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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South

Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.

Joe Manchin

The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.

Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.

However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.

Brian Kemp

Ron DeSantis

Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Abrams has refused to concede.

“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”

Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.

In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.

Beto O’Rourke

Ted Cruz

The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.

Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.

In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.

In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.

 

Comstock

Brat

Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.

In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.

Arrington

Cunningham

Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.

Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.

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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.

GOP U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes loses primary in North Carolina

Seven-term lawmaker comes up short in reconfigured district

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

virginia mugVIRGINIA BEACH (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes has become the second Republican House member to fall in a primary in 2016, after his gambit of switching districts to try to preserve his seat fell short.

In Virginia’s newly configured 2nd District, State Delegate Scott Taylor took 52 percent in the June 14 vote to 41 percent for Forbes, after a campaign that saw the veteran congressman outspend his challenger by 10-to-1.

Taylor, 36, a former Navy SEAL elected to the legislature in 2013, will now go on to face the Democratic nominee, Virginia Beach businesswoman Shaun Brown, in November. The district, centered in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads, leans Republican.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes

Forbes’s demise was triggered by a federal court ruling earlier this year that racial considerations were improperly used in drawing the Old Dominion’s 3rd District. A redraw of the House map affected surrounding districts in both metro Richmond and Hampton Roads, including in the 4th District, the seat Forbes currently holds.

The court’s decision to add the cities of Richmond and Petersburg to the 4th District made it substantially more Democratic, prompting Forbes to run in the 2nd District, where GOP Rep. Scot Rigell was retiring.

But Forbes’s decision to parachute into a district where he did not live in order to save his congressional career did not go over well with some of his new constituents. Taylor, who had already been campaigning for the seat when Forbes entered the race, dismissed him as a carpetbagger.

Forbes had argued that his status as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee would be an important asset for a district with major military installations. But that argument couldn’t save him.

In a statement after his defeat, Forbes said, “To each who have stood by us and partnered with us, I am blessed by your friendship and encouragement.

“We have had a vision for this region, for rebuilding our military, and for defending religious liberty, and while perhaps not embraced by voters tonight, we hope nonetheless (it) will be the path forward for our nation and our region.”

The other GOP House incumbent to lose a primary this year was U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in North Carolina.

In other House primaries in Virginia:

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