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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 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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Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.
Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.
Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”
“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”
Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”
“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.
The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.
“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”
Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.
“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”
Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”
“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”
At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”
On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”
“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.
But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.
“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”
Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.
“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.
But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”
“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.
Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.
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Decision clears way for Senate showdown between GOP U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — After reconsidering his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate, Republican Bob Corker has now ruled out seeking another term this year, setting up a general election match-up between U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen that could determine control of the Senate.
In an February 27 interview with Politico, Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, said the senator has decided to stick with the decision he made last September not to seek a third term, despite being urged by other Republicans to reconsider amid fears that Blackburn could have trouble keeping the seat in GOP hands in November.
A week earlier, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, Blackburn’s chief opponent in the Republican primary, ended his campaign and publicly called on Corker to run again.
Central to the considerations about whether to reverse course was Corker’s contentious relationship with President Donald Trump.
Last August, the senator said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and also referred to the White House as an “adult day care center.” After his criticisms triggered a presidential pillorying on Twitter, Corker said Trump “debases our country” and has “great difficulty with the truth.”
Blackburn, 65, who was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state, served on Trump’s transition team and has positioned herself as a strong supporter. She has also been critical of the current Republican leadership in the Senate, in which Corker chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.
Although the departures of Fincher and Corker have cleared the Republican field for Blackburn, she will face a formidable obstacle in Bredesen, 74, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011 and has the distinction of being the last Democrat to win a statewide election in the Volunteer State. He is also a multimillionaire who could pour his own resources into the campaign.
Bredesen had initially declined to run for the Senate seat after Corker announced his retirement. But in December, a week before Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Alabama that had been thought to be unwinnable, Bredesen jumped into the race. Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee, then dropped out.
With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate, the unexpectedly competitive race in Tennessee complicates the GOP’s efforts to keep control. However, Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee in 28 years.
The contest in Tennessee is one of five Southern U.S. Senate races that could potentially be competitive in 2018:
- In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Democrats haven’t won a Senate in the Lone Star State since 1988.
- In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson appears likely to face a challenge from Republican Governor Rick Scott in what is likely to be the 2018 cycle’s most expensive Senate race.
- In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin will face the winner of a GOP primary between U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in a state Trump won by 40 points in 2016.
- In Virginia, five Republicans will vie in a June primary to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, in an increasingly Democratic state that Hillary Clinton carried.
Of the 28 senators representing Southern states, only four are Democrats, three of whom are up for re-election in 2018. The fourth is Doug Jones, who won a special election in Alabama in December.