Alabama: A battle for second place

Alabama: A battle for second place

By Hastings Wyman – The Republican Primary to fill the three-year US Senate vacancy of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) will be held August 15, with a runoff on September 26. The likely winner in the first primary is Roy Moore, one of the three heavyweights in the race. Moore gained fame by being removed twice from Alabama’s Supreme Court for sticking with his religious/ conservative beliefs. But Moore almost surely will lack the majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Says former GOP state chairman Marty Connors, “Moore has a high floor and a low ceiling.” So essentially what Moore gets on August 15 may be about what he will get in the September 26 runoff. That means incumbent US Sen. Luther Strange and challenger US Rep. Mo Brooks are competing for second place and a spot in the runoff with Moore. (In the General Election on December 12, the GOP nominee will be a prohibitive favorite.) An average of recent polls cited by Alabama columnist Steve Flowers showed Moore in the lead with 30%, Strange second with 28% and Brooks third with 18%. The candidates are following different strategies, trying to emphasize their strengths. Moore is a popular figure with the state’s religious conservatives, having made his name by erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments at the state Supreme Court building and later ordering county clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was removed from the Court both times. But he does not have much fundraising ability, so he’s doing retail politics in rural areas, contacting his supporters in person. Moore’s fans are very...
It’s the economy, or is it?

It’s the economy, or is it?

By Hastings Wyman – Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, appearing on CNBC about a month ago, said that since the election last year, the stock market added $4 trillion in wealth. He noted that the Dow Jones industrial average had gained 16%, the S&P 500 gained 13% and the Nasdaq composite gained 18%. And in the month since then, despite the Russian news, the markets have only gotten higher. At the end of last week, all three major indices on the New York Stock exchange closed in record territory. Not so long ago, the stock markets’ wealth belonged to the rich. Today, however, 79% of wage-earners work for an employer offering a 401k retirement plan, and many keep an eye on it, especially those nearing retirement age. Moreover, the unemployment rate in May was 4.3%, the lowest since Barack Obama took office in 2009 It ticked up to 4.4% in June, due mainly to more people entering the job market. Wage increases are lower than might be expected, a year-to-year increase of 2.5%. That is higher, but not much higher, than the 1.6% inflation rate for the past 12 months. Traditionally, six months into a new administration, the parties squabble over who gets credit or blame for the economy. The Democrats, of course, credit the policies of President Obama for today’s prosperity, while Republicans, like Ross, attribute the gains to President Trump’s policies. Said Ross, “We’re lowering taxes, we’re cutting regulations… unleashing our energy resources and redoing our trade agreements.” The longer the prosperity lasts, however, it will be hard for observers not to give the Trump Administration at...
Florida: Democrats expand target list

Florida: Democrats expand target list

By Hastings Wyman – Democrats have targeted 79 GOP congressional seats nationwide for 2018, relying on polls showing President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings. In addition, a recent Quinnipiac Poll found only 21% of respondents nationwide approved of the GOP’s “American Health Care Act.” Healthcare is a particular concern in Florida, with its high population of elderly voters. In emails attacking likely targets in Florida, the DCCC has been concentrating their attacks on Republican targets by citing their votes in the House for the GOP healthcare bill. While Republicans are encouraged by their victories in four special congressional elections this year, Democrats take heart because the Republican percentage of the vote in these four contests declined drastically over the GOP’s 2016 share. The Democrats’ expansion to five districts in Florida gets a mixed review from political insiders. A GOP operative says, “I think that given the uncertainty of how things are under Trump,” expanding the number of targets makes sense, “but there’s really no evidence on the ground that anything is going on.” Says Barney Bishop, a Tallahassee-based political analyst, the expansion “is a smart move by Democrats, although I don’t believe it’s going to change the makeup of our delegation, except for Ileana’s seat.” Moreover, it’s awfully early to be making predictions about elections still almost a year-and-a-half away. Nevertheless, past performances, fundraising potential and the assessments of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) all make for early stirrings in next year’s crucial US House elections, which will either give Trump a Democratic House to deal with, or help him for...
Louisiana: Blue governor survives in a sea of Red

Louisiana: Blue governor survives in a sea of Red

By Hastings Wyman – It is not too difficult to be a Republican governor in a Red State in the South these days. President Trump may get raked over the coals in the national media – much of it due to his own tweets – but his base, especially in Dixie, is sticking with him. So Southern Republican governors can follow Trump’s lead and not get in too much trouble. Gov. John Bel Edwards, however, is a Democrat in the very Red State of Louisiana, which Trump carried by 58% to Hillary Clinton’s 38%. Edwards was elected in 2015 after an extremely bitter primary battle on the Republican side. He was also aided by his reputation as a somewhat conservative lawmaker and had a positive reputation among many voters who normally vote Republican. He also won by promising not to raise taxes. Once he got in office, however, he was faced a with $1 billion deficit. He contends he was unaware of the extent of the problems with state finances until he took office. In any case, he’s finding that Republican lawmakers aren’t too anxious to help him solve the problem with the necessary – but always unpopular – tax hikes. Knowledgeable observers in the Pelican State have differing view on Edwards’ performance as governor, though all agree that he is still popular with most voters. “He’s been doing very well,” says Democratic political consultant Trey Ourso. “Obviously he inherited a huge mess from the Jindal Administration… There’s a small group of Republicans in the legislature who try to obstruct him.” In addition to dealing with last year’s floods...
Kentucky: Mini-Trump Bevin holds his own

Kentucky: Mini-Trump Bevin holds his own

By Hastings Wyman – Matt Bevin, a successful industrialist with deep pockets and Tea Party support, surprised the establishment and the media when he won the Republican Primary for governor in 2015. Then he won the General Election, becoming “an unlikely beneficiary of the Republican trend we’ve seen for two decades,” says Al Cross, longtime Kentucky political journalist. Bevin quickly gained the nickname of Mini-Trump. “Retrospectively, his election as governor of Kentucky was a precursor to the election of Trump,” says Dale Emmons, a Kentucky Democratic consultant. “We immediately saw some parallels” with Trump says Cross. Like President Trump, Gov. Bevin has been through a stormy time since taking office, with conflicts with the state attorney general, feuds with the news media and with community activists. But, also like Trump, Bevin has maintained his standing with those who voted for him; indeed, he has managed to increase his popularity. Bevin has proposed four reorganization plans to restructure boards governing the state’s education systems, and there’s a fifth pending. However, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, a rare Democrat holding a major office in the state, called on the governor to revise his plans to comply with state law. Nine days later, Bevin issued new orders that were modified to some degree, but Beshear nevertheless filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the reorganization orders. Said Beshear in a statement, “The governor’s refusal to rescind or materially alter his unconstitutional executive orders” reorganizing independent education boards led him to file the suit. In addition to his legal problems with the attorney general, Bevin’s attempt to reduce violence in the West End of...