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Analysis: Midterms a show of woe for Southern Democrats

GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states sm

(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.

Analysis: Tea Party Senate challengers can take comfort from Texas

U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s weak margin of victory shows other incumbents might be vulnerable

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states ttankThe good news for the other four Republican U.S. senators facing Tea Party challenges this year is that Senator John Cornyn won in Texas.

The bad news? Cornyn’s win was hardly impressive.ME sm

Facing a primary field that was, to be charitable, less than viable, Cornyn failed to clear 60 percent of the vote. More than four in 10 Texas voters in his own party wanted somebody — anybody — else.

Compare that result with the Republican primary race for governor, where Attorney General Greg Abbott swept almost 92 percent of the vote against three challengers.

Cornyn’s chief Tea Party challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, jumped in at the last minute and ran an erratic campaign. That allowed Cornyn to survive.

But imagine what might have happened if a stronger Tea Party competitor had run. No doubt some Texas conservatives who passed on this race are now kicking themselves over what might have been.

Cornyn was a Tea Party target because he is the minority whip in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also facing a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who, unlike Stockman, is raising money and has the backing of outside conservative groups.

If the unhappiness with Cornyn seen in Texas is duplicated in Kentucky, McConnell could be in trouble.

Likewise, Senators Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee and Thad Cochran in Mississippi all face Tea Party challengers.

Alexander and Graham seem to be holding their own. Cochran, on the other hand, faces State Senator Chris McDaniel, who is also getting a boost from outside conservative groups, which sat on the sidelines in Texas.

And in addition to races with incumbents, the preferred GOP establishment candidates for seats in North Carolina, Louisiana and West Virginia are also battling Tea Party challengers. In Georgia, there’s a free-for-all among five major candidates, at least two of whom are expected to draw from the Tea Party part of the party.

Now that he’s survived the primary, Cornyn is the prohibitive favorite to win the general election. But if Tea Party challengers win in any of the other states where they have a shot, Democrats will be waiting in the wings.

That is causing heartburn in the GOP establishment. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said as much when he opined recently that a McDaniel win in the Magnolia State could open the door for a Democrat.

Cornyn’s tepid showing in Texas isn’t making that heartburn any better.

Analysis: GOP needs an (unlikely) Southern sweep to take back the Senate

Republicans face a tall order of ousting incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina and keeping a seat in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate,

southern states smThis year, 13 of the 14 Southern states — all save Florida — will have a Senate election. And a look at the map shows that the GOP needs to make a Shermanesque march across the South to have any hope of taking the Senate.ME sm

Barring any unforseen upsets, we can take nine of the 15 Southern races off the board — Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and two in Oklahoma.

In all of those states except Virginia and Georgia, Republican incuments are running again and are likely to win. One of the GOP-held seats in Oklahoma is open but unlikely to turn blue.

In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner is running and favored, although the entry into the race of former Bush aide and GOP bigwig Ed Gillespie could make it interesting. The seat in Georgia is open, but, given the Peach State’s Republican proclivities, the party’s nominee would be in the driver’s seat.

That leaves five Southern races that will be pivotal — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. Democrats hold four of those seats; Republicans, only Kentucky.

If Republicans sweep all five of those seats, they will make a net gain of four seats. That would be enough to take control of the Senate if, as expected, the GOP takes away open Democratic seats in Montana and South Dakota.

But that also means that there is little room for error. Nearly all of the Southern dominoes have to fall the right way. And that’s easier said than done.

Louisiana is perhaps the weakest link for Republicans, who have been trying, and failing, to get Mary Landrieu out of the Senate for the past 18 years. She has proven herself to be the tabby cat of Louisiana politics — and of her nine lives, only three are spent.

North Carolina is also no slam dunk for the GOP, which is trying to defeat freshman Senator Kay Hagan. This is a state, after all, that Barack Obama carried in 2008 and almost carried in 2012, and the place where John Edwards won a Senate seat not that long ago.

In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor is in the political fight of his life against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton. Yet, Pryor holds one of the most storied names in Arkansas political history. And this, remember, is the Land of Clinton, where Democrats still hold most of the statewide offices.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a brutal primary fight with Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin, with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes waiting in the wings.

Smart money is still on McConnell, mainly because he has a mountain of money and is running in a state Obama lost by more than 20 points. But there is no question he faces a battle for survival.

At the end of the day, Republicans are likely to some of these Southern seats, maybe even most of them. But a complete sweep would seem to be a stretch.

So if they want to take back the Senate, Republicans may need to expand the map.

The best prospects for that are races in Michigan and Iowa, where Democratic incumbents are retiring,  and New Hampshire, where one-time GOP star Scott Brown may cross the border from Masschusetts to take on Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Another possibility is Alaska, where Republicans have high hopes of ousting Democatic Senator Mark Begich.

Virgnia is another possibility, although Democrats could potentially also make Georgia competitive.

Any way you slice it, though, the South is where Senate control will be won or lost — and where the GOP will need the run of a lifetime in 2014.

Analysis: Arkansas voters enter the silly season with Senate ads

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, are both airing warm-and-fuzzy ads that insult the intelligence of Arkansans

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugThe good news for local television viewers in Arkansas is that after months of snippy attack ads, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, have finally started going positive in their Senate duel.ME sm

The bad news? Both campaigns have started with a couple of peculiar spots that say very little about either man — but much about how little regard their campaign managers seem to have for the intelligence of Arkansans.

Let’s start with Cotton. Just before Christmas, he aired an ad featuring a moving testimonial from, of all people, his mother.

Really? An endorsement from your mother? I would assume that even my momma, God rest her soul, would say nice things about me if someone pointed a television camera in her direction. But would that tell voters anything about my qualifications to be a U.S. senator? I doubt it.

Cotton’s mother seems like a perfectly delightful lady. But unless she’s endorsing Pryor, her views on the Senate race aren’t particularly illuminating, although I will concede the warm-and-fuzzy Yuletide ads were an improvement over the Pryor-bashing we all saw in previous months.

Not to be outdone in the banality department, Pryor went up with an ad in which he tells voters across the Natural State that the Bible is his “North Star.”

That seems a rather peculiar mixture of religion and astronomy. But it is what he says next that takes the ad straight over into strange: “The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.”

I must have missed that day in Sunday school when we studied what Holy Scripture has to say about political parties. Then again, Senator Pryor is a Southern Baptist, and I’m not, so maybe something has simply been lost in translation.

But does the Bible really teach us that no one has all the answers? Actually, it usually teaches the opposite; namely, that the answers are to be found from the people within its covers, if one looks hard enough.  For God’s sake, a Southern Baptist ought to at least know that.

I suppose the senator’s political handlers thought this ad would burnish his Christian bona fides in a state where such things matter. But anyone who stops to think for a minute what he actually said, as opposed to the ad’s atmospherics, will realize how silly it is.

I’m sure Senator Pryor is a good Christian, and I’m sure Tom Cotton’s momma really loves him a whole, big bunch. Why the voters of Arkansas should care about either of those things, though, is a mystery.

Gentlemen, let us have substance!

Senate Conservatives Fund pours $1.7 million into three Southern Senate races

Anti-establishment group funds GOP primary insurgents in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The Senate Conservatives Fund is proving itself once again to be a signficant thorn in the side of the GOP establishment, announcing that it has poured more than $1.7 million into insurgent U.S. Senate campaigns in three Southern states.

The biggest recipient of the fund’s largesse has been Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. He has received almost $986,000, counting both direct contributions and independent expenditures made on his behalf.

In Mississippi, State Senator Chris McDaniel, who is challenging the incumbent, Senator Thad Cochran, has received nearly $516,000. In Louisiana, Rob Maness, one of three Republicans seeking to oust Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, has received $241,000.

Maness, a retired Air Force colonel, is running against U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has GOP establishment support both in Washington and Louisiana.

In announcing the fund’s expenditures January 3, SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins said “it shows how determined people are to elect true conservative leaders who will stand up to the big spenders in both parties.”

The SCF, founded in 2008 by former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, has drawn the ire of Republican leaders in Washington by backing primary challengers to sitting senators and supporting Tea Party-allied candidates against candidates considered more mainstream.

In the 2014 cycle, the fund has put a particular bullseye on McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate. However, despite nearly $1 million in fund support, McConnell still holds a huge fundraising advantage over Bevin, reporting nearly $10 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

Cochran, however, holds a much less formidable advantage over McDaniel, with a mere $800,000 on hand at the end of September. He didn’t announce that he was seeking re-election until early December.

In Louisiana, Cassidy had almost $3.5 million on hand at the end of September. McDaniel, who only entered the race in October, has not yet reported any fundraising figures to the Federal Elections Commission.

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