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U.S. Senate: Sessions, Tuberville advance to Alabama runoff, with Trump front and center

Texas Democrat MJ Hegar makes runoff; Cal Cunningham wins Democratic nod in North Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville topped the field in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, setting up an March 31 runoff with the man who gave up the seat in 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And Trump, who opted not to endorse anyone in the first round of voting, was quick to demonstrate that he still carries a grudge against Sessions with a post-primary tweet attributing his second-place showing to a lack of loyalty: “This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt.

Meanwhile in Texas, Democrats will decide a May 26 U.S. Senate runoff between the pick of the Democratic Senate establishment, MJ Hegar, and State Senator Royce West from Dallas. The winner of the runoff will take on Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

And in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, easily won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, turning back a challenger who had been aided with more than $2 million in ads from a Republican-affiliated PAC.

Sessions and Tuberville declare victory (From WSFA, Fox 10)

In Alabama, where Republicans have high hopes of defeating Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November, Tuberville — making his first run for political office — won 33 percent to 31 percent for Sessions. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who gave up his House seat to make the Senate race, finished third at 26 percent.

Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, won just 7 percent. Moore has denied the allegations.

In their election night speeches, both Sessions and Tuberville made it clear that fealty to Trump will be front and center in the runoff race.

Referring to Tuberville as a “tourist from Florida,” Sessions noted that he was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016 and accused Tuberville of being a johnny-come-lately to the Trump cause.

“Where was [Tuberville] when President Trump needed him? What did he do for Trump? Never said a kind word about him that I can find. Never gave a single penny of his millions to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

But Tuberville pointed to Sessions’s abrupt departure from the Trump administration after the president repeatedly criticized him for recusing himself during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, ‘You’re fired,'” Tuberville said. “Only one candidate in this race will support Donald Trump down the line. Doug won’t, Jeff didn’t, but Tommy will.”

In Texas, where the Democratic primary drew 12 candidates, Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, took 23 percent to lead the field, with Royce at 15 percent.

West has been a fixture in Austin for nearly three decades and is one of the state’s most prominent African American political leaders. He edged out Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who ran as a “progressive,” garnering endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

In North Carolina, Cunningham took 56 percent of the vote to 36 percent for State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat Tillis.

The Senate races in North Carolina and Texas are at the top of the Democrats’ target list for 2020, while Jones is considered to be the country’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in dark red Alabama.

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U.S. Senate nominations up for grabs Tuesday in 3 Southern states

Republicans will sort out the Senate race in Alabama, while Democrats tussle in Texas, North Carolina

(CFP) — Alabama Republicans will decide Tuesday whether to reward or punish former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his love-hate relationship with Donald Trump, while a gaggle of 12 Democrats jockey for the right to take on Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the establishment pick for the Democratic nomination, Cal Cunningham, is trying to hold off two challengers, one of whom received unsolicited support from an unlikely source — a PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Polls in Alabama and Texas are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time; in North Carolina, the polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m.

In Alabama, the Republican primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November.

Sessions held the Senate seat for 20 years before giving it up in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general, only to resign in late 2018 after his relationship with the president turned acrimonious in the wake of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Sessions parachuted into the Senate race last November, after Byrne and Tuberville had already been running for months. Since then, Sessions has gone out of his way to express fervent support for Trump, who carried Alabama by 28 points in 2016.

Trump has so far held his fire in the race, which polls show is likely headed to a runoff between Sessions and one of his two competitors on April 14.

Also in the race is Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, which he has denied. Polls show Moore lagging the rest of the field.

In Texas, the Democratic primary race in appears to be headed toward a runoff between MJ Hegar, who holds a strong lead the polls, and one of her 11 competitors.

Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot, burst onto the political scene in 2018 when she nearly unseated Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in his central Texas district.  She entered the Senate race against Cornyn last April and raised nearly $4 million for the primary, which earned her an endorsement from the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Battling for the second spot in the runoff are veteran State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin who has garnered endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards.

If no candidate gets a majority, the top two competitors will face off in a May 26 primary.

In North Carolina, Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is running against State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat GOP U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

Smith has denounced the ads, accusing Republicans of trying to meddle in the Democratic primary.

Under state law, Cunningham needs to win only 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a runoff on May 12.

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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president

Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.

However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.

The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Alexander

In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.

“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.

Rubio

Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.

“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.

Wicker

Paul

“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.

Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”

“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.

Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.

“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.

Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.

Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.

“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.

But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.

“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.

Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.

Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.

Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.

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Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul will oppose President Trump on border emergency vote

Rand’s defection means resolution to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration can pass Senate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky (CFP) — U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky will break with Donald Trump and vote to overturn the president’s declaration of a national emergency to find money to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul

Paul is the fourth Republican senator to come out in favor of a resolution overturning the declaration, enough defections to get the measure through the Senate and force Trump to veto it.

Speaking at a Republican dinner Saturday in his hometown of Bowling Green, Paul cited constitutional objections to Trump’s plan to shift money to wall construction that has been earmarked by Congress for other purposes.

“We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it,” Paul said, according to a report in the Bowling Green Daily News. “If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing.”

Paul is the second Southern Republican senator to announce support for the resolution, joining North Carolina’s Thom Tillis in bolting from the party line.

Trump, frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, declared a national emergency on February 15, which would allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Under the law that governs national emergencies, Congress can overturn an emergency declaration with a majority vote in both houses. The House approved the measure by a vote of 245-182.

Only three of 101 Southern Republicans in the House opposed Trump’s declaration — Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Will Hurd of Texas, and Francis Rooney of Florida.

Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. With Paul, Tillis, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska publicly opposed, the resolution overturning the declaration will pass the Senate if Democrats unite against it.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution and has more than enough support in both houses to prevent his veto from being overridden. The battle will then move to federal court, where opponents are challenging the legality of the emergency declaration.

Paul, who doesn’t come up for re-election until 2022, had been seen as a likely yes vote on overturning the declaration. A libertarian known for opposing his party leadership on constitutional issues, Paul reportedly argued with Vice President Mike Pence about the declaration at a recent GOP party lunch.

The Southern Republicans in the Senate still deciding about whether to oppose the emergency declaration include Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Paul, Cruz and Rubio were all presidential candidates against Trump in 2016. Alexander has announced he will retire in 2020.

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North Carolina U.S. Senator Thom Tillis breaks with President Trump on border wall emergency

House approves measure to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration with just 3 Southern GOP votes

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina has become the first Southern Republican in the Senate to break ranks to support overturning President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to find money to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

The Democrat-controlled House passed a bill Tuesday to overturn the emergency declaration, which now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Just three Southern Republicans in the House — Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Will Hurd of Texas, and Francis Rooney of Florida — voted for the measure, which passed by a margin of 245-182.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Tillis said he is concerned that the emergency declaration will set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

“Those on the left and the right who are making Trump’s emergency declaration a simple political litmus test of whether one supports or opposes the president and his policies are missing the mark,” Tillis said. “This is about the separation of powers and whether Congress will support or oppose a new precedent of executive power that will have major consequences.”

Tillis said conservatives “should be thinking about whether they would accept the prospect of a President Bernie Sanders declaring a national emergency to implement parts of the radical Green New Deal; a President Elizabeth Warren declaring a national emergency to shut down banks and take over the nation’s financial institutions; or a President Cory Booker declaring a national emergency to restrict Second Amendment rights.”

He also noted that Republicans “rightfully cried foul” when President Barack Obama used executive action to bypass Congress.

“There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party,” he said.

Trump, frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Under the law that governs national emergencies, Congress can overturn an emergency declaration with a majority vote in both houses. However, Trump is certain to veto the measure if it gets through the Senate, and the president has enough support to prevent his veto from being overridden.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Three Republicans — Tillis, Susan Collins from Maine, and Lisa Murkowski — have now said they will vote in favor of overturning the declaration; any additional GOP defections will mean it is likely to pass when it comes to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has 18 days to bring the House resolution to a vote.

In the House, almost all of the Southern Republicans stuck with the president.

The dissenters were Rooney, who represents Southwest Florida; Hurd, who represents a West Texas district along the U.S.-Mexico border where much of the proposed wall would be constructed; and Massie, who said he supports construction of the wall but voted for the resolution “in order to be consistent in preserving the constitutional structure of our Republic.”

“There is a crisis at our border, but it’s not an emergency when Congress doesn’t spend money how the President wants,” Massie said on Twitter. “The President’s constitutional remedy is to veto spending bills that aren’t suitable to him, yet he has chosen to sign many bills that did not fund the wall.”

If Congress is unable to override Trump’s veto, the battle over the border wall will likely head to federal court, where opponents plan to challenge the legality of the emergency declaration.

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Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call

GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lgWASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.

Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.

The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.

Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:

Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.

Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.

West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.

Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.

North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.

Poll: Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis in dead heat in North Carolina U.S. Senate race

Poll has Democrat Hagan and Republican Tillis within the margin of error

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and her GOP challenger, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, are in a statistical dead heat in Senate race in North Carolina, a new poll shows.

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan

The Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed Hagan’s support at 45 percent to 43 percent for Tillis, which was within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

The poll found a significant gender gap in the race. Hagan held an 18-point lead among women, while Tillis had a 14-point lead among men.

Hagan, 61,  who is seeking a second term, is one of the top Republican targets in this election cycle. Tillis, 53, won a hotly contested GOP primary to win the right to take her on.

Outside groups supporting both candidates have already poured more than $10 million into the race.

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