Tag Archives: Thad Cochran

Bible Belt Republicans to rule Congress, push far-right agenda

With the walloping Republicans gave Democrats in the midterm elections, the GOP stands one Louisiana Senate runoff away from completely controlling Southern politics from the Carolinas to Texas. Only a handful of Democrats hold statewide office in the rest of the Old Confederacy.

The results put Southern Republicans at the forefront in Washington — from Senate Majority Leader-in-waiting Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to a host of new committee chairmen. Those leaders and the rank-and-file behind them will set the Capitol Hill agenda and continue molding the GOP’s identity heading into 2016.

In statehouses, consolidated Republican power affords the opportunity to advance conservative causes from charter schools and private school vouchers to expanding the tax breaks and incentive programs that define Republican economic policy. The outcome also assures that much of the South, at least for now, will remain steadfast in its refusal to participate in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“I think these new leaders can help drive the conservative movement” at all levels, said Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, echoing the celebrations of Republican leaders and activists across the region.

Republicans widely have acknowledged that the party now has to prove it can govern. But one-party rule invariably means internal squabbles. Republican White House hopefuls in particular must court Southern Republicans who are more strident than the wider electorate on issues ranging from immigration to abortion and the broader debate over the government’s role — and how to pay for it.

“The Republican presidential nomination will run through the South,” said Ferrell Guillory, a Southern politics expert based at the University of North Carolina. “As Mitt Romney found (in 2012), that … makes it harder to build a national coalition once you are the nominee.”

Even with the South’s established Republican bent, the midterm vote yielded a stark outcome. Besides McConnell’s wide margin, Republicans knocked off North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor. In Louisiana, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy is the heavy favorite to defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Republicans reclaimed the governor’s mansion in Arkansas and held an open Senate seat in Georgia that Democrats targeted aggressively.

In January, the GOP will control every governor’s office, the majority of U.S. Senate seats, nearly every majority-white congressional district and both state legislative chambers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. Landrieu and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson are the only officials keeping their states from the list.

At the northern periphery of the South, Kentucky’s Legislature remains divided, and Democratic governors in Kentucky and West Virginia are in their final terms.

In Washington, Senate Republicans haven’t parceled out leadership assignments, but Southerners figure prominently among would-be major committee chairmen: Mississippi’s Thad Cochran (Appropriations); Alabama’s Jeff Sessions (Budget) and Richard Shelby of Alabama (Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs); Bob Corker of Tennessee (Foreign Relations); Richard Burr of North Carolina (Intelligence); Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions); Johnny Isakson of Georgia (Veterans Affairs).

In the House, Georgia Rep. Tom Price could end up chairing the Budget Committee. Louisiana’s Steve Scalise already won a promotion to majority whip, Republicans’ No. 3 post in the chamber. Georgia’s Rob Woodall chairs the Republican Study Committee, the GOP’s ultra-conservative arm.

The regional differences in the GOP could make it more difficult for McConnell to deliver on his declaration that “just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”

McConnell and Obama have both said they’ll make attempts to find common ground on a range of issues. But elsewhere on election night, Sessions declared in Alabama, “Tonight the American people dramatically repudiated the policies of President Obama. … It was also a dramatic affirmation of the policies our GOP candidates.”

Sen.-elect David Perdue of Georgia struck a similar chord: “Georgia made it loud and clear … that we are going to stop the failed policies of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid.”

The region also is home to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both presidential hopefuls and tea party favorites who have strengthened their absolute approaches, particularly on budget deals.

In Louisiana, Villere rejected the notion that Southerners could complicate Republican policies and electoral fortunes in the long-term. “Whether it was the old Southern Democrats or Republicans now, we’ve pushed the liberal wings of the parties for a long time,” Villere said. “I think it’s good for the party and for the country.”

Plenty in play: Races to watch in 2014

The irritation voters feel today might be the six-year itch that has plagued many second-term presidents and their political parties. Or maybe it’s an itch to scratch the majority out of the U.S. House.

Early primaries in 2014 may reveal how the high-stakes midterm elections will look. Voters in November will decide majorities in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and 36 governorships, including Wisconsin’s.

A look at key races beyond the Badger State:

For governor

• Arkansas has an open race, with Democrat Mike Beebe leaving office. Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is running and, on the GOP side, the candidates are Rep. Asa Hutchinson, state Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.

• Florida is preparing for a battle between incumbent Republican Rick Scott, who is widely unpopular but has vast wealth, and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is widely popular but has some baggage. He served as governor when he was a Republican and endorsed right-wing initiatives, including an anti-gay marriage amendment. Crist has since apologized for that.

• Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is expected to face two challengers on Election Day — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who came out as gay in 2013, and independent Eliot Cutler. In 2010, LePage won another three-way race because of a split Democratic vote.

• Pennsylvania has at least eight Democrats —  including state Treasurer Rob McCord, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, businessman Tom Wolf and former state environmental protection official Katie McGinty — lining up to take on Republican Tom Corbett. 

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not seeking re-election, which means the state is wide open. And there’s a historic battle shaping up. On the GOP side, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has raised more than $20 million. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national fame with a 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions, has the backing of EMILY’s List. And, for the first time in Texas, two women are at the top of a party ticket. Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is running for lieutenant governor.

For the Senate

Voters will elect 33 U.S. senators on Nov. 4. Democrats currently hold a 55–45 majority, but will be defending 21 seats in the fall. Still, the big story right now is the number of Republican incumbents facing primary challenges from the party’s right wing.

Georgia Republicans are scrambling to run for the Senate seat held by two-termer Saxby Chambliss. At least eight have announced for the primary, including former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who influenced Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Others in the GOP primary include U.S. Reps. Paul Brown, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue. The Democratic candidate will be nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn.

Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, now serving a third term, faces a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, who is attacking Roberts for initially supporting the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary. Roberts has more recently called for Sebelius to resign, but the primary may still be a battle over Obamacare involving two of the program’s opponents.

Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, running for a sixth term, has low approval ratings and faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. The winner faces a costly general election race against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term, but before a general election he must face tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan won her first term when the state went for Barack Obama in 2008. The state went for Mitt Romney in 2012, and now Hagan is seen as vulnerable. On the GOP side, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and the Rev. Mark Harris are running in the primary.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who worked with Democrats to draft comprehensive immigration reform, faces a primary fight in his quest for a third term. He faces state Sen. Lee Bright, businessman Richard Cash and Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.

Until recently, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, who is in his third term, faced a primary challenge for his seat from political commentator Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president. Cheney had been showing off her right-wing credentials in a high-profile feud with her out sister Mary over same-sex marriage. In early January, Cheney announced she was giving up the fight, citing family health reasons.

Alaska Republicans are lining up to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former state natural resources director Dan Sullivan and tea partier Joe Miller.

Democrats in the Hawaii primary include U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, appointed by the governor to succeed the late Daniel Inouye, and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who Inouye had wanted for his successor. The seat is considered safe for Democrats, but Republican Linda Lingle, a former governor, may run.

For the House

Since 1921, the midterm elections in a president’s second term have brought big losses — an average of 29 House seats — for the White House’s party. Voters’ irritation has been dubbed the “six-year itch” and the exception was in Bill Clinton’s second term.

But Democratic optimists stress that the six-year itch may not apply to the current administration, because the White House already had a miserable midterm in the president’s second year in office and polls show voters far more dissatisfied with Congress than Barack Obama.

There are other factors to consider, including the fact that redistricting has created more safe seats for parties and incumbents. In a recent study, “Monopoly Politics 2014,” the non-partisan Fair Vote said it could project the outcome of 373 congressional races because of the crafting of safe districts and a winner-take-all system.

“The outcomes of those 373 races are effectively predetermined, regardless of national partisan tilt in 2014 or the quality of challenger candidates,” said Fair Vote, which has an near perfect accuracy rate for prior elections. “Only in the case of an incumbent retirement, scandal or extreme party wave are any of these projections likely to be incorrect.”

The group projected the election of 210 Republicans and 163 Democrats in 2014. It has not made projections for 62 seats.