AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Republicans insist they’re working together to help Herschel Walker unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a Georgia runoff that offers the GOP a chance to finish a disappointing midterm election season with a victory.
But to win a 50th Senate seat on Dec. 6 and limit Democrats’ continued majority, Republicans must overcome doubts about Walker’s appeal in a battleground state, navigate open squabbles among party powerbrokers in Washington and endure the specter of former President Donald Trump as he launches his third White House bid after losing Georgia in 2020.
“Everybody realizes that regardless of any disagreements that do or don’t exist, everybody needs to focus on one thing: helping Herschel get across the finish line,” said Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise.
But they must do it without the Senate majority on the line, as it was in a pair of Georgia runoffs in January 2021. Democrats have already secured 50 seats with narrow incumbent victories in Nevada and Arizona combined with flipping a GOP-held Pennsylvania seat, and Vice President Kamala’s Harris tiebreaking vote assures them a majority.
So, Walker, who spent the fall trying to nationalize his race by mocking Warnock as a yes-man for Biden, must fashion a runoff coalition knowing that nothing voters do here will depose New York’s Chuck Schumer as Senate majority leader.
“There are still national implications,” Paradise said, arguing that Republicans around the country are “fired up” for a second chance after an underwhelming midterm performance. “We’re very comfortable framing this as the last fight of ’22.”
Like many losing GOP nominees this year, Walker has struggled among moderates and independents, with many questioning his qualifications, according to AP VoteCast surveys of voters. Walker trailed Warnock by about 35,000 votes out of almost 4 million. Perhaps more tellingly, the same electorate gave Republican Gov. Brian Kemp 200,000 more votes than Walker — enough for a comfortable reelection victory.
Walker, a former college and professional football star and a close friend of Trump’s, was urged by the former president to run. That cements Walker’s bond with core GOP supporters but presents a challenge in Republican-leaning metro areas that helped Biden top Trump here two years ago.
“Trump probably does more to juice Democratic turnout than have an effect on our guy,” said Josh Holmes, a prominent Republican fundraiser and strategist aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has icy relations with the former president. But Holmes added, “We don’t know what the impact will be.”
It’s clear Republicans hope Kemp’s popularity extends to Walker, even if it wasn’t enough in the first round. Kemp avoided Walker throughout the fall, pointedly not saying the Senate candidate’s name when asked about Walker’s difficulties, which include exaggerated claims about his business, philanthropic and academic record; accusations of violence against his first wife; and claims by two former girlfriends that Walker paid for their abortions despite his public opposition to abortion rights.
Kemp typically would say only that he backed “the entire Republican ticket.” Since Election Day, though, Kemp has turned over his voter turnout operation to the Washington-based super PAC aligned with McConnell. And Kemp plans to campaign with Walker for the first time Saturday.
“Herschel requested all the help we could get from the governor. The governor said I’m there for you,” Paradise said.
Yet the deal between Kemp and the Senate Leadership Fund highlights GOP fissures, some tracing back to Trump, others to a running feud between McConnell and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.
Kemp built out his independent turnout operation after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump blasted Kemp for certifying Biden’s slate of presidential electors from Georgia and state Republican Party leaders sided mostly with Trump.
SLF, which usually spends most of its money on television advertising, said the runoff would be the first time the political action committee has engaged in a full-scale voter turnout effort.
But, as with Kemp’s reelection campaign, that comes at odds with the traditional coordinated party campaign run through the Republican National Committee, the state party and Scott’s National Republican Senatorial Committee. Separately, Scott challenged McConnell for Senate GOP leader; McConnell prevailed Wednesday.
Campaigning for Walker this week on the outskirts of Augusta, Scott sought to present a united GOP front. “What we ought to be doing now is focusing all of our time on Herschel,” he said.
But he noted that federal election law prevents coordination between the party committees and the SLF-Kemp operation. That means that there’s no legal way for each camp to keep tabs on the other’s activities, raising the prospect of duplicative efforts or conflicting messages to voters.
Meanwhile, Scott’s and McConnell’s advisers spilled their tiff into public view. Curt Anderson, a Scott ally, noted on Twitter that he’d seen Schumer’s Democratic super PAC airing ads on Warnock’s behalf during a “Monday Night Football” broadcast. “McConnell’s superpac running zero ads attacking Warnock. Have they given up?” he asked.
SLF President Steven Law retorted that the NRSC’s Georgia televisions buys have been subpar. “But don’t worry little buddy — we’re used to covering you,” he wrote. SLF has since announced its own $14.2 million advertising plan, on top of the $2 million-plus it had previously announced for its turnout operation.
Amid such intraparty complications, perhaps the best outcome for Walker is a relatively low-turnout runoff election that allows his core supporters to become a victorious majority. Indeed, having the Senate majority already settled could dampen Democrats’ enthusiasm, and Walker has drawn large, enthusiastic crowds in the opening days of the runoff campaign.
Yet Republicans, including the candidate himself, acknowledge at least tacitly that Walker may need supporters the nominee hasn’t won over yet.
For Walker, that means a retooled campaign speech that remains heavy on staunch conservative rhetoric but expands his attacks on Warnock to include an admonishment for not working closely enough with Kemp.
“What he been doing is rowing the boat this way as our governor is trying to row this way,” Walker said of Warnock in Augusta. “What I’m going to do is I’m going to row the boat with the governor.”
For Scott, it means bringing the complexities of Senate rules to the campaign trail, telling voters that a 50-50 Senate means evenly split committee rosters, while a 51-49 makeup means clear Democratic majorities. “It takes 51-plus to get things done,” he said.
And for rank-and-file Georgia Republicans like Debbie McCord, it means cajoling would-be Walker voters to look beyond individual candidates and see a national referendum.
“There are people who just think ‘so-and-so would have been a better candidate.’ I say there are a lot of good candidates, but this is who won the primary,” said McCord, chairwoman of the Columbia County Republican committee. “You need to get over it, put your big boy pants on and go vote.”
Clyburn elected House Dems’ assistant leader, averts contest
WASHINGTON (AP) — Wrapping up leadership elections, House Democrats unanimously chose Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina for a new role Thursday, as the party whip relinquishes his current job and a younger generation of Democratic leaders takes charge in the new year.
The vote for Clyburn, who is the highest-ranking Black American in Congress and close to President Joe Biden, averted a potentially divisive internal party struggle after what had been a largely drama-free transition in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team are stepping aside after decades at the helm.
Ahead of voting, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who is openly gay, withdrew his challenge to Clyburn. Cicilline won assurances from the Democratic leaders that LGBTQ voices would be represented at the leadership table.
Clyburn, a civil rights leader, said he plans to continue his work advocating “for the South, and for communities that have been left out of economic progress of previous generations.”
The two days of closed-door voting among Democrats to chose party leaders after the midterm elections were surprising for its brevity, especially compared to the dragged out process underway on the Republican side as GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy works to shore up support to become the House speaker in January.
Pelosi, D-Calif., and her team are stepping aside after Republicans won control of the House in the midterm elections. The parties have between now and the new year to sort out the new roles before the new Congress convenes in January.
On Wednesday, House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York to become the new party leader, the first Black person to lead a major political party in the U.S. Congress.
Jeffries has said it will be a “blessing” to have Pelosi and the other leaders remain in Congress to offer counsel and guidance even as they are making way for the new generation.
Pelosi, Clyburn and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are all in their 80s, and the new generation is decades younger.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., who was elected to become the caucus chairman, called Clyburn “the conscience of our caucus. All of us can benefit from his experience and his perspective as we work together.”
The challenge to Clyburn was a surprise, but Cicilline said he felt the need to act to ensure the Democratic leadership “fully reflect the diversity” of the caucus and of the country.
Antjuan Seawright, a political adviser to Clyburn, on Wednesday argued that Clyburn’s presence at the leadership table was crucial not only for representation from the South but also as a measure of continuity during a transition period.
“With a transition in leadership, you have to have stability, you have to have continuity, and you have to have a sense of trust,” Seawright said. “His being there provides all those things, and also, as this next generation of leaders prepares to be able to fly the political plane, it’s so important that they have a very experienced pilot to help them fly the plane, just in case there’s a storm they may not have faced.”
LA elects US Rep Karen Bass mayor, first Black woman in post
LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Rep. Karen Bass defeated developer Rick Caruso to become the next mayor of Los Angeles on Wednesday, making her the first Black woman to hold the post as City Hall contends with an out-of-control homeless crisis, rising crime rates and multiple scandals that have shaken trust in government.
With more than 70% of the vote tallied, Bass had amassed an insurmountable lead of nearly 47,000 votes. She had 53.1%, with Caruso notching 46.9%.
Bass was working in her congressional office in Los Angeles when she was informed by an aide she had won the race. Caruso’s campaign said he was calling the mayor-elect to offer his congratulations.
“The people of Los Angeles have sent a clear message: it is time for change and it is time for urgency,” Bass said in a statement.
“I ran for mayor to urgently confront the crises our hometown faces,” Bass said. “Tonight, 40,000 Angelenos will sleep without a home — and five will not wake up. Crime is increasing and families are being priced out of their neighborhoods. This must change.”
Caruso promised that “there will be more to come from the movement we built.”
“As a city we need to unite around” Bass, he said in a statement.
Bass — a Democrat who was on President-elect Joe Biden’s short list for vice president — overcame more than $100 million in spending by the billionaire Caruso’s campaign while arguing that she would be a coalition builder who could heal a troubled city of nearly 4 million.
The election tested whether voters in the heavily Democratic city were willing to turn away from their liberal tendencies and embrace an approach that would place a strong emphasis on public safety.
Caruso, a former Republican who became a Democrat shortly before entering the race, had represented a turn to the political right. He argued that Bass and other longtime politicians were part of the problem who led LA into multiple crises. He promised to expand the police department to deal with rising crime rates and quickly get ubiquitous homeless encampments off the streets.
Bass, a former state Assembly leader, had the advantage of being a lifelong Democrat in a city where Republicans are almost invisible. She was backed by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the Democratic establishment.
The election had historical dimensions, as she will become the first woman and second Black person to hold the job, after former Mayor Tom Bradley, who held the post from 1973 to 1993.
She takes office next month as City Council faces a racism scandal that led to the resignation of its former president and calls for the resignation of two more members. More than 40,000 people are homeless, and there is widespread anxiety over crime that has ranged from daytime robberies on city sidewalks to smash-and-grab thefts at luxury stores.
Bass has said her first order of business at City Hall will be to declare a state of emergency on homelessness and begin the work of getting thousands of unhoused people out of sagging tent communities and rusted RVs and into shelters.
“We are in a fight for the soul of our city,” Bass said at an election night rally. “We are going to build a new Los Angeles.”
The winner replaces beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who will conclude two bumpy terms with his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India stalled in the Senate — apparently over sexual misconduct allegations against a former top Garcetti adviser.
The race was shaped in large part by Caruso’s lavish spending — and his unavoidable advertising. City records show his campaign expenses have topped $100 million so far, most of it financed with his own money.
Bass, with just a small fraction of that amount at her disposal, had said “it’s not the power of the money, it’s the power of the people.”
Caruso’s focus on unsafe streets had shared some similarity to 1993, when LA voters turned to Republican Richard Riordan to lead the city in the aftermath of the deadly 1992 riots that erupted after four white police officers were acquitted of assault in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King. It also has parallels to New York City in the early 1990s, when the perception that crime was out of control helped usher in Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Los Angeles, however, is much changed from Riordan’s days. It’s more Latino, less white and more solidly Democratic — Republicans comprise only about 13% of voters, while Democrats account for nearly 60%, with most of the remainder independents who lean Democratic.
Pelosi to step aside from Dem leadership, remain in Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she will not seek a leadership position in the new Congress, making way for a new generation to steer the party after Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans in the midterm elections.
Pelosi announced in a spirited speech on the House floor that she will step aside after leading Democrats for nearly 20 years and in the aftermath of the brutal attack on her husband, Paul, last month in their San Francisco home.
The California Democrat, who rose to become the nation’s only woman to wield the speaker’s gavel, said she would remain in Congress as the representative from San Francisco, a position she has held for 35 years, when the new Congress convenes in January.
“I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” she said. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect.”
Now, she said, “we must move boldly into the future.”
Pelosi received a standing ovation after her remarks, and lawmakers and guests one by one went up to offer her hugs, many taking selfies of a moment in history. President Joe Biden spoke with Pelosi in the morning and congratulated her on her historic tenure as speaker of the House.
“History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history,” Biden said in a statement, noting her ability to win unity from her caucus and her “absolute dignity.”
It’s an unusual choice for a party leader to stay on after withdrawing from congressional leadership but Pelosi has long defied convention in pursuing power in Washington.
During her remarks, Pelosi recapped her career, from seeing the Capitol the first time as a young girl with her father — a former congressman and mayor — to serving as speaker alongside U.S. presidents and doing “the people’s work.”
“Every day I am in awe of the majestic miracle that is American democracy,” she said.
Democrats cheered Pelosi as she arrived in the chamber at noon. On short notice, lawmakers filled the House, at least on the Democratic side, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined. He later joined a throng of lawmakers and hugged and kissed Pelosi on the cheek.
The Speaker’s Gallery filled with Pelosi staff and guest. Some Republicans, including some newly elected members, also attended, though House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who’s seeking the speakership in the new Congress, did not.
Earlier, Pelosi noted in a statement after The Associated Press called control of the chamber that, in the next Congress, House Democrats will have “strong leverage over a scant Republican majority.”
Pelosi was twice elected to the speakership and has led Democrats through consequential moments, including passage of the Affordable Care Act with President Barack Obama and the impeachments of President Donald Trump.
Her decision Thursday paves the way for House Democratic leadership elections next month when Democrats reorganize as the minority party for the new Congress.
Pelosi’s leadership team, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, has long moved as a triumvirate. All now in their 80s, the three House Democratic leaders have faced restless colleagues eager for them to step aside and allow a new generation to take charge.
Hoyer said after Pelosi’s remarks that “it is the time for a new generation of leaders” and that he will also step down from leadership but stay in Congress. Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black American in Congress, h as said he expects to stay in Congress next year and hopes to remain at the leadership table.
Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California have similarly moved as a trio, all working toward becoming the next generation of leaders. Jeffries could make history if he enters the race to become the nation’s first Black speaker of the House.
After Pelosi spoke, Clyburn released a statement saying he looks forward “to doing whatever I can to assist our new generation of Democratic Leaders, which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar.”
One idea circulating on Capitol Hill was that Pelosi and the others could emerge as emeritus leaders as they pass the baton to new Democrats.
First elected in 1987, Pelosi has been a pivotal figure in American politics, long ridiculed by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal while steadily rising as a skilled legislator and fundraising powerhouse. Her own Democratic colleagues have intermittently appreciated but also feared her powerful brand of leadership.
Pelosi first became speaker in 2007, saying she had cracked the “marble ceiling,” after Democrats swept to power in the 2006 midterm elections in a backlash to then-President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When she was poised in 2018 to return as speaker, in the Trump era, she vowed “to show the power of the gavel.”
Pelosi has repeatedly withstood leadership challenges over the years and had suggested in 2018 she would serve four more years as leader. But she had not discussed those plans more recently.
Typically unsentimental, Pelosi let show a rare moment of emotion on the eve of the midterm elections as she held back tears discussing the grave assault on her husband of nearly 60 years.
Paul Pelosi suffered a fractured skull after an intruder broke into their home in the middle the night seeking the Democratic leader. The intruder’s question — “Where is Nancy?” — echoed the chants of the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as they hunted for Pelosi and tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.
David DePape is being held without bail on attempted murder and other charges in what authorities said was a political attack. Police said DePape broke in and woke up Paul Pelosi, and the two struggled over a hammer before DePape struck the 82-year-old on the head.
Paul Pelosi was hospitalized for a week but is expected to recover, though his wife has said it will be a long haul. At the time, Pelosi would not discuss her political plans but would only disclose that the attack on her husband would affect her decision.
Historians have noted that other consequential political figures had careers later as rank-and-file members of Congress, including John Quincy Adams, the former president, who went on to serve for nearly 18 years in Congress.
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