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West Virginia Primary: Democrats pick Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango to take on GOP Governor Jim Justice
Environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen wins Democratic U.S. Senate nomination
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Salango won Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with 39 percent to 33 percent for Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. State Senator Ron Stollings came in third with 14 percent.
“Tomorrow morning, we get to work, and we’re going to win the general election,” Salango told supporters at his victory rally in Charleston. “I’ll be a governor who gets things done. I’ll be a governor who shows up and puts public service ahead of self-serving.”
Justice easily won the Republican primary, carrying 63 percent of the vote against three challengers.
The race against Justice will be a grudge match for Democrats, after the governor infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office in 2017 — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage at a rally with President Donald Trump.
Salango had the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions and was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass. Smith ran a more grassroots campaign, using the slogan “WV Can’t Wait.”
Swearingen took 38 percent to 33 percent for former State Senator Richard Ojeda, an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction. Coming in third was Richie Robb, the former mayor of South Charleston, at 29 percent.
In 2018, Swearingen ran in the Democratic primary against the state’s other senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, taking 30 percent of the vote. That campaign was profiled in a Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”
Capito will be a heavy favorite in November, given the Mountain State’s strong GOP tilt in federal elections.
West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races is the nominee.
Also on Tuesday, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated in the GOP primary by Amy Nichole Grady, a teacher from Leon. Legislative leaders have been at odds with state teachers over pay and education funding, which led to two strikes by teachers.
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Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.
Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.
The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)
All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.
Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.
President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.
Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.
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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.
Three Alabama politicos flee from Trump; Rubio, Burr and McCrory are non-committal
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Donald Trump’s support among Southern elected officials has begun to crack after the release of an audiotape in which he made offensive comments about women, but, so far, there has been no wholesale deterioration of his Southern support heading into the second presidential debate.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is the only Southern senator to distance herself from Trump, calling on him to “reexamine his candidacy” in light of remarks that surfaced on October 9 in which he bragged about being able to sexually assault women because of his celebrity.
“As a woman, a mother and a grandmother to three young girls, I am deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s remarks, and there is no excuse for the disgusting and demeaning language,” Capito said in a statement.
Two U.S. House incumbents in tough re-election battles, Reps. Barbara Comstock in Virginia and William Hurd in Texas, both announced they would not vote for Trump and want him to step aside as the Republican nominee.
But three other incumbent Republican politicians locked in tight re-election fights – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Burr of North Carolina and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory – did not retract their support for Trump, although all three condemned his remarks.
Rubio, who offered Trump a tepid endorsement after losing to him in the GOP presidential primaries, went on Twitter to call Trump’s remarks “vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.” But his opponent in the Senate race, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, said Rubio’s refusal to unendorse Trump amounted to “political cowardice.”
“Donald Trump is a threat to every value this country holds dear,” Murphy said in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper. “If Marco Rubio cannot withdraw his endorsement after this latest sickening news, then he should withdraw from the race.”
The most significant erosion of Trump’s support has come in conservative Alabama, where Republican Governor Robert Bentley has announced he won’t vote for Trump, and two GOP members of the U.S. House delegation, Reps. Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne, have called on him to step aside as their party’s presidential nominee.
“As disappointed as I’ve been with his antics throughout the campaign, I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party,” Roby said in a statement “Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket.”
Byrne called Trump’s comments “disgraceful and appalling.”
“It is now clear Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States and cannot defeat Hillary Clinton,” he said in a statement. “I believe he should step aside and allow Governor Pence to lead the Republican ticket.”
Roby represents parts of metro Montgomery and southeast Alabama. Byrne represents metro Mobile and southwestern parts of the state. Both are seeking re-election, and neither race is expected to be competitive in November.
Bentley, who has been mired in his own scandal over a purported affair with a former aide, issued a short statement in which he said, “I certainly won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump.”
Notably absent from the list of Alabama politicos distancing themselves from Trump is U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, one of his staunchest supporters in Congress. Trump announced Sessions would be in New York to help him prepare for his October 9 debate with Hillary Clinton, although Sessions’s office has not confirmed that information.
In Virginia, Comstock, who had not previously endorsed Trump, is in a tough re-election battle in the 10th District, based in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, against Democrat Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.
Comstock called Trump’s comments “disgusting, vile and disqualifying.”
“No woman should ever be subjected to this type of obscene behavior, and it is unbecoming of anybody seeking high office,” she said in a statement. “Donald Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him with Mike Pence or another appropriate nominee from the Republican Party. I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”
In Texas, Hurd, who had also not endorsed Trump, is battling to keep his 23rd District seat, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across a wide swath of West Texas to the edge of El Paso.
As a black Republican running in a majority Latino district, Trump’s incendiary comments about Latinos had already put Hurd on the defensive in the race against the man he beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego.
Hurd issued a statement saying he could not vote for a candidate who degrades women and insults minorities. He said Trump should step aside in favor of “a true conservative to beat Hillary Clinton.”
Burr, who polls show is neck-and-neck with Democrat Deborah Ross in his re-election race in North Carolina, told Politico that he was “going to watch (Trump’s) level of contrition over the next few days to determine my level of support.”
McCrory, who trails Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in recent polls, issued a statement in which he said, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made by Donald Trump regarding women. I find them disgusting,” But he stopped short of retracting his support for Trump or announcing that he would not vote for him.
GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — One look at a color-coded map of midterm election results in any Southern state tells the story – there’s a tsunami of red and a shrinking pool of blue.
Take Texas, for example, with its 254 counties. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn carried 236 of them; the Republican candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, carried 235. The only blue is found in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and along the Mexican border.
But that’s still more blue than in Oklahoma, where both Republican U.S. Senate candidates swept all 77 counties, and in West Virginia, where GOP Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito swept all 55, despite the fact that Democrats have a 350,000-person lead in voter registration.
A deeper look at the numbers from the midterm elections shows just how far Democrats have fallen from the halcyon days when they had an iron grip on the solid South. They’re not just losing; lately, they’re not even competitive.
And perhaps even more troubling for Democrats is the fact that the dam seems to have burst in states in the upper South, where the party had been holding its own at the state level.
This year, 13 of 14 Southern states — all but Florida — had a U.S. Senate election, and two states — Oklahoma and South Carolina — had two. Setting aside Louisiana, which is headed to a runoff, and Alabama, which Democrats didn’t even bother to contest, GOP candidates won by an average of nearly 21 points.
Democrats couldn’t crack 30 percent in either Oklahoma race. They failed to crack 40 percent in six others. In fact, Republicans won by double digits in 10 races. Only Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina were close, with the GOP taking the latter two.
Things were just about as bad in races for governor, where the GOP margin of victory was about 18 percent. Republicans won by double digits in six of the eight governor’s races. Only Florida and Georgia were even remotely close.
The news was particularly bad for Democrats in three upper South states that were politically competitive a decade ago – West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.
In West Virginia, Democrats not only lost the U.S. Senate race, but they lost all three U.S. House seats, and Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.
With Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor’s loss, Arkansas will have an all-Republican congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. Heading into the election, Democrats held five out of the seven statewide constitutional officers. In the midterm, they lost all seven.
Tennessee used to be split between Republicans in the east and Democrats in the west. Now, the GOP is winning everywhere, holding seven of the state’s nine U.S. House seats. Both Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam, re-elected with 71 percent of the vote, carried Shelby County, which includes the Democratic bastion of Memphis.
Increasingly, Democrats seem to be doing better in the deep South, where they can rely on the support of black voters, than in the upper South, where black populations are smaller.
For example, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, despite being a long-time incumbent in a very red state, won by a smaller margin than did Republican Tom Cotton, who beat Pryor like a rug in Arkansas.
Some might attribute Graham’s narrower margin to his Tea Party problems. But Alexander — who faced a similar Tea Party dynamic — managed to win by 30 points in Tennessee.
What is clear from the midterms is that despite recent gains at the presidential level in states such as North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats are becoming less competitive across the region, and the South is becoming more monolithically red.
Indeed, the midterm results support the argument that in most of the South, the two-party system is becoming a relic of the past.