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.

Reapportionment Primary-Palooza

The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.

In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.

The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.

One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.

In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.

However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.

The Power of Trump

The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.

And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)

Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.

Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.

Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.

Adding to the MAGA Squad

Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)

Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.

Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?

No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.

Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.

A victory by either in November will make history.

Palmetto State “RINOs”

The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.

Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.

Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.

As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.

Thinking Outside The Box

After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.

Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.

Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.

Beto O’Crist for Governor

The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.

But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.

But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.

Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace is lone Southern Republican to support Steve Bannon contempt vote

South Carolina lawmaker was one of just nine Republicans to support criminal referral for former Donald Trump aide

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

South CarolinaWASHINGTON (CFP) — South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace was the lone Southern Republican to vote to hold former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina

The House voted 229 to 220 on October 21 to hold Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas for documents and a deposition. Mace was one of just nine Republicans to support the contempt citation, which Republican leaders had lobbied their caucus to oppose.

Mace, a first-term lawmaker already facing three 2022 primary challengers in her Lowcountry district, cast her politically risky vote as a defense of the Constitution and warned Republicans that they are better off leaving the subpoena power intact in case they take the House majority next year.

“We will want this same tool in our toolbox to release the spigot, investigating the crises facing our nation: the southern border, the botched exit from Afghanistan, and Antifa, for starters,” she said in a statement after her vote. “We will need the same subpoena power upheld today.”

But Mace also took a swipe at the work of the January 6th committee, which she voted against when it was created by the House in June.

“I want us to imagine the positive impact on our country if Congress invested the same amount of time, energy and effort into investigating violent acts and domestic terrorism within groups such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We’d all be better and safer for it.”

Bannon has based his refusal to cooperate with the committee on a claim of executive privilege, which has been asserted by Trump. But Mace said Bannon needed to appear before the committee and make that claim himself, rather than ignoring the subpoena.

“Executive privilege protects the advice given to the President. That protection can be invoked when called before Congress,” she said. “When Congress issues a subpoena, that individual must appear before Congress and invoke that privilege.”

Mace was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6th attack, but she did not vote in favor of his impeachment. Her vote to hold Bannon in contempt is likely to fuel complaints from Trump supporters in her district that she is insufficiently supportive of the former president.

All of her three current Republican challengers — T.J. Allen, Ingrid Centurion or Lynz Piper-Loomis — are political newcomers, and none have raised significant money. But the filing deadline isn’t until March, leaving time for another big-name candidate to join the field with Trump’s blessing

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Former South Carolina U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham running for governor

Lowcountry Democrat lost his U.S. House re-election bid in 2020

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

South CarolinaCHARLESTON, South Carolina (CFP) — Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham officially launched his 2022 campaign for governor on April 26 with a broadside against the Republican establishment that has reigned supreme in Columbia for two decades.

“The challenges that we face are not because of our people. They’re because of our politicians,” Cunningham said in a video launching his campaign. “After 20 years of trying the same thing, it’s time for something different.”

cunningham

Democrat Joe Cunningham announces run for governor

Cunningham hit State House Republicans and incumbent Republican Governor Henry McMaster for focusing on new abortion and voting restrictions and loosening gun laws as residents struggled to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Governor McMaster has been cheering them on, every step of the way,” Cunningham said. “It’s embarrassing.”

And although a Democrat hasn’t won a governor’s race in the Palmetto State since 1998, Cunningham pointed to his own 2018 U.S. House win as evidence that his campaign is not a lost cause.

“To those who say a Democrat can’t win in South Carolina, well, we’ve heard that before,” he said.

Cunningham, 38, a Charleston lawyer, shocked the political world in 2018 with his win in the state’s 1st District, part of a Democratic wave that swept the party to House control.

However, he could not hold the seat in 2020, losing to Republican Nancy Mace despite raising and spending more than $7 million for the race.

With his name recognition and fundraising prowess, Cunningham will be the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination to face McMaster, who will be running for his second full term as chief executive.

News of Cunningham’s candidacy drew some praise from Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who told The State newspaper that Cunningham would be “a formidable opponent.”

However, he also noted that his own re-election race in 2020 — where he won by 10 points despite $100 million in spending against him — shows that South Carolina is “still a pretty Republican state.”

Video of Cunningham’s announcement:

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5 Southern senators, 79 U.S. House members support challenge to electoral vote count

Unsuccessful move to overturn Joe Biden’s win interrupted by mob insurrection at U.S. Capitol

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Despite an afternoon of violence that left four people dead and lawmakers running for cover, five Southern Republican U.S. senators and 79 of the region’s GOP U.S. House members persisted in supporting objections to President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win that were overwhelmingly defeated once order was restored.

All of the Republican House members representing Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia supported at least one of the objections to the counts of Biden’s win. By contrast, only a single member from both Kentucky and Arkansas voted yes.

Joint sessions of Congress counts electoral vote (From C-SPAN)

Five Southern senators voted in favor of at least one of the objections filed to electoral vote results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, two swing states Biden flipped in November: Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Rick Scott of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who just took his seat on Sunday.

Cruz, the Senate sponsor of the Arizona challenge, voting in favor of objections to both states, along with Hyde-Smith and Tuberville. Kennedy only objected to Arizona, while Scott only objected to Pennsylvania.

The remaining 22 Southern Republican senators opposed both challenges, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had warned earlier in the day that challenging the will of voters would plunge American democracy into a “death spiral,” and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, who told his fellow senators that “enough is enough.”

“When it’s over, it is over,” Graham said. “[Biden] won. He’s the legitimate president of the United States.”

Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who had previously announced that she would support objections to the electoral vote, took the Senate floor to say that she changed her mind after Wednesday’s violent incursion into the Capitol. Her decision meant that a challenge to Georgia’s electoral votes failed for lack of a Senate sponsor.

Loeffler was defeated in Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia, which means her votes on the Electoral College disputes could be among her last as a senator.

In the House, a majority of the Republican caucus voted to sustain the objections, including 79 out of 99 Southern members, a group that included the top-ranking Southerner, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

However, among Kentucky’s five Republican members, only one, Hal Rogers, supported the objections. The rest of the delegation joined with McConnell and the Bluegrass State’s other senator, Rand Paul, in voting no: James Comer, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie and Andy Barr.

In the Arkansas delegation, only Rick Crawford supported the objections, which were opposed by both senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman. French Smith, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack all voted no.

Alone among their state Republican delegations in opposing the objections were Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who was elected in November to represent Charleston and the Low Country, and David McKinley of West Virginia.

Other Southern Republican House members who opposed the objections to Biden’s electoral vote count were Vern Buchanan and Michael Walz of Florida; Austin Scott and Drew Ferguson of Georgia; Patrick McHenry of NC; and Dan Crenshaw, Tony Gonzales, Michael McCaul, Chip Roy and Van Taylor of Texas.

Three members — Kay Granger and Kevin Brady of Texas and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida — were in COVID-19 quarantine and did not vote.

Here is the list of Southern House members supporting the Electoral College objections, by state:

Alabama: Aderholt, Brooks, Carl, Moore, Palmer, Rogers
Arkansas: Crawford
Florida: Cammack, Diaz-Balart, Donalds, Dunn, Franklin, Gaetz, Giménez, Mast, Posey, Rutherford, Steube, Webster
Georgia: Allen, Carter, Clyde, Greene, Hice, Loudermilk
Louisiana: Higgins, Graves, Johnson, Scalise
Kentucky: Rogers
Mississippi: Guest, Kelly, Palazzo
North Carolina: Bishop, Budd, Cawthorn, Foxx, Hudson, Murphy, Rouzer
Oklahoma: Bice, Cole, Horn, Lucas, Mullin
South Carolina: Duncan, Norman, Rice, Timmons, Wilson
Tennessee: Burchett, DesJarlais, Fleischmann, Green, Harshbarger, Kustoff, Rose
Texas: Arrington, Babin, Burgess, Carter, Cloud, Fallon, Gohmert, Gooden, Jackson, Nehls, Pfluger, Sessions, Weber, Williams, Wright
Virginia: Cline, Good, Griffith, Wittmann
West Virginia: Miller, Mooney

South Carolina Primary: State Rep. Nancy Mace gets easy win in GOP primary for Lowcountry U.S. House seat

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham easily dispatches 3 primary opponents, will face Democrat Jaime Harrison in the fall

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON (CFP) — State Rep. Nancy Mace cruised to an easy victory Tuesday in the Republican primary in South Carolina’s 1st U.S. House District, setting up a Lowcountry slugfest this fall against Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, one of the GOP’s top 2020 targets.

Mace, from Daniel Island, took 57 percent of the vote, easily eclipsing Mount Pleasant Councilwoman Kathy Landing, at 26 percent. Chris Cox, a founder of the Bikers for Trump organization, came in third with 10 percent.

Nancy Mace speaks to supporters after her primary victory (From SCETV via YouTube)

Speaking to supporters after her win, Mace said her campaign would “take back the Lowcountry and put it back into the hands of someone who’s going to be a truly independent voice.”

“Joe Cunningham votes with Nancy Pelosi of California and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] of New York 85 percent of the time,” she said. “The Lowcountry doesn’t want that, and they don’t deserve it.”

Mace, 42, a real estate agent and businesswoman elected to the legislature in 2017, was the first female graduate of The Citadel, the state’s formerly all-male military college, in 1999. If elected in November, she would be the first woman to ever represent South Carolina in the House.

In her primary battle with Landing, she had the backing of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the conservative business groups Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth.

Cunningham, 38, a Charleston lawyer, narrowly won the 1st District seat in the Democratic wave of 2018, after the incumbent Republican, Mark Sanford, was upset in his primary. He is the first Democrat in nearly four decades to hold the seat.

President Donald Trump carried the district by 13 points in 2016, making it one of the prime targets for Republicans running in 2020 with Trump on the ballot. Cunningham’s vote in favor of impeaching Trump will no doubt feature prominently in GOP ads this fall.

Also Tuesday Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, as expected, easily dispatched three little-known challengers in his primary, getting 68 percent of the vote. He will now face Democrat Jaime Harrison in November.

When Graham last ran for re-election in 2014, he faced a hotly contested primary against candidates running at him from the right who charged that he was inauthentically conservative. But his strong embrace of Trump over the last three years helped quiet his Republican critics.

Harrison, a Columbia lawyer and former state party chair, is trying to become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in South Carolina since 1998 or any statewide race since 2006. His campaign has caught on with Democratic donors, collecting $19 million so far for his challenge to Graham, according to the latest FEC filings.

Graham has raised $26 million.

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