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Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call

GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern-states-lgWASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.

Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.

The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.

Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:

Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.

Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.

West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.

Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.

North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.

Alex Mooney tops crowded field to win GOP U.S. House primary in West Virgina

Republican primary race in state’s 2nd District featured Tea Party-versus-establishment battle

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

west-virginia mugCHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Just a year after moving across the Potomac River from Maryland into West Virginia, Republican Alex Mooney has won his party’s nomination for his new state’s open 2nd District U.S. House seat.

GOP House candidate Alex Mooney

GOP House candidate Alex Mooney

In a seven-way race, Mooney captured 36 percent of the vote, defeating Ken Reed, a pharmacy owner from Berkeley Springs, who came in second at 22 percent, and Charlotte Lane, a Charleston lawyer and international trade commissioner under President George W. Bush, who took 18 percent of the vote.

West Virginia does not have primary runoffs.

The battle for the GOP nod in the 2nd District turned into a closely watched tussle between outside conservative activists and Tea Party groups, who backed Mooney, and business and party leaders who lined up behind Lane. Reed poured more than $500,000 of his own money into the race.

Lane had the backing of the powerful West Virginia Coal Association. Mooney was endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Tea Party Express and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Despite her establishment credentials, Mooney eclipsed Lane in fundraising by $150,000, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Both Lane and Reed had accused Mooney, who served in the Maryland Senate from 1999 to 2010, of being a carpetbagger who parachuted into West Virginia to seek political office.

He had formed an exploratory committee for a U.S. House race in Maryland in 2012 but eventually decided not to run, and he moved to West Virginia in 2013. His Maryland Senate district was adjacent to the Mountaineer State.

Nick Casey, the former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, easily won his party’s nomination for the 2nd District seat and will face Mooney in November.

The 2nd District meanders across 17 counties from Charleston, the state capital, to the Eastern Panhandle sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia. The seat is currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who is giving it up to run for the U.S. Senate.

Capito easily won her Senate primary and will face Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the fall.

Even though Capito has held the seat since 2001 and Mitt Romney captured 60 percent of its presidential votes in 2012, Democrats see the seat as a potential pickup target. Casey has raised more than $890,000 in a district with modest media advertising costs, according to FEC reports.

Capito did not endorse any of the candidates in the Republican primary.

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