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Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.
No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.
As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.
In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.
In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.
In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.
In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.
The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.
So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.
If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.
Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.
Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.
The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.
Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.
Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.
That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?
Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.
The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.
Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.
If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.
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Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.
The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.
Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.
However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.
Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.
Abrams has refused to concede.
“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”
Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.
In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.
The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.
In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.
Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.
Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.
Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.
The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.
Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.
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Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.
In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.
Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.
O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.
Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.
In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.
After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.
But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Republicans currently have a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.
Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.
Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.
In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.
Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.
The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.
In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.
While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.
The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.
Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.
Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.
In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.
When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.
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Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.
“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”
“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”
While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.
President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”
“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.
Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.
Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.
Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”
In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”
“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”
Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.
Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.
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Tennessee Primary: Bill Lee wins GOP nod for governor; Blackburn, Bredesen advance in U.S. Senate race
Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff survives challenge in West Tennessee
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
NASHVILLE (CNN) — Bill Lee, a cattle rancher making his first bid for political office, came from behind to easily beat two politically connected rivals to capture the Republican nomination for Tennessee governor.
As expected, voters in the August 2 primary also set up what will be a pitched U.S. Senate battle between Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, who both easily won their primaries.
Republicans also settled primaries for four GOP-held U.S. House seats, including in West Tennessee’s 8th District, where freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff turned back a self-funding challenger after getting an endorsement from President Donald Trump.
In the governor’s race, Lee, 58, a businessman and rancher from Franklin, took 37 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam. Black finished third with 23 percent.
Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, Lee won the nomination with a plurality.
“How overwhelming is this?” Lee told jubilant supporters at a victory party in his hometown of Franklin. “I could stand right here and not say anything for a long time.”
Lee started the race a virtual unknown, crisscrossing the state in an RV and telling voters how he was called to public service by the death of his first wife in a horseback riding accident in 2000.
But what may have helped Lee the most were his outsider persona and his decision to refrain from negative attacks on his opponents, even as Black and Boyd both turned their fire on each other and him.
“I’m a man who is not a politician, but I do have a vision for Tennessee to lead this nation,” Lee said. “Thank you for choosing leadership over politics.”
In the fall, Lee will face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who easily won the Democratic primary.
Black, 67, had once been considered the front-runner in the race but faded as Lee surged from the back of the pack. In the final insult, she lost most of the counties in the 6th District in Middle Tennessee, which she represented in Congress for the last eight years.
Despite Black’s ardent support for Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, she did not receive a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.
Giving a concession speech to supporters in Nashville, Black noted that this was the first time she had lost an election in 19 races over a 30-year political career.
“Sometimes God just sets a different course for you than what you set for yourself,” she said.
While the primaries narrowed the Democratic and Republican fields, the fall race for governor will still be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.
In the U.S. Senate race, Blackburn took 85 percent in the Republican primary, while Bredesen took 92 percent of the Democratic vote. However, overall, she outpolled him by more than 260,000 votes statewide.
Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore won a second term. But recent polling shows a close race between Blackburn and Bredesen, and outside groups are expected to pour millions in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
The seat is being given up by Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who opted not to seek re-election after become one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.
Bredesen, 74, served two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011 after serving as mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999. A political moderate, he was the last Democrat to win statewide in Tennessee when he was re-elected governor in 2006.
When Corker announced his retirement in September 2017, Bredesen initially said he would not run for the Senate seat, only to reverse course two months later after lobbying by national Democratic leaders. His entry in the race turned what looked like a long-shot for Democrats into a competitive contest.
Blackburn, 66, from Brentwood, has served in the House since 2003 and is a deputy whip in the House leadership. In her announcement for the Senate, she described herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse. She has largely been supportive of Trump, who has endorsed her.
Both candidates have so far raised more than $8 million for the Senate battle, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
In U.S. House races, Kustoff was the only incumbent to face a significant challenge from George Flinn, a former Shelby County commissioner who poured more than $3 million of his own money in his fifth try for federal office. But Kustoff dispatched Flinn easily, taking 56 percent of the vote, 16 points ahead of his challenger.
In the Democratic race in the 8th District, the leader is Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues, who came in ahead of John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County. However, only 284 votes separated the candidates, too close to declare a final winner.
In the 2nd District, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett won the Republican primary with 48 percent of the vote, defeating State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City at 36 percent.
The seat opened when U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan retired. Burchett will be a prohibitive favorite in the heavily Republican district.
In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican winner was John Rose from Cookeville, a former state agriculture commissioner, who took 41 percent to defeat Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet, with 31 percent.
In November, Rose will face Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston who carried 55 percent in the Democratic primary.
In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, Democrats picked Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race. He will now face State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City, who was the only Republican to file.
In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).