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Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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Oklahoma Runoff: Kevin Stitt beats Mick Cornett for GOP governor’s nomination

Political newcomer comes from behind with call for reform

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt has won the Republican nomination for Oklahoma governor in his first try for political office, defeating veteran politico Mick Cornett, who led the state’s largest city for 14 years.

Gubernatorial nominee Kevin Stitt, R-Oklahoma

Stitt took 55 percent of the vote in the August 28 runoff to 45 percent for Cornett, who had come out on top of the first round of primary voting in June.

But in a state roiled by a teachers’ strike earlier this year that shuttered classrooms, Stitt’s message of reforming state government touched a nerve among voters.

“We can demand that our state government be held accountable and transparent and unify our state for a bold new future,” Still told supporters at a victory party in Jenks. “The answers to our problems (are) not bigger government. It’s smaller government and smarter government.”

Stitt will now face former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmonson in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon.

Stitt, 45, the founder of Gateway Mortgage, was considered a long shot when he entered the race against a field that included Cornett and Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, In addition to his reform message, Stitt was helped by $3 million of his own money that he plowed into the campaign.

In the runoff, he swept Tulsa and most of the rural parts of the state, overcoming Cornett’s lead in metro Oklahoma City.

Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett

Cornett, 59, was the better-known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.

Speaking to his supporters in at a watch party in the capital, Cornett said he would have “nothing but positive memories” of the campaign, although he indicated that the defeat was likely his political swan song.

“There’s a really good chance my name will never be on another ballot,” he said. “So you need to understand tonight as I step away from the political scene how much I’ve always loved the opportunity to represent you.”

While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011.

One plus for Democrats may be Fallon’s weak approval ratings, which tumbled in the wake of the teachers’ strike. A Morning Consult survey released in July found she was the nation’s least popular chief executive, with an approval rating of just 19 percent.

Oklahomans also have a recent tradition of rotating Democrats and Republicans in the governor’s chair. Of the state’s last six chief executives, six have been Democrats and six Republicans.

Oklahoma Primary: Mick Cornett, Kevin Stitt will face off in GOP runoff for governor

Harris, Hern advance to Republican runoff in metro Tulsa’s 1st U.S House District

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt topped a field of 10 candidates in the Republican primary for governor and will face each other in an August 28 runoff.

Cornett took 29 percent in the June 26 vote to 24 percent for Stitt, who edged out the third-place finisher, Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, by less than 3,500 votes.

The runoff winner will face former Attorney General Drew Edmonson, who cruised to an easy victory in the Democratic primary.

In the state’s open 1st U.S. House District seat in metro Tulsa, the Republican runoff will feature former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris against Kevin Hern, a Tulsa McDonald’s franchisee.

The seat was vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who resigned in April after he was confirmed as NASA administrator.

Harris took 28 percent to 23 percent for Hern, who narrowly edged out Andy Coleman, an attorney and minister from Owasso, with 22 percent. However, the margin between Hern and Coleman was just 840 votes, and media outlets did not make an immediate final call on the second runoff spot.

On the Democratic side in the 1st District, Tim Gilpin, a Tulsa attorney and former member of the state school board, will face a runoff with Amanda Douglas, an energy industry analyst from Broken Arrow.

The winner of the GOP primary will be favored in November in the heavily Republican district.

The GOP race for governor drew 10 candidates to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon. This was the first statewide election in Oklahoma since a teachers’ strike in April shuttered classrooms and roiled state politics.

Cornett, 59, is a well known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.

Stitt, a wealthy Tulsa businessman who founded Gateway Mortgage Group, ran on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City, a message that resonated in the wake of the teachers’ strike. He surged in polls in the latter stages of the race after pouring in $2.2 million of his own money, upsetting Lamb for second place.

“Oklahoma’s turnaround starts tonight, folks,” he told supporters at a watch party in Jenks.

In his election night speech to supporters, Cornett also struck a chord for reform, saying “no one in Oklahoma seems to be giving up on this state.”

“People want more transparency. They want more accountability,” he said. “We’re going to have to have higher standards in health and education going forward.”

In the first primary round, Cornett carried Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, while Stitt put up his best numbers in and around Tulsa. Lamb carried most of the rest of the state, where the runoff battle is likely to be fought.

While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011. He had raised $1.4 million heading into the primary, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Primaries: Governor’s race tops ballot in Oklahoma; runoffs in South Carolina, Mississippi

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.

Warren

McMaster

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 Senate runoff, Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward, will face State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis.

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.

Kevin Stitt

Mick Cornett

Todd Lamb

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.

On the Democratic side, the front runner is Tim Gilpin, a Tulsa attorney and former member of the state school board who has the backing of the Oklahoma Education Association.

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.

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