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Cochran, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, served 45 years in Congress
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
OXFORD, Mississippi (CFP) — Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who became one of Mississippi’s most revered statesmen in a political career that spanned nine presidents, has died. He was 81.
Cochran died May 30 at a nursing home in Oxford. His death was announced by the office of his successor, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. His daughter, Kate, told the Washington Post that the cause of death was renal failure.
Cochran retired in April 2018 because of ongoing health issues that had kept him away from the Senate for several months.
A funeral service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol in Jackson. A second service will follow Tuesday at the Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson at 11 a.m.
Tributes for the late senator began pouring upon news of his death.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who sat alongside Cochran representing Mississippi for a decade, said he “was a giant in the United States Senate and one of the greatest champions Mississippi has ever known.”
“When Thad Cochran left the Senate, I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote, ‘Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time,'” Wicker said. “Thad Cochran’s footprints are all around us
“Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “He was a legend in the United States Senate where he worked tirelessly to move his state and country forward.”
President Donald Trump expressed condolences on Twitter: “Very sad to hear the news on the passing of my friend, Senator Thad Cochran. He was a real Senator with incredible values – even flew back to Senate from Mississippi for important Healthcare Vote when he was desperately ill. Thad never let our Country (or me) down!”
Cochran was born in 1937 in Pontotoc, a small town in the state’s northeast corner. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1959, he served two years in the Navy before returning home to finish law school and begin practicing law in Jackson.
His first foray into politics came in the 1968 presidential race, when he became state chairman for Richard Nixon’s campaign. At the time, the Republican Party was virtually non-existent in Mississippi, and segregationist George Wallace would bury Nixon. But four years later, Cochran would be elected to Congress on Nixon’s coattails as a Republican.
Cochran served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent the Magnolia State in the Senate.
During his time in the Senate, Cochran chaired both the agriculture and appropriations committees, positions that allowed him to funnel billions of dollars in federal money to projects back home, earning him the nickname “King of Pork.”
Cochran routinely won re-election without breaking a sweat until 2014, when he was challenged in the Republican primary by State Senator Chris McDaniel, who tried to rally Tea Party support to dislodge Cochran.
McDaniel forced Cochran into a primary runoff, which is when the good will and political capital the senator had banked during his long career paid off — he narrowly beat McDaniel after encouraging Democratic voters, including African Americans and farmers, to cross over and vote for him in the runoff.
That campaign became extremely contentious, particularly after a McDaniel supporter sneaked into a nursing home to shoot video of Cochran’s late wife, Rose, who was suffering from dementia, which was part of a gambit to accuse the senator of having an improper relationship with an aide.
The hard feelings remained in 2018, when McDaniel ran to succeed Cochran and the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops for Hyde-Smith, who beat McDaniel easily.
Rose Cochran died in 2014. In 2015, the senator married Kay Webber, a longtime aide.
Cochran is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren.
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Justin Fairfax threatens legal action over encounter that his attorneys tell Washington Post was consensual
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam fights to stay in office amid a raging controversy over a racist photo, the man who would take over if Northam departs, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is pushing back against a sexual assault allegation.
Fairfax came out swinging after Big League Politics — the same conservative website that published a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page — reported on a private Facebook post from a woman who claims she was assaulted during the 2004 Democratic Convention.
The woman does not explicitly name Fairfax as her attacker in the post but describes her attacker as someone elected to statewide office in 2017 who is about to “get a very big promotion” — a description that fits Fairfax.
After Big League Politics posted the story, Fairfax’s office issued a statement denying the allegation, insisting that the Washington Post investigated the woman’s claim after Fairfax was elected in 2017 and declined to publish a story after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies.”
That prompted the Washington Post to publish a story in which the newspaper denied finding “significant red flags and consistences.” It said no story was published because Fairfax and the woman “told different versions” about their encounter, neither of which could be corroborated.
The Post also reported that Fairfax, through his attorneys, described his encounter with the woman as consensual.
In 2004, Fairfax was working for the campaign of then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president that year. He was single at the time; he married in 2006.
Big League Politics said it obtained the private Facebook post from a friend of the woman, who said she had the woman’s permission to share it. The website identified the woman making the assault allegation but said it had not spoken with her.
ChickenFriedPolitics does not identify sexual assault victims who have not gone on the record with their story.
Fairfax’s denial came in a statement attributed to his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, and his communications director, Lauren Burke.
“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” the statement said. “Not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been made.”
His spokespeople also said the lieutenant governor “will take appropriate action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”
Fairfax, 39, has been in the spotlight since Friday when the racist photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page appeared on Big League Politics. The photo shows two men, one in blackface and the other dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
The governor says he believes he is not one of the men pictured in the photo, but he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his yearbook page. He also admitted to darkening his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.
Leading Democrats and civil rights leaders, as well as Virginia Republicans, have been pressuring Northam to resign, but he has so far resisted.
Should Northam step down, Fairfax would serve out the remaining three years of his term. If both offices were vacated, under state law Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, would take over.
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Southerners are part of a group of 44 former senators who penned an open letter in the Washington Post
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Twelve former Southern senators have joined an open letter calling on current senators “to be steadfast and zealous” in guarding democracy amid “serious challenges to the rule of law” flowing from investigations of President Trump and his administration.
“It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” wrote a bipartisan group of 44 former senators in the letter, which was published December 10 in the Washington Post.
The former senators cited a “convergence” between special counsel Robert Muller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and additional investigations likely to be launched by the incoming Democrat-led House.
“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” they wrote.
“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.”
The letter was signed by 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents who served in the Senate between the 1970s and 2015. Among the signatories were 12 Southerners, including 11 Democrats and a lone Republican, John Warner of Virginia. The list includes:
- Arkansas: David Pryor (D, retired 1996) and Blanche Lincoln (D, defeated 2010)
- Florida: Bob Graham (D, retired 2004)
- Georgia: Sam Nunn (D, retired 1996), Wyche Fowler (D, defeated 1992) and Max Cleland (D, defeated 2002)
- Louisiana: Bennett Johnston (D, retired 1996) and Mary Landrieu (D, defeated 2014)
- Tennessee: Jim Sasser (D, defeated 1994)
- Virginia: Warner (R, retired 2008) and Chuck Robb (D, defeated 2000)
- West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller (D, retired 2014)
The seats of all of the Southern Democrats who signed the letter, except for Robb, are now in Republican hands. Warner’s seat is now held by a Democrat.
Head of Senate GOP campaign arm says Moore should be expelled; fifth woman alleges sexual misconduct
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes the women who have come forward to accuse Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, while the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm says Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins a December special election.
“I believe the women, yes, ” McConnell told reporters after attending a tax reform event November 12 in Louisville. “I think he should step aside.”
McConnell also said Republican leaders are looking into the feasibility of supporting a write-in candidate in the race, although he was non-committal on whether that candidate would be the man Moore defeated in the Republican primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, took to Twitter to suggest that Republican senators might refuse to let Moore take his seat in the Senate even if he wins.
“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”
Moore fired back on Twitter: “The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced.”
GOP leaders are in a difficult spot. The deadline has passed for replacing Moore on the ballot, so, if he withdraws, the only option for Republicans to win would be a write-in campaign. However, if he refuses to go, a write-in campaign could split the Republican vote and clear the way for Democrat Doug Jones to win. And that would cut the GOP majority in the Senate to a single vote.
Strange, who has been filling the seat on a temporary basis since February, would be problematic as a write-in candidate because he lost to Moore in September after an acrimonious primary, leaving him an unlikely figure to unify Republicans in a battle against Jones.
Even as Republican leaders grappled over how to deal with Moore, a fifth woman came forward to allege that Moore tried to force himself on her when she was just 16 and he was a local prosecutor in Alabama. Beverly Young Nelson said she managed to fight off Moore’s advances after he offered her a ride home from a restaurant where she worked.
On November 9, The Washington Post published an allegation from another woman, Leigh Corfman, who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14 and he was 32. Three other women also told the Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers, although none of those women allege that any sexual contact beyond kissing took place.
Moore has strenuously denied the allegations, insisting that they are a politically motivated attack to keep him out of the Senate.
“We do not intend to let the Democrats, or establishment Republicans or anybody else behind this story stop this campaign.” Moore during an appearance at a Veteran’s Day event where he addressed the allegations. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”
Suggestions of sexual impropriety pose a special problem for Moore, 70, because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.
He was twice elected and removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders to stop displaying the Ten Commandments on public property and encouraging local officials not to license same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized them.
The allegations have further eroded Moore’s already shaky relationship with fellow Republicans in the Senate, all of whom backed Strange in the primary. Given the current climate of heightened sensitivity to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Republicans have been quick to put daylight between themselves and Moore.
However, Moore — who twice put his job as chief justice on the line to defy federal courts — is unlikely to heed calls to step aside, especially coming from McConnell. Moore has said loudly and often that he would vote against McConnell as Republican leader if he gets to Washington.
The imbroglio surrounding Moore marks the second time in a year that a sex scandal has rocked politics in the Yellowhammer State.
In April, former Governor Robert Bentley resigned under threat of impeachment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide.
Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.
But after Bentley resigned, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year. Moore went on to defeat Strange in a September primary runoff.
Three public polls show Clinton now within the margin of error
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — Three new public polls show that Hillary Clinton may be poised to do something no Democrat has done in 24 years — carry Georgia in a presidential race.
The latest poll results come as Priorities USA, a Clinton-allied Super PAC, announced that it would begin airing TV and radio ads in the Peach State — the first sign that the Clinton campaign may make a play for the state’s 16 electoral votes.
All three polls showed Clinton within the margin of error in her contest against Donald Trump, in a state Mitt Romney won by 8 points in 2012.
The poll results included:
- Landmark Communications: Trump, 47 percent, and Clinton, 43 percent, within the margin of error plus or minus 4 points.
- Fox5/Opinion Savvy: Trump, 50 percent, and Clinton, 46 percent, within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 points.
- Atlanta Journal Constitution: Trump, 44 percent, and Clinton, 42 percent, within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 points.
In addition to those polls, a Washington Post/Survey Monkey survey of online respondents gave Clinton a 3-point lead, 45 percent to Trump’s 42 percent. However, that survey did not use a random sample and, therefore, its margin of error cannot be calculated.
The last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried Georgia was when Clinton’s husband, Bill, won in 1992. However, with independent Ross Perot in the race that year, Bill Clinton won with only 43 percent of the vote.
In the past 50 years, a Democrat has carried Georgia with a majority only twice, in 1976 and 1980 when Georgian Jimmy Carter was the nominee. During the same period, Republicans have pulled off that feat seven times, including the last four elections in a row.
In addition to Georgia, three other Southern states are also in play this year — Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. These four states are the largest in the South outside of Texas, with a combined 73 electoral votes, about a quarter of what is needed to capture the presidency.
The latest state polls show Clinton with a strong lead in Virginia and smaller margins in North Carolina and Florida.
No Democrat has captured all four of these states since Harry Truman back in 1948.