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Applicants include one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich’s daughter and a man who kills hogs for a living
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
Married white governor seeks senatorial companion who is interested but not too eager. Must enjoy gridlock and prickly egos. Prudes OK, but no Democrats. One-year commitment, may go longer if things work out.
OK, so Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp didn’t really place a personal ad to fill U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s soon-to-be vacant seat. But he did launch a process that perhaps unprecedented in Senate history — inviting any Georgian who is at least 30 years old (the constitutionally required age to be a senator) to apply for the job.
And apply they have — nearly 500 people have gone online and submitted their resumes, which have been posted on the governor’s website.
Kemp has not said when the application process will close, nor when he will name a replacement for Isakson, who is leaving at the end of the year due to ill health. The governor has also not committed himself to picking one of applicants.
It’s a good bet that the governor won’t bestow the prize on some of the more obscure candidates, including the front man for a band called Big Mike and the Booty Papas or the owner of a hog-killing business, who presumably knows a thing or two about pork-barrel politics.
A number of Democrats have also applied, bless their hearts, almost certainly to no avail.
Whoever is appointed will also have to hold the seat in a special election next year, which argues for a candidate who has the political and fundraising chops to win a statewide election on short notice. The winner in 2020 will also face election again in 2022, when Isakson’s term will be up.
Perhaps the most high-profile applicant is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who, as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has become one of the most zealous House defenders of President Donald Trump. None of the state’s other eight Republican House members has so far applied.
Another applicant with a Trump connection is Tom Price from Roswell, who left Congress in 2017 to become Trump’s health secretary, only to resign after less than seven months in office amid criticism of his high-flying travel practices.
Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, Randy Evans, a well-connected lawyer who has represented both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor Sonny Perdue, has also applied, as has Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Gingrich’s daughter who is (perhaps not coincidentally) also promoting a new book arguing for more civility in politics.
Also among the applicants are Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, two former House members who were defeated in the GOP primary the last time a Senate seat opened in Georgia in 2014. Kingston finished second in that race behind the eventual winner, U.S. Senator David Purdue; Broun finished fifth.
Another name to keep an eye on: Jack Markwalter, a politically connected Atlanta business executive who applied late in the process. While Markwalter has no political experience, his resume is very similar to that of Perdue, who came out of the business world to claim a Senate seat in 2014.
However, one salient demographic fact may shape the process — every previous U.S. Senator who has represented the Peach State in its long and illustrious history, save one, has been a white man, giving Kemp the opportunity to make history with his appointment. (The lone exception was Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was picked in 1922, at the age of 87, to serve just one day by a governor using the appointment to pique a political rival.)
Topping the list of female applicants is State Rep. Jan Jones from Milton, who as speaker pro tem, is the legislature’s highest-ranking Republican woman.
Another possibility is former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission who narrowly lost statewide races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. However, Handel has not applied, as she’s running to reclaim the House seat she lost in 2018.
While Handel has valuable statewide name recognition, her won-loss record in statewide races (one win, two losses) and her 2018 defeat would likely give Kemp pause if he’s trying to pick someone who can hold the seat.
Another notable woman among the applicants is Martha Zoller, a former conservative talk show host from Gainesville who has worked as an adviser to both Perdue and Kemp. She lost a primary runoff to Collins in 2012.
Democrats have so far mostly held their fire on this race, waiting for Kemp’s appointment to be made before committing to running in the special election. The only Democrat who has jumped in so far is Mark Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.
Perdue’s term is also up in 2020, which means both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be on the ballot next year as Republicans try to preserve their three-seat majority.
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Decision means both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be up in 2020
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two days after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney, Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia has announced he will resign at the end of the year because due to poor health.
The decision means that both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be open in 2020, giving Republicans another seat to defend in as they try to maintain their three-seat majority in Congress’s upper chamber.
Isakson, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease, underwent surgery on August 26 for removal of a renal carcinoma. In a statement announcing his resignation, he said, “I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff.”
“With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve,” he said. “It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”
Republican Governor Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement for Isakson to serve until a special election is held in November 2020 to fill the two years remaining on his Senate term.
The seat of the state’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, is also up for election in 2020, putting both seats on the ballot.
However, under state law, there will be no party primaries for Isakson’s seat. Candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff if no one gets a majority.
That last time that happened in Georgia, in 2017 in the 6th U.S. House district, it triggered a contentious nationalized race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff during which the candidates blew through $50 million. Handel won that race, although she lost the seat to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018.
One possible Democratic contender for Isakson’s seat, Stacey Abrams, the party’s unsuccessful candidate against Kemp in 2018, quickly announced that she would not be a candidate. She had earlier passed on challenging Perdue.
Isakson, 74, was first elected to the Senate in 2004 after losing campaigns for governor in 1990 and Senate in 1996. He was re-elected easily in 2010 and 2016, becoming the first Republican in state history to win three Senate elections.
His decision to retire brings to a close a storied career in Georgia GOP politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was among a small number of Republicans serving in the Democrat-dominated legislature, representing suburban Cobb County near Atlanta.
In 1990, Isakson gave up his legislative seat to run for governor against conservative Democrat Zell Miller, falling short but coming closer than any Republican had in decades — a portent of the rising fortunes for a GOP that now dominates state politics.
In 1999, Isakson was elected to the U.S. House to succeed former Speaker Newt Gingrich and went to the Senate five years later when Miller retired.
In 2013, Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but sought re-election in 2016 as he battled the illness. However, this summer he was seriously injured in a fall at his Washington home. After returning to Georgia for the congressional recess, he underwent surgery to remove what his office described as “a 2-centimeter renal cell carcinoma” from his kidney.
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Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.
To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.
So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.
And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.
In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.
But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.
And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.
If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.
So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.
Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.
Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.
The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.
In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.
While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.
Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.
After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.
After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters. To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.
So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.
With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.
Handel turns back challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in most expensive House race ever
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — Republican Karen Handel has won a runoff for Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, dashing Democratic hopes of embarrassing President Trump by snatching away a seat that has been safely in GOP hands for decades.
Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Commission chair, won 52.1 percent in the June 20 vote, defeating Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide making his first bid for political office, who took 47.9 percent.
She will be the first Republican woman ever to represent Georgia in Congress.
Speaking to supporters at a hotel in Dunwoody, Handel said she was “extraordinarily humbled and honored at the tremendous privilege and high responsibility that you and the people across the 6th District have given to me to represent you.”
She also said Ossoff’s supporters should “know that my commitments, they extend to you.”
“We may have some different beliefs, but we are part of one community,” she said. “My pledge is to be part of the solution to focus on governing, to put my experience to work to help solve the very serious issues we’re facing in this country.”
Handel also thanked Trump, who tweeted on her behalf throughout the race, and Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Georgia to campaign with her as national Republicans scrambled to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat.
Ossoff, speaking to his supporters at a hotel in Sandy Springs hotel after the race had been called for Handel, saluted his volunteers, “more than 12,000 of you who, as darkness has crept across this planet, have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country and for people around the world.”
“At a time when politics have been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up … and showed the world that in places where nobody thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight. We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of,” he said.
Handel’s win, along with a win by Republican Ralph Norman in the South Carolina 5th District special election on the same night, means Republicans have successfully defended all four of the House seats that became vacant when their occupants were appointed to positions in the Trump administration. The other elections were in Kansas and Montana.
However, in three of those four races, the Republican winners polled substantially worse than did Trump in November. The only exception was Handel, who ran 4 points ahead of Trump.
Ossoff had come in first in the April primary but fell short of the majority needed to win outright. Handel, who edged out a flock of Republican candidates to make the runoff, was able to consolidate GOP support and win the runoff, despite being outspent by 4-to-1 by Ossoff, who tapped anti-Trump sentiment to raise more than $23 million.
In all, total spending by candidates and outside groups in the 6th District race topped $50 million, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history. But despite all that spending, Ossoff’s vote share was less than a point higher than what Hillary Clinton pulled down in the district in November.
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 Tom Price, who gave it up when Trump picked him to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While Price had won the seat easily in 2016, Trump only carried 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.
For Handel, 55, winning the 6th District seat revives her once-promising political career, which was battered by 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.
In her victory speech, Handel thanked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana for his advice during her campaign, and she asked her supporters to “lift up” Scalise and three others wounded June 14 while practicing for a charity baseball game by a shooter with apparent political motives.
“We need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements because in these United States of America, no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs,” she said.
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.