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West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin breaks with party to support Kavanaugh confirmation

Manchin’s decision all but ensures that President Trump’s nominee will get seat on U.S. Supreme Court

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only Senate Democrat to break with his party to support President Trump’s embattled nominee.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin’s decision virtually ensures that Kavanuagh will be confirmed when the Senate takes a final vote on the nomination, a week after the jurist angrily denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were teenagers in the 1980s.

The vote on the nomination was delayed a week while the FBI investigated the allegations.

In a statement announcing his decision, Manchin said he has “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”

“My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced sexual assault,” Manchin said. “However, based on all the information I have available to me, including the recently concluded FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”

But Machin also said he hoped Kavanaugh “would not let the partisan nature this process took follow him on to the court.”

After supporting Kavanaugh in a procedural vote, Manchin had to make he way past a crowd of angry protestors inside the Capitol.

Machin is the only Democratic senator to support Kavanaugh. His vote became more important for the confirmation after one of the Senate’s 51 Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced that she would vote no.

Four other Southern Democrats opposed the nomination — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Doug Jones of Alabama. All 23 Southern Republicans supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Machin — running for re-election in November in a state Trump carried by 40 points in 2016 — was under considerable pressure to back Kavanaugh.  He previously supported Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.

Polls have consistently shown Manchin with a lead over his Republican opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

On Twitter, Morrisey accused Manchin of making “a craven political calculation” in supporting Kavanaugh and said he “owes West Virginia an apology for watching, doing nothing, as Democrats sought to destroy Judge Kavanaugh.”

Nelson and Kaine are also up for re-election in November; Warner and Jones will be on the ballot in 2020.

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Virginia Primary: Stewart gets GOP Senate nod; Comstock will face Wexton in D.C. suburbs

Republicans pick Confederacy defender Corey Stewart to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats picked nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in the June 12 primary election, including a high-stakes race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs that will pit GOP U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock against Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton.

Also in the primary, Republicans picked Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s onetime Virginia campaign chair, as their nominee to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in November.

Stewart’s win was greeted with dismay by GOP leaders in Virginia, who will now have a candidate at the top of their ticket who has defended preservation of Confederate symbols and once made a public appearance alongside one of the organizers of last summer’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, took 45 percent to edge out State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper at 43 percent and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist from Chesapeake at 12 percent.

In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.

Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.

Jennifer Wexton

Barbara Comstock

The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.

The six Democrats running raised $6.5 million in the primary; Comstock has raised $3.3 million.

Wexton, a state lawmaker from Leesburg who was the choice of  Governor Ralph Northam and other party leaders, took 42 percent of the primary vote, followed by Alison Friedman at 23 percent and Lindsey Davis Stover at 16 percent.

Meanwhile, Comstock easily batted down a Republican primary challenge from Shak Hill, who attacked her as insufficiently conservative. She took 61 percent to Hill’s 39 percent.

In the 2nd District, Democrats picked Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016. Luria took 62 percent to 38 percent for Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.

In the GOP primary, Taylor defeated Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, with 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Jones.

In the 7th District, Democrat Abigail Spanberger a retired CIA operative from Glen Allen, won the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November, winning 72 percent to defeat Daniel Ward, who took 23 percent.

Spanberger has raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.

The one Democrat-targeted seat where there wasn’t any suspense on primary night was the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.

Corey Stewart

Tim Kaine

In the Senate race, polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over Stewart, in a state where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in 10 years. Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and two-term governor seeking his second term, is not considered a top-tier GOP target this year.

Stewart was Trump’s Virginia campaign co-chair in 2016 until late in the campaign, when he was fired after leading a protest in front of Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.

The incident happened shortly after the Access Hollywood videotape surfaced of Trump bragging about groping women. Stewart, upset about reports that GOP leaders might distance themselves from Trump, organized the protest, saying he wanted to start a “rebellion against GOP establishment pukes who betrayed Trump.”

Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.

During the primary, Freitas had criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”

Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”

After Stewart’s win, Virginia’s former Republican lieutenant governor unleashed a blistering tweet: “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”

Virginia Primary: Democrats pick nominees in GOP-held U.S. House targets

Republicans will pick candidate to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in November

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats will pick nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in Tuesday’s primary election, including a race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where a large gaggle of Democrats have already raised $6.5 million to try to unseat U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Republicans will decide on a nominee for an uphill battle to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, with Corey Stewart, the controversial chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, leading the pack.

Polls are open across the commonwealth Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.

Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia

The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.

Six Democrats are running and, because Virginia does not have primary runoffs, whichever candidate can cobble together the most votes Tuesday will win the nomination.

The most recent Federal Elections Commission filings show three Democrats — State Senator Jennifer Wexton, Alison Friedman, and Dan Helmer — have raised more than $1 million, while a fourth, Lindsey Davis Stover, has approached the $1 million mark.

Wexton, from Leesburg, has gotten endorsements from Governor Ralph Northam and other elected Democrats. Both Friedman and Stover served in the Obama administration. Helmer, from Fairfax, is a business strategist and former Army officer.

In all, the six Democrats have raised nearly $6.5 million for the 10th District race, a testament to Democratic enthusiasm in the wake of the party’s strong showing in state elections last year.

However, Comstock — who has turned back stiff Democratic challenges in the last three election cycles — still has far and away the biggest fundraising haul at $3.3 million.

Comstock also has a Republican challenger, Shak Hill, a primary that turned contentious in the closing days. Hill has attacked Comstock as insufficiently conservative, branding her “Beltway Barbara;” Comstock has questioned Hill’s personal history, calling him “Shady Shak.”

In the 2nd District, two Democrats are running to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016:  Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, and Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.

Taylor also faces a GOP primary challenge from Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, who has wrapped herself in the Trump mantle and criticized Taylor for not being conservative enough.

In the 7th District, Democrats Abigail Spanberger and Daniel Ward are vying for the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November. Spanberger, from Glen Allen, is a retired CIA operative; Ward, from Orange, is an airline pilot and former Marine Corps officer who worked as a State Department aide during the Obama administration.

Both Democrats have each raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.

The one Democrat-targeted seat where there won’t be any suspense on primary night is the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.

GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart

In the Republican U.S. Senate race, Stewart is facing off against State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.

Freitas has criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”

Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”

Polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over all three of his potential GOP challengers. Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in the Old Dominion since 2008.

Florida Governor Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate run

Race between Scott and incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson could be nation’s most expensive

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ORLANDO (CFP) — Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott has made official what was widely expected — he will challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in November.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott’s decision, announced April 9 in Orlando, sets up what is likely to be a hard-fought and hugely expensive battle for Florida’s seat, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

Calling Washington “dysfunctional” and slamming “career politicians,” Scott called on Floridians to “stop sending talkers to Washington. Let’s send doers to Washington.”

“We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington. We should say we’re going to make change,” Scott said. “We can change Washington. We must change Washington. We will change Washington.”

The emphasis on changing the culture of Washington was a direct slap at Nelson, who has served in the Senate for 18 years after serving 12 years in the U.S. House.

Scott, who kicked off his campaign at a construction company that has expanded during his eight years in Tallahassee, also touted his record as a “jobs” governor, taking credit for creating 1.5 million new jobs and cutting taxes by $10 billion.

“People are flocking to Florida because this is where you can live the dream of this country,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to take that same mission to D.C.”

Scott, 65, a multimillionaire former for-profit hospital executive, was a political newcomer when he was first elected governor in 2010 after pouring more than $70 million of his own money into the race. He was re-elected by a narrow margin in 2014.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

Nelson, 75, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and won re-election easily in 2006 and 2012. He is one of just five Democrats representing Southern states, along with U.S. Senators Doug Jones of Alabama, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Nelson and Machin, who both represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016, are among the top Republican targets in the 2018 election cycle. Trump had been publicly urging Scott to run against Nelson.

In response to Scott’s announcement, Nelson issued a statement saying he has “always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent” and adding that Scott “will say or do anything to get elected.”

“I’ve always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself,” he said.

The race in Florida, a state that is closely divided politically and has 10 television markets, is expected to approach or break spending records, particularly because of the personal fortune Scott can bring to bear.

The most expensive Senate race in history was in Pennsylvania in 2016, where more than $160 million was spent by candidates and outside groups.

Democrats will no doubt try to tie Scott to Trump, which could have unpredictable results in what’s shaping up to be a Democratic year. Another wildcard will be the effect of Scott’s support for new restrictions on gun purchases that passed the Florida legislature after 17 people died in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland.

The new restrictions have drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, although supporters of stronger controls on guns faulted the measure passed by Florida lawmakers for not going far enough.

Republicans current have a narrow 51-to-49 seat advantage in the Senate, which means all of the seats up in 2018 could be pivotal in deciding which party is in control.

Among Southern seats, Democrats’ best targets are in Texas, Tennessee and a special election for a vacant seat in Mississippi. For Republicans, Nelson and Manchin are at the top of the target list, with an outside shot at Kaine.

No other Southern states have Senate races this year.

Report: Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker to stick with retirement

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.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

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.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn

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.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

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:

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.

Alabama Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones sworn in

Jones is first Alabama Democrat to sit in the Senate since 1997

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has been officially sworn in as a U.S. senator, capping the remarkable and improbable political feat of capturing a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most Republican states.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones is sworn in. (Courtesy C-SPAN)

Jones, flanked by former Vice President Joe Biden, was sworn in on January 3 by Vice President Mike Pence, alongside Democrat Tina Smith, who assumed the Senate seat from Minnesota vacated by Al Franken. The ceremony was then re-enacted in the Old Senate Chamber, where Jones was accompanied by his family.

Jones assumed the seat once held by his mentor and former boss, the late U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, who was the last Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State when he retired in 1997.

With Jones in the Senate, Republicans will hold a scant 51-49 advantage. With Pence available to break ties, Democrats need just two Republican votes to stop the majority from passing legislation.

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, was given little chance to win the seat when a special election was called in April to pick a permanent replacement for Republican Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.

But interest in Jones began picking up after the man picked to fill Session’s seat on a temporary basis, Luther Strange, was defeated in a Republican primary runoff by Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And then, a month before the December 12 election, the race was rocked by allegations that Moore had sexually pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Moore vehemently denied the charges. But GOP Senate leaders quickly disavowed him and tried to push him out of the race, to no avail. Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby was among Moore’s detractors, saying publicly that he would not vote for Moore.

Almost alone among Republicans, President Donald Trump stood by Moore, telling his supporters that letting a “liberal” like Jones into the Senate would harm his agenda. But Republican defections, coupled with a strong turnout by African American voters, put Jones over the top by 22,000 votes.

Jones is one of only five Democrats representing Southern states in the Senate, joining U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other 23 Southern senators are Republicans.

Jones will now serve the remainder of Sessions term, which comes up for election again in 2020.

Republican Corey Stewart promises “vicious, ruthless” campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Stewart enters race just a month after losing race for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia (CFP) — Just a month after narrowly losing a Republican primary for Virginia governor, Corey Stewart started a new race against U.S. Senator Tim Kaine with an unapologetic vow to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” he can to unseat the Democratic incumbent.

GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart

“I’m going to go after him very, very hard,” said Stewart, who gained national prominence while serving as President Trump’s Virginia state chairman during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I think that Republicans have been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules for too long, and Democrats have been fighting a UFC fight.”

In his opening campaign salvo at his home in suburban Washington, D.C. on July 13, Stewart also made it clear that he would wrap himself in the Trump mantle in the Senate race, as he did in his unsuccessful race for governor.

“Tim Kaine is doing everything in his power to stop the president of the United States from making the economy great again, from bringing back jobs, from reforming health care and from making America great again,” he said, accusing Kaine of having a “blind hatred” for Trump that makes him “so focused on taking down the president of the United States that he is ignoring the true needs of Virginians and other Americans.”

However, Stewart didn’t stop with attacking Democrats. He began his announcement by saying how “disgusted” he had been by the 1989 inaugural address of President George H.W. Bush, a pillar of the GOP establishment.

“I was disgusted at the phrase kinder, gentler nation,” he said. “I knew right then that it was the end of the Reagan revolution.”

Stewart, 48, has been chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors since 2006. He was Trump’s state chairman in Virginia until a month before the 2016 election, when he was sacked after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made lewd sexual comments.

In the June 13 GOP gubernatorial primary, Stewart nearly defeated former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time aide to President George W. Bush who had been seen as a presumptive favorite. Stewart said his surprisingly strong showing in that race, which he lost by only 4,500 votes, was part of the reason he decided to set his sights on unseating Kaine.

In the governor’s race, Stewart ran as an anti-establishment candidate and vowed to resist efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy. He is not, however, a native Southerner, having been born in Minnesota.

Running as a Trump champion could be problematic in Virginia, which was the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

Kaine — Clinton’s vice presidential running mate — also has a venerable political pedigree in the Old Dominion, having served as governor and lieutenant governor before being elected to the Senate in 2012. And no Republican has won a Senate race in the commonwealth since 2002.

Stewart’s vow of viciousness at the starting line drew a rebuke from Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, who called him “more extreme than Donald Trump.”

“Corey has completely ignored the needs of families in Prince William County to instead spend his time name calling, bashing immigrants and re-litigating the Civil War,” she said in a statement. “When he rarely turns his attention to the county he was elected to represent, he calls his colleagues ‘slimeballs’ and pushes an anti-immigrant, backwards agenda that has left working families behind.”

“The last thing Virginians need in the Senate is a rubber stamp for President Trump,” she said.

And before he gets to Kaine, Stewart will likely have to face down a primary challenge. Among the Republicans considering the race is Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 but later relocated to Virginia, where she had lived earlier in her business career.

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