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Southern Politics 2014: The Year In Review

2014 was a much better year for Republicans than for reality stars revamped as politicos

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states smA congressman man caught kissing. Reality stars trying to remake themselves as politicians. A snowstorm that threatened to torpedo a sitting governor. A top U.S. House leader unceremoniously unseated in a primary. And a flap over a fan during a heated debate.

Those were just some of the strange and unlikely events in Southern politics in 2014, a year that ended with Republicans roaring through the region like Sherman in reverse. Here are some of the memorable moments:

Loose Lips Sink More Than Ships — Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, a married Christian conservative from northeast Louisiana, was caught on videotape passionately kissing a female staffer who was, ahem, not his wife. He refused to resign but decided not to run for re-election. Then, he changed his mind and ran again, with his wife’s vocal support. But his constituents were less forgiving than the missus, and he finished a distant fourth in the primary.

Snowmageddon — When a January snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, Republican Governor Nathan Deal took the heat for a sluggish state response and his initial attempt to shift the blame elsewhere. But Democratic hopes that this snowy debacle might bury Deal had melted by November, when he was comfortably re-elected.

Taking Aim At Obamacare — Alabama Republican U.S. House candidate Will Brooke posted a YouTube video, entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage,” in which he fired bullets into a copy of the Obamacare bill. The gambit gained him a bit of attention, though, alas, not enough to win the primary in his Birmingham-area district.

Strange Bedfellows — Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both waded into the Florida governor’s race this year, cutting ads for Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott, respectively. However, their shoes were on the other feet in 2006, when Crist was a Republican (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.) Back then, it was Crist who enjoyed Giuliani’s support, while Clinton backed his Democratic opponent.

Overheated Debate — Speaking of the Florida governor’s race, a televised debate between Crist and Scott came to an abrupt halt when Crist insisted on putting a small fan at his feet under the podium, in apparent violation of the debate rules. Scott first refused to take the stage until the fan was removed, but he eventually relented — after seven awkward minutes of scrambling by the debate moderators. In the end, Scott won a narrow victory.

Real Mean Politics — Three reality TV stars — American Idol Clay Aiken, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel — all vied for political office this year. But political reality proved harsh, as all three lost badly. However, Aiken is turning his unsuccessful U.S. House campaign in North Carolina into — wait for it — a new reality show.

Biggest Upset — In an outcome that shocked the political world, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his Richmond-area seat to Dave Brat, a little known college professor who ran at Cantor as a Tea Party insurgent. Weep not for Cantor, though. He bounced back with a job on Wall Street.

Worst Campaign — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis tried to parlay her filibuster against a bill restricting abortions in the Lone Star State into the governor’s mansion. But a series of gaffes — including questions about the veracity of her rags-to-riches story as a single trailer-park mom made good — sunk her chances, and she lost by a staggering 20 points.

Weirdest Campaign Appearance — Matt Bevin, who was challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary in Kentucky, appeared at a rally hosted by a group that supports legalizing cockfighting. While insisting he didn’t condone cockfighting, Bevin didn’t help himself when he told a radio reporter that the Founder Fathers were “very actively involved” in the blood sport. Perhaps not surprisingly, McConnell won rather handily.

Best Don Quixote Impression — Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel — peeved that he was defeated in a GOP U.S. Senate runoff by crossover votes from Democrats and independents — launched a three-month court fight to overturn the result. Alas, his windmill tilting came to naught, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran kept the seat.

Best Houdini Impression — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee faced voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from his bitter 2001 divorce during which he admitted a string of extra-marital affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his first wife to have two abortions. However, GOP voters in his district proved surprisingly forgiving, handing DesJarlais a narrow primary victory. He went on to win re-election in November.

If You Can’t Override, Indict — Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion over his veto of a funding bill for an Austin prosecutor who refused his demand that she resign after being arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. A defiant Perry vowed to fight the charges, noting that in America, “we settle our political differences at the ballot box,” rather than in criminal court.

Double Dipper — Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul announced he would run for re-election in 2016, even as he is also considering a White House bid. One pesky little problem, though: Kentucky law doesn’t allow somebody to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Paul’s supporters are trying to find a way to work around that technicality.

Democrat Dam Breaks in Upper South — While the general election was grim for Democrats across the South, the news was especially depressing in Arkansas and West Virginia, which had been places where the party of Jackson was still competitive. In Arkansas, Republicans took all seven statewide constitutional offices and every congressional seat for the first time since Reconstruction. In West Virginia, the GOP took all three U.S. House seats and captured control of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

“D” Is The New Scarlet Letter — Three sitting Southern Democratic U.S. senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — all went down to defeat, paving the way for Republicans to take control of the Senate. Republicans also took away an open seat in West Virginia that they hadn’t won since 1942.

Louisiana U.S. House: Edwards still in, “Kissing Congressman” out

Edwin Edwards, the disgraced former governor, makes runoff, but U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister’s re-election bid falls short

By Rich Shumate, editor

louisiana mugBATON ROUGE (CFP) — Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, a larger-than-life politician who spent eight years behind bars for corruption, has earned a spot in the runoff for the 6th District U.S. House seat.

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

But in the adjoining 5th District, U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, who refused calls for his resignation after a video surfaced in April showing him passionately kissing a female staffer, finished fourth in Louisiana’s November 4 jungle primary, getting just 11 percent of the vote.

After the video surfaced, McAllister, a conservative Christian and married father of five first elected to the House in 2013, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. But he later changed his mind, and his wife appeared in a TV ad on his behalf.

Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Edwards, 87, finished first in 6th District primary with 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field that included two fellow Democrats and eight Republicans. He will now face Republican Garret Graves, the former chairman of the state’s coastal protection authority, in the December 6 runoff.

The district, which takes in much of the southeastern part of the state including most of Baton Rouge, is strongly Republican, which will make Graves a prohibitive favorite in the runoff.

Still, getting into the runoff was a political triumph for the colorful octogenarian, who starred in a television reality show in 2013 with his third wife, Trina, who is 51 years his junionr.

Edwards served a record four terms as Louisiana’s governor between 1972 and 1996. In 1991, after being acquitted of federal corruption charges, he won a runoff against white supremacist David Duke. During that campaign, a popular bumper sticker urged Louisianians to “Vote For the Crook. It’s Important.”

In 2001, Edwards was convicted on 17 counts of bribery, extortion, fraud and racketeering stemming from his last terms as governor. he served eight years in prison.

As a convicted felon, Edwards is barred from seeking state office. But there is no prohibition on convicted felons seeking federal office.

Wife of “Kissing Congressman” cuts testimonial campaign ad

Kelly McAllister says her husband, U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, “owns up to his mistakes”

louisiana mugMONROE, Louisiana (CFP) — The wife of embattled U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister is appearing in a new television as the Louisiana Republican battles to keep his seat after an embarrassing video surfaced last April showing him kissing a female staffer.

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

“A man’s character is based on how many times he gets back up and stands again,” Kelly McAllister says in the ad. “I’m blessed to have a husband who owns up to his mistakes, never gives up, always fighting for the good people of Louisiana.”

McAllister himself opens the video, saying that “life is filled with ups and downs.”

McAllister, 40, a Christian conservative and father of five, was elected to the 5th District seat in a special election last November in his first bid for political office. After the video surfaced, he announced he would not seek re-election, but he later changed his mind and filed to run again.

To go back to Washington, he will have to defeat five Republicans and a Democrat who have filed to run against him, including Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, the Democrat, and former Republican U.S. Rep. Clyde Holloway, a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

The crowded field could help McAllister because of Louisiana’s unique jungle primary system. All seven candidates run in the same race in November, with the top two vote-getters facing each other in a runoff in December if nobody wins a majority.

Both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, called on McAllister to resign after the video surfaced, but he refused.

Click here to watch the commercial.

Louisiana U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister won’t run again in November

McAllister’s exit comes after video surfaced showing him kissing a female staffer outside his district office

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

louisiana mugMONROE, Louisiana (CFP) — Three weeks after video surfaced showing him passionately kissing a female staffer, embattled Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister has announced that he won’t seek re-election this fall.

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

However, despite calls from leading Louisiana Republicans and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for his resignation, McAllister is vowing to serve out the remainder of his term.

“The people of the Fifth District of Louisiana need and deserve a voice in Washington,” McAllister said in a statement released April 28. “Today, I am announcing that I will not seek re-election, but I will continue to be that voice and will uphold the office to which I was elected to serve for the remainder of my term.”

“As I’ve said before, there’s no doubt I’ve made a mistake. I’ve failed those I care most about and let down the people who elected me to represent them. I take full responsibility for this personal failure, and I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done.”

The decision to hang on to his office ran into immediate opposition from Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, who met with McAllister and told him he needed to resign, Politico reported.

McAllister, 40, a Christian conservative and married father of five, was elected to the vacant 5th District seat last November in his first bid for political office.

Both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, have called on McAllister to resign.

Pressure builds on U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister to resign

Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana’s GOP chairman call on McAllister to leave Congress after being caught on tape kissing a staffer

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

louisiana mugMONROE, Louisiana (CFP) — Two top leaders in  U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister’s own Republican Party are calling for him resign over a video showing showing the married father of five kissing a female staffer outside of his congressional office in Monroe.

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, both say McAllister should step aside.

“Congressman McAllister’s behavior is an embarrassment,” Jindal said in a statement. “He says he wants privacy to work on his issues with his family. The best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign from Congress.”

Villere was even more scathing, saying McAllister’s “extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics.”

“A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress,” Villere said.

The video was first published by The Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper in West Monroe, which said it had obtained it from an anonymous source. The video came from a surveillance camera in the building housing McAllister’s district office.

After the newspaper posted the video, McAllister issued a public apology.

“There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short,” McAllister said. “I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff and my constituents.”

“I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed,” he added, asking that his children be given privacy “as we get through this.”

In a subsequent interview with the Monroe News-Star, McAllister said he had no plans to resign and would seek re-election this fall.

The newspaper identified the female in the video as Melissa Peacock, a scheduler on McAllister’s district staff. Her husband, Heath Peacock, a campaign contributor and former co-worker of the congressman, told CNN that he is “devastated” by the video and plans to divorce his wife.

“I feel like I’m going to wake up here in a minute, and this is all going to be a bad nightmare,” Peacock said.

It is unknown who leaked the video. McAllister considered but eventually dropped the idea of requesting an FBI investigation into who provided the video to the newspaper.

McAllister, 40, a businessman from Swartz, was a political unknown when he elected to represent Louisiana’s 5th District in a special election in November, during which he portrayed himself as a Christian family man.

His campaign was boosted by celebrity endorsements by members of the Robertson family from the Duck Dynasty television show. He later invited Willie Robertson to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Watch the video:

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