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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

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.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

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.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

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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Texas GOP presidential elector resigns, says voting for Trump would “bring dishonor to God”

Elector Art Sisneros will be replaced when Lone Star electors meet on December 19

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

texas mugHOUSTON (CFP) — A Christian conservative presidential elector in Texas has resigned rather than cast a vote for Donald Trump, dismissing the New York real estate mogul as not “biblically qualified” to be president.

Former Texas elector Art Sisneros (Photo from Texas Monthly)

Former Texas elector Art Sisneros (Courtesy Art Sisneros via Texas Monthly)

In a November 26 post on his personal blog announcing his resignation, Art Sisneros said he could neither vote for Trump nor break a pledge he made to the Texas Republican Party to support the winner of the November 8 election.

“If Trump is not qualified and my role, both morally and historically, as an elected official is to vote my conscience, then I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump for president. I believe voting for Trump would bring dishonor to God,” Sisneros said.

Under state law, the rest of Texas’s electors will select a replacement for Sisneros when they convene in Austin on December 19 to cast their votes for president and vice president.

Sisneros said he had received “hundreds of angry messages” after commenting publicly about his reluctance to vote for Trump, but none of them convinced him to change his mind.

“The people will get their vote. They will get their Skittles for dinner,” he said. “I will sleep well at night knowing I neither gave in to their demands nor caved to my convictions. I will also mourn the loss of our republic.”

Sisneros was picked as one of the Lone Star State’s 38 presidential electors at the state GOP convention in May, about two weeks before Trump won enough delegates to clinch the party’s nomination.

Texas was one of just two Southern states that Trump failed to carry during the primary season, losing to the state’s junior U.S. senator, Ted Cruz.

In the general election, Trump won 52 percent of the vote in Texas and carried 227 of the state’s 254 counties. However, state law does not bind electors to vote for the candidate who won most votes, although the Texas Republican Party requires electors to sign a pledge to do so.

Sisneros said he resigned rather than violate that pledge by voting for someone other than Trump.

“I have sinned in signing that pledge,” Sisneros said in his post. “I humbly confess that it was wrong for me to do so. I am grateful for the forgiveness I have in Christ for all my foolishness.”

 

On The Trail: U.S. Senator Rand Paul barnstorms key early presidential caucus state of Nevada

Kentucky senator makes pitch to Latino libertarian group in Las Vegas

♦By Andy Donahue, Chickenfriedpolitics.com contributor

on-the-trail-nevadaLAS VEGAS (CFP) – Just hours after CNN’s Republican presidential debate, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky barnstormed Nevada, taking his presidential campaign on a four-city sweep of the key early caucus state.

Paul began his Nevada tour in Carson City before attending events in Reno and Ely and wrapping up with an appearance at a Latino public policy forum at the College of Southern Nevada near Las Vegas on September 17.

Rand Paul addresses Latino group in Las Vegas.

Rand Paul addresses Latino group in Las Vegas.

The event was hosted by the LIBRE Initiative, a non-partisan group that advocates limited government and free enterprise, providing a congenial and receptive audience for Paul, who hails from the libertarian wing of the GOP

Paul made frequent, poignant allusions to Spanish literature throughout his address while telling his own narrative of learning small amounts of Spanish from immigrant children his own age while growing up in Texas. He said the vast wealth and income discrepancies between him and these children were instrumental in his dedication to immigration and border security solutions.

To address these inequalities, Paul is campaigning on an immigration plan built on the economics of supply and demand, advocating for job specific visas that are “proportional” to the number of openings for each job.

Paul saluted the Latino community’s shared commitment to hard work, telling the audience that he “never sees a Hispanic pan-handler.”

Paul also quoted Colombian writer and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a source of “advice Republicans might consider,” reciting a line from “Love in the Time of Cholera” to call on his country and his party to seek renewal:

“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them … Life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Nevada will hold its presidential caucuses on February 23, 2016, with 30 delegates at stake. It is the fourth event in the 2016 primary calendar–after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina–and the first test of strength in the West.

Paul is one of eight Southern candidates in the GOP race. The others are U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Jim Gilmore of Virginia; and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

The lone Southern seeking the Democratic nomination is former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

Rick Perry bows out of 2016 White House race with veiled shot at Trump

Former Texas governor says “no room” for “nativist appeals” in GOP race

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

texas mugST. LOUIS (CFP) — Four months before the first vote is cast, former Texas Governor Rick Perry has suspended his campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — but not before taking a veiled blast at front-runner Donald Trump over his negative comments about Latino immigrants.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

“We cannot indulge nativist appeals that divide the nation further,” Perry said, without mentioning Trump by name. “There is no room for debate that denigrates certain people based on their heritage or their origin.”

“We can secure the border of this country and reform our immigration system without inflammatory rhetoric … Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ.”

Perry, who has languished near the bottom of the polls in the crowded GOP field, announced the end of his campaign September 11 in an appearance before the Eagle Forum, a conservative women’s group. The decision to drop out came after news reports that his campaign no longer had enough money to pay staff.

Saying “some things have become clear to me,” Perry went on to laud what he termed “a tremendous field of candidates.”

“I step aside knowing our party’s in good hands as long as we listen to the grassroots, listen to the cause of conservatism,” he said.

Perry, 65, a former Air Force officer who was a cotton farmer in West Texas before getting into politics, left office in January after serving 14 years as governor, the longest tenure in the state’s history.

This was his second try for the White House. He ran in 2012, entering the campaign as one of the favorites only to see his stock plummet after a series of of gaffes, including a moment in a debate when he could not remember the name of a federal agency he had previously pledged to abolish. He later blamed his faltering performance on lack of preparation and the aftereffects of back surgery.

Perry had hoped for political redemption in the 2016 race, but his candidacy never caught fire in the polls. He was one of the most outspoken critics of Trump, particularly over his assertions that many illegal migrants from Mexico were  criminals.

Perry was one of nine Southern Republicans seeking the nomination. The other candidates are U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Jim Gilmore of Virginia; and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

The lone Southern seeking the Democratic nomination is former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

Watch video of Perry’s withdrawal announcement:

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