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GOP leaders fear Alabama-style debacle in West Virginia U.S. Senate primary
A win by jailed former mine operator Don Blankenship could ensure Democrat Joe Manchin’s re-election
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican party leaders in West Virginia are bracing for the possibility that a coal mine owner who went to prison after 29 of his workers were killed by an explosion in an unsafe mine might end up as their nominee for the U.S. Senate, handing the seat to Democrats in November.
Heading into Tuesday’s primary, polls showed no clear leader in the GOP Senate race between Don Blankenship, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who are all vying for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November.
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, spent a year in prison for willfully violating mine safety laws after a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal killed 29 miners, the deadliest mine accident in the United States in 40 years.
GOP leaders have become alarmed at the possibility that they will be saddled with a flawed candidate and lose a winnable Senate race, a point President Donald Trump made in an election-eve tweet: “Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
Trump’s reference was to the race for an open Senate seat in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones pulled off an upset in December after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of sexually pursuing young girls, a charge he denied.
With Republicans clinging to a one-seat majority, the race in West Virginia — which Trump won by a stunning 42 points in 2016 — presents a prime pickup opportunity that could vanish with a Blankenship victory.
Blankenship, 68, has maintained that he is innocent of the charges brought against him for the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, blaming the disaster instead on federal mine inspectors. He has poured at least $3.5 million of his own money into his Senate campaign, trying to brand himself as an anti-establishment outsider.
Among Blankenship’s targets has been the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In one ad, he calls McConnell “Cocaine Mitch,” a spurious charge based on a report that cocaine had been found on a ship belonging to a shipping company owned by the family of McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Although McConnell and his wife own stock in the shipping company, there is no evidence either of them or their families members had any connection with the cocaine shipment.
Until Blankenship began rising in the polls, Jenkins and Morrisey had mostly turned their fire on each other. The question now is whether either one of them will be able to defeat Blankenship and preserve Republican hopes in November.
West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, so whichever candidate wins a plurality Tuesday will get the nomination.
Manchin, 70, is seeking a second full term in the Senate. Despite being a former two-term governor and serving in statewide office since 2001, Manchin is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the 2018 cycle because of the size of Trump’s win in 2016.
Jenkins, 57, was elected to represent the state’s 3rd District in 2014 after toppling then-U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democratic titan who had served 19 terms in Congress.
Morrisey, 50, was first elected attorney general in 2012, the first Republican to hold that post in nearly 70 years. A native of New Jersey who ran for Congress from that state in 2000, Morrisey moved in 2006 to Jefferson County, a county in the West Virginia panhandle which is part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Also on the primary ballot are races in the the 3rd District, which takes in the lower third of the state. Seven Republicans, including four current or former state House members, are vying for the nomination to succeed Jenkins, with House Majority Whip Carol Miller of Crab Orchard establishing a strong fundraising advantage.
The likely Democratic nominee is populist State Senator Richard Ojeda, an Iraq war veteran who may be the best hope Democrats have for winning a House seat in the Mountaineer State in 2018.
West Virginia U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins will challenge Joe Manchin in U.S. Senate race
Jenkins hopes to parlay state’s increasing GOP tilt to unseat venerable Democratic incumbent
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — In 2014, GOP U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins toppled a West Virginia political giant to get to Congress. In 2018, he’ll try to be a giant killer again.
Jenkins announced that he is giving up his House seat in an effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, in what is expected to become one of the South’s hottest Senate races.
In a campaign video released May 8, Jenkins went after Machin, accusing him of straying from the values he was elected to represent by supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Joe changed when he got to Washington. West Virginia values? Not anymore,” Jenkins said. “Somewhere alone the way, Joe became one of them.”
Jenkins also tied himself firmly to Donald Trump, who won the Mountaineer State by a staggering 41 points in 2016, his second strongest showing in any state, behind only Wyoming.
“With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve got a real chance to turn things around,” Jenkins said. “He needs our help, and I need your help … We can’t let liberal New York millionaires and D.C. lobbyists buy this race or the Senate.”
Jenkins, 56, was elected in 2014 to represent the 3rd District, which takes in the southern and western parts of the state. In that race, he unseated Nick Rahall, a Democrat who had been in Congress since 1977 and was, like Manchin, a political institution in West Virginia.
Jenkins had served 18 years in the state legislature as a Democrat before switching parties to run against Rahall.
West Virginia’s changing political climate has made Machin is a top Republican target in 2018. In 2014, the GOP captured all three U.S. House seats and a majority in the state legislature for the first time since 1931. In 2016, Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate election since 1956.
Trump’s win was also the fifth in a row for Republican presidential candidate, in what had been considered a Democratic stronghold into the 1990s.
However, Machin, 69, is a political institution in West Virginia, where he was first elected to political office in 1982 and was governor for six years before being elected to the Senate in 2010.
Manchin has styled himself as a political moderate, opposing legal abortion, supporting a balanced budget amendment and opposing efforts by the Obama administration to curtail use of coal, which is a mainstay of the West Virginia economy. He also broke ranks with other Democratic senators to support Trump’s Cabinet nominees and his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Clourt.
One question mark in the race will be the issue of gun rights. Although Manchin has long received support from the National Rifle Association, he drew fire from some gun rights advocates after co-sponsoring legislation to strengthen background checks on firearms after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Jenkins took direct aim at Manchin on the gun issue in his opening campaign video, accusing the senator of violating a pledge he made in his first campaign to protect gun rights.
Jenkins’s decision to run against Manchin will open a House seat in West Virginia that could be a potential target for Democrats, although the GOP will be favored.
Jenkins may also have to survive a primary for the right to oppose Manchin, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is thought to be eyeing the race.
Conservative Southern U.S. House members go down
Republicans make a net gain of four seats across the region
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — Four embattled Democratic incumbents who represent conservative U.S. House districts lost their seats in the November 4 midterm election, while the GOP lost a seat in the Florida Panhandle.
The four Democrats — Nick Rahall in West Virginia, John Barrow in Georgia, Joe Garcia in Florida and Pete Gallego in Texas — all represented districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. The GOP also took an open Democrat-held seat in North Carolina where Romney also won.
With those wins, the GOP will hold a 112-39 advantage in Southern U.S. House seats come January.
The Democrats’ only good news came in Florida’s Tallahassee-centered 2nd District, where Gwen Graham, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, narrowly defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent.
Democrats had also targeted five open seats in Arkansas, Virginia and West Virginia. Republicans held all five.
Barrow, who represents Georgia’s 12th District, had survived four previous attempts by Republicans to push him from Congress, which included having his district gerrymandered twice by the state legislature. But the fifth time proved the charm as he lost to Republican Rick Allen by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
Despite 19 terms representing West Virginia in Congress, Rahall could not overcome President Obama’s marked unpopularity in the Mountaineer State, losing to State Senator Evan Jenkins in the 3rd District, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. .
In Florida’s 26th District, Garcia lost to Republican Carlos Curbelo by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. This Latino-majority district, which stretches from southwest Miami-Dade County to Key West, has now switched hands in the three straight elections.
The GOP also won in Texas’s 23rd District, a vast district that sprawls across more than 500 miles of southwest Texas, from the suburbs of San Antonio to the suburbs of El Paso.
Will Hurd, a former CIA agent who, uniquely, was a black candidate running in a majority Latino district, defeated Gallego by a margin of 50 percent to 48 percent. This closely divided district has now switched hands three times since 2006.
Republicans also picked up a seat in North Carolina’s 7th District, which opened up when Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre decided to retire. Former State Senator David Rouzer easily defeated New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield.
Across the South, anomalous House districts few and far between
Only eight House districts in the South had different presidential and congressional winners in 2012, leaving few targets for either party in 2014.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — In a few little corners of the South, Democrats sit in congressional seats from districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. There are also seats – even fewer in number — where Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won
These anomalous districts – districts that behave one way in the presidential vote but the opposite way when it comes to picking a congressman – are, as you might expect, top targets for both parties in 2014.
But for Democrats hoping to make inroads on Republican hegemony in the South, the bad news is that across the entire region, there are only eight such seats — and five of those are seats Democrats must defend.
First, let’s take a look at the five seats occupied by Democrats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012:
North Carolina 7 – Veteran Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre held on to this seat by his fingernails in 2012, winning by a mere 650 votes over former Republican State Sen. David Rouzer. In this district, which takes in the southeast corner of the state including areas near Fayetteville and Wilmington, Romney clobbered Obama by 19 percentage points.
McIntyre is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. Not only does McIntyre face a rematch with Rouzer, he is also facing a primary challenger, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who thinks McIntyre hasn’t been supportive enough of the president.
McIntyre is white; Barfield is black. Overall, the district is 30 percent black, which means the black vote could tread close to a majority in a Democratic primary.
West Virginia 3 – Another longtime Democratic officer holder, Rep. Nick Rahall, carried 54 percent in here in 2012, at the same time Romney was crushing Obama by 32 percentage points in this district, which takes in the southern third of the state.
Rahall is hoping the power of incumbency can once again turn back a challenge from Republican former State Del. Rick Snuffer, whom he has beaten twice before.
Georgia 12 – Democratic Rep. John Barrow won a healthy 54 percent in this district in 2012, where Romney topped Obama by 11 percentage points. On paper, this should be a solid GOP district. But Georgia Republicans, to their great frustration, have not been able to defeat Barrow in five tries, even after gerrymandering his hometown of Athens out of the district.
Barrow was recruited by national Democrats to run for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, but he opted for another House run instead. On the Republican side, an already contentious primary is shaping up between John Stone, the former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, and Augusta businessman Rick Allen. Barrow beat Stone by 30 points in 2008.
Florida 18 – Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy narrowly ousted Tea Party favorite Allen West in 2012 in this district, which takes in parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties on Florida’s Treasure Coast. West went down even though Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote.
Perhaps the best news for Murphy, a top GOP target in 2014, is that West declined a rematch. A smorgasbord of Republican officeholders and activists are considering this race, with no clear frontrunner so far on the GOP side.
Texas 23 – In this majority Latino district that sprawls across the desert from El Paso to San Antonio, Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego ousted Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Conseco by a narrow margin in 2012.
Republicans hope to get this district back, and Conseco is considering a rematch. However, the former congressman would have to get past a Republican primary opponent, Dr. Robert Lowry, a Ron Paul acolyte.
Now, let’s take a look at the three districts where Republicans hold seats that Obama carried in 2012:
Virginia 2 – Republican Rep. Scott Rigell easily kept this seat in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote, even though Obama narrowly bested Romney here. While Rigell is a top Democratic target in 2014, this is a GOP-leaning district where Obama overperformed in 2012, due to the fact that 22 percent of the electorate in the 2nd District is black.
Earlier this year, Rigell was the target of an ad campaign from the National Association for Gun Rights, which hit the congressman for sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for people who illegally purchase guns and transport them across state lines. Rigell, a lifetime member of the NRA, called the group’s charges “laughable.”
Despite that salvo, Rigell hasn’t faced any serious trouble from the right, and, so far, Democrats have struggled to come up with a top-tier candidate to take him on.
Florida 13 – When Bill Young came to Congress, bell bottoms were in and Nixon was still The One. After 22 terms, he’s the longest serving Republican in the House, and there has been speculation that the octagenarian might retire instead of seeking re-election in 2014.
If he does, this district, which includes parts of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin in the Tampa Bay area, would be a prime opportunity for Democrats. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012, even as Young was easily swatting away his latest Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich, who is running again in 2014.
Florida 27 – In 2012, Obama carried this district, which was something of a surprise given that it includes heavily Cuban-American areas of Miami and Hialeah, which are traditionally Republican turf. But Obama clearly overperformed here in what has to be considered a safe district for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is seeking her 11th term in 2014.
Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina and the longest serving Republican woman in the House, carried 60 percent of the vote here in 2012.