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Democrats’ 2020 White House roadshow descends on South Carolina

Nearly two dozen candidates for Democratic nomination speak at marathon session of state party

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — The Democratic Party’s vast field of 2020 White House hopefuls turned up in South Carolina Saturday, jockeying for political position in the first-in-the-South primary state.

Over the course of nearly nine hours, a parade of 23 candidates spoke to delegates at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual convention, as party leaders interspersed business with eight-minute pitches from contenders — major, minor and obscure.

“It is the price we pay for all of these people wanting to see you,” quipped Trav Robertson, the state party chair.

Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses South Carolina Democrats (From MSNBC)

During his speech, former Vice President Joe Biden — who held a 20-point lead over the rest of the field in the Palmetto State in a recent poll by Post and Courier newspaper — did not address his controversial remarks about being able to work with segregationist senators, which drew sharp criticism from his Democratic rivals.

He did, however, go directly after President Donald Trump, saying it was “imperative” to defeat him in 2020.

“You all know in your bones this election is more important than any other election you’ve been involved in,” Biden said. “Four more years of Donald Trump will permanently change the character of this country.”

In her remarks, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was in second place behind Biden in the Post and Courier poll, offered a litany of specific policy proposals, saying “people across this country understand its time for big structural change. The time for small ideas is over.”

The centerpiece of the program she outlined is a 2 percent increase on income tax for the wealthiest Americans to fund universal childcare and pre-K and tuition-free college tuition.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appearance in Columbia marked a return to the campaign trail after he returned home to deal with the fallout after a black man was shot by a police officer.

“We already know why such deep wounds are surfacing, why our whole community hurts,” Buttigieg said. “My community is full of people who believe in safety and justice. We will heal, and we will become stronger in the broken places.”

Buttigieg, who placed third behind Biden and Warren in the Post and Courier poll, said Democrats “need a new generation of leadership” to draw a contrast with Trump.

“We are not going to win by going on the president’s show,” he said. “Are you ready to stand with me and change the channel?”

The two Southerners in the Democratic field — former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro — were among the candidates who spoke Saturday.

Beto O’Rourke goes down in the crowd to deliver remarks (From MSNBC)

O’Rourke, who eschewed the podium and gave his speech on the floor amid a scrum of delegates and photographers, offered blistering criticism of the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are children sleeping on cold concrete floors with aluminum foil for blankets, in the worst, most inhumane conditions,” O’Rouke said. “That cannot be us. That cannot be America. But for as long as this man is in office, it will be.”

Castro made a call for police reform, rattling off a list of African Americans and Latinos who died at the hands of police.

“They deserve justice too,” said Castro, who said if he’s elected, “we won’t have any second-class citizens in the United States.”

In his remarks, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed back on comments made earlier in the week at a gathering of party centrists that the self-described Democratic socialist presents “an existential threat” to the party.

“Why am I an existential threat? Maybe it’s because I will take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and pass a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” Sanders said. “Maybe it’s because we’re going to break up the major banks on Wall Street … Maybe it’s because we’re going to take on the fossil fuel industry.”

Sanders has been running second to Biden in most national polls, but he has been trying to regain his footing in South Carolina, where his support has dropped to just 9 percent in the latest Post and Courier poll, putting him in fourth place.

The day of speeches kicked off with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who criticized what she called Trump’s “rap sheet” in pushing tax cuts, tariffs and embracing “dictators” around the world.

“Let’s prosecute that case, and let’s not turn back the clock,” she said. “Let’s start the next chapter.”

The breakout performances of the day among the candidates at the back of the pack came from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Klobuchar highlighted her working class background and called for an “optimistic economic agenda” that works for all parts of the country.

“I don’t come from money. I have grit. And I got into politics for a reason,” Klobuchar said. “I know how to win.”

Booker said Democrats can’t be satisfied with just beating Trump but must embrace “bold dreams.”

“Beating Donald Trump gets us out of the valley, but it doesn’t get us to the mountaintop,” he said. “He wants to make this election about hate; we need to make this election about love. He wants to make this election about tearing people down; we need to make this election about building people up.”

South Carolina’s 2020 presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 29, will be the fourth contest, after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It will be the first test of candidates’ appeal in the South and among African Americans, who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the state.

The Post and Courier’s latest poll found Biden was the choice of 37 percent of likely primary voters, bolstered by his strong support among black voters, among whom he tops 50 percent.

Warren was followed at 17 percent and Buttigieg at 11 percent. None of the other candidates were in double digits.

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Donald Trump kicks off 2020 re-election with mass rally in Orlando

Trump touts economic growth, hits Democrats for socialism, calls Russia investigation “great illegal witch hunt”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — To shouts of “Four More Years” and “Build The Wall” from an exuberant capacity crowd, President Donald Trump formally kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign Tuesday night with a stem-winding speech in the key swing state of Florida.

“We did it once, and we’re going to do it again,” Trump told the crowd at the Amway Center in Orlando, many of whom had waited hours in the summer sun and braved thunderstorms for the chance to get inside. “And this time, we’re going to finish the job.”

President Donald Trump addresses his campaign kickoff rally in Orlando on June 18 (YouTube)

“I have news for Democrats who want to take us back to the bitter failure and betrayals of the past. We are not going back.”

The president also unveiled the new tagline for his 2020 campaign: “Keep America Great,” building on 2016’s theme of “Make America Great Again.”

During his hour-long speech, Trump touted the nation’s robust economy, lower unemployment, tax cuts and appointment of conservative judges as evidence of his administration’s accomplishments.

But he also spent the first part of his speech relitigating the Russia investigation, which he called a “great illegal witch hunt” designed to overturn the results of 2016 election.

“No president should ever have to go through this again. It’s so bad for our country,” he said. “No collusion, no obstruction. And they spent $40 million on this witch hunt.”

The president largely avoided mentioning his potential 2020 Democratic opponents by name in his speech, except for a single reference each to “Sleepy Joe” Biden and “Crazy Bernie” Sanders.

However, in a likely preview of next year”s campaign, he offered biting criticism of the Democratic Party, which he said had embraced socialism and was “more radical, more dangerous and more unhinged than at any point in the history of our country.”

“America will never be a socialist country. Ever,” he said. “Republicans don’t believe in socialism. We believe in freedom, and so do you.”

Trump also blamed Democrats for what he termed “illegal mass migration” and accused them of “moral cowardice” for being unwilling to fix an immigration system that he branded as a “disgrace.”

The president also leaned in on his hard-line trade policy that has drawn criticism even from some Republican members of Congress, insisting tariffs have revived the American steel industry and let China know that “the days of stealing American jobs … are over.”

Fans of the president began lining up outside the Amway Center, which seats 20,000 people, some 40 hours before the speech began.

Trump told the crowd that 120,000 people had requested tickets for the rally, which marked an unusually early campaign kickoff for an incumbent president.

The president carried Florida in 2016 on his way to winning the Electoral College, and the Sunshine State will again be a state he’ll need to secure a second term.

Orlando sits in the I-4 corridor, a swath of Central Florida that often plays decisive roles in statewide elections.

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Poll showing Biden with a lead over Trump in Texas is not what it seems

Media reports of Quinnipiac poll overstate possibility that Trump is in trouble in the Lone Star State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Media organizations have been trumpeting results of a new poll that purports to show President Donald Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in Texas — a somewhat shocking result, given that a Democrat hasn’t carried the Lone Star State since 1976 and hasn’t been close since 1996.

But a closer look at the numbers of the Quinnipiac Poll show that, from a purely statistical perspective, those reports may be misleading.

The poll, released June 5, found Biden leading Trump by a margin of 48-44 percent among registered voters in Texas, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.

What that margin of error means is that Biden’s actual support among registered voters in Texas could be as high as 51.4 percent or as low as 44.6 percent; Trump’s actual support could be as high as 47.4 percent or as low as 40.6 percent.

Because those two intervals overlap, it is statistically possible that Trump is actually ahead, as the high end of his support is above the low end of Biden’s support. So although it is probable that Biden has a lead, because the range of his support is higher, the poll does not absolutely establish a lead for Biden.

In order to establish with statistical certainty that Biden is leading Trump, his lead would need to be at least 6.8 percent, or double the margin of error.

The poll’s results for hypothetical match-ups of Trump with other Democratic 2020 contenders are even more muddled because neither candidate has a lead larger than the margin of error, which means that no one can even be said to even probably be ahead.

The poll results do, however, indicate that at this early stage of the race, the battle for Texas is closer that what might be expected and Biden appears to be performing more strongly against Trump than other 2020 competitors, including two Texans, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

In 2016, Trump carried Texas by more than 800,000 votes, a margin of 9 points.

The Quinnipiac poll did turn up one result well beyond the margin of error — 60 percent of Texas don’t want to see Trump impeached, while only 34 percent do.

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Democrat Beto O’Rourke kicks off his presidential campaign with rally in El Paso

O’Rourke says the powerful have “corrupted democracy” at the expense of the powerless

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke formally kicked off his 2020 president campaign with a speech to a hometown crowd in El Paso in which he called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted our democracy.”

“This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke told supporters who crowded into a downtown street for the March 30 event. “The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes.”

Beto O’Rourke formally kicks off campaign in El Paso (From KRGW via YouTube)

Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. A recurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech was a call to take on powerful, wealthy interests, although he did not specify who those interests were or offer specifics of what he would do to counter them.

“For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” he said. “Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this county. It has corrupted our democracy. It has invited the cynicism and distrust and disengagement of millions of are fellow Americans who see their very own government enthralled to those to can pay for access and for outcomes.”

In his extemporaneous speech, O’Rourke barely mentioned the man he hopes to displace, President Donald Trump, other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”

But O’Rourke, who represented a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border for six years, drew a sharp distinction with Trump on the issue of immigration, saying immigrants and asylum seekers “are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”

“We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry that connect us to the rest of the world so we have a better idea of who and what is coming here,” O’Rouke said.

He also called for legal protection for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents and creating a pathway to citizenship “to bring millions more out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute their maximum potential to the success of this country.”

O’Rouke had announced his White House run via video in mid-March and made a series of appearances in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Saturday’s rally in El Paso, followed by similar rallies in Houston and Austin, marked the formal start of his campaign.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching a campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to raise more than $80 million and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years. He decided to pass up the opportunity to take on Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, in 2020 in order to pursue a presidential bid.

After his initial announcement, O’Rourke raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours. The quarterly reporting period for fundraising closed March 30, and O’Rourke is expected to lead the pack among Democratic 2020 contenders when fundraising figures are posted.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running for Democratic presidential nomination

Campaign for White House launched four months after O’Rourke came up short in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Saying that the United States faces a “defining moment,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, launching a national campaign just four months after losing a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“The challenges that we face right now — the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate — have never been greater,” O’Rourke said in an announcement video posted on social media. “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States.”

O’Rourke and wife Amy in announcement video
Click photo to watch video

O’Rourke, who raised more than $80 million dollars in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, promised to run “the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen.”

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” he said.

In his announcement video, O’Rourke did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he did draw a sharp contrast between himself and the president on Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

“If immigration is a problem, it is the best possible problem to have, and we should ensure that there are lawful paths to work, to be with family and to flee persecution,” he said.

Asked about O’Rourke’s announcement, Trump made light of the Texan’s propensity to use his hands as he speaks.

“I think he’s got a lot of hand hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “I said, ‘Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?'”

After posting his kickoff video, O’Rourke traveled to Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses in the 2020 election calendar. A formal campaign kickoff is scheduled for March 30 in his hometown of El Paso.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching his campaign to unseat Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to outraise Cruz and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

Trump, who had a famously frosty relationship with Cruz when they competed for the White House in 2016, came to Texas to campaign for the senator as the race narrowed.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke’s decision to pursue the presidency is good news for Texas’s other U.S. senator, Republican John Cornyn, who had already begin preparing for a challenge from O’Rourke in 2020.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro announces run for Democratic nomination

Former Obama Cabinet secretary is first Southerner in 2020 White House field

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Telling supporters that he wants to “make sure that the promise of America is available to everyone in this country,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro launched his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Julian Castro announces 2020 White House bid (From YouTube)

“It’s time for new leadership, it’s time for a new commitment to make sure that the opportunities I’ve had are available to every American,” he said in his January 22 kick-off with supporters in the mostly Latino West Side neighborhood of San Antonio, where he grew up.

“There are no front-runners that are born here, but I’ve always believed that with big dreams and hard work, anything is possible in this country,” he said.

Castro, the grandson of immigrants from Mexico, lit into President Donald Trump’s policy of trying to dissuade asylum seekers from Latin American countries from trying to cross into the United States, which Castro described as “cruel.”

“After (Trump) claimed that we are facing an invasion at the border, he called it a national security crisis,” Castro said. “Well, there is a crisis today. It’s a crisis of leadership.”

“Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation.”

He also drew another contrast with Trump by thanking the news media assembled to cover the rally, saying, “I know that the press work hard and that they are the friend of the truth in this country.”

Castro, 44, served as mayor of Texas’s second-largest city from 2009 to 2014 before being picked as President Barack Obama’s housing secretary in 2014. He was reportedly on the short-list to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.

His identical twin brother is U.S. Rep., Joaquin Castro, who represents the West Side in Congress.

Castro is the second Southerner to enter what is expected to be a crowded 2020 Democratic field, joining Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

Another Texan, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost a Senate race in 2018, is considering the race. Other Southerns who have been mentioned include former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, and former Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe.

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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.

No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.

In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.

In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.

In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.

In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.

The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.

So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.

If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.

Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.

Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.

Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.

Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.

That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?

Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.

The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.

Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.

If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.

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