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History-making runs turn black governor nominees into stars

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illum, Abrams, Jealous

It was a raucous scene that could have been backstage at a rock concert: camera flashes, fans clamoring for autographs, scowling bodyguards, reporters hungry for a scoop. But the center of this attention wasn't Beyonce or the Rolling Stones. It was three black gubernatorial candidates who stood side by side in a throng of admirers, soaking up all that love.

If elected, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Ben Jealous of Maryland and Andrew Gillum of Florida would give America its largest number of black governors ever. That historic possibility was not lost on them, or the black voters who hope to make that history happen, as they shared the stage at the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative conference this week.

"This moment, and the significance of it, won't seep in for some time from now," said Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, and at 39 the youngest of the three.

"What this signals is not only the continued evolution of our country but the increasing recognition of diversity, not only of capacity but of backgrounds," said Abrams, 44, later.

Abrams, who could become the nation's first black female governor, is getting the most national attention. But all three were squired around the Washington Convention Center by black politicos who are strategizing ways to help on turnout, campaigning and fundraising.

Jealous, 45, faces the steepest challenge, down in polls against incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Abrams and Gillum are running for open seats.

After the three spoke together on stage, Jealous listened attentively backstage as Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas laid out plans to help him with voter turnout and fundraising. Gillum, meanwhile, stood nearby shaking hands with other state elected officials and Abrams conducted a media interview.

"I believe what we see in this current electoral cycle is not going to stop," Abrams said. "We have more diversity in the candidates running and in the candidates winning and particularly for women of color. ... I'm proud to be part of a national trend and I think it's a trend that's becoming a permanent one for America."

None of them were heavy favorites in their primaries. Abrams is a longtime state official and former state House leader; Gillum has been a fixture of local Tallahassee politics since his college days; and Jealous is a former head of the NAACP and was a venture capitalist and activist before entering the governor's race last year.

Their historic primary wins — and the national attention it brought — will bring out Democratic voters who might not have voted in a midterm election otherwise, they said. Midterm elections typically draw fewer than half of those eligible to vote.

"I know we have people keep wanting to hedge on these races: 'Oh, you can win in the primary, but what happens in the general?'" Gillum said. "I honestly believe for all three of us, we are the best, and frankly, the most likely of the whole lot we were in to bring the kind of energy necessary in order to win states like ours."

The political trio seem comfortable together and readily quote one another in interviews. They also tease one another, as they did when they turned Abrams' observations about overcoming gender and racial barriers into jokes about their respective skin tones.

"I'm of a very rich brown hue," Abrams said.

"I'm richer," Gillum interrupted. "It's the only thing I'm rich in."

Jealous, who is biracial, smiled, then quipped: "No comment."

The three of them have known one another for many years, Jealous said. He met Abrams when they were both around 20 years old, he said, and they've known Gillum since he was about that same age.

"It's a special joy when you look to your left and look to your right and the people you see are the people you know and the people you trust," Jealous said.

P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana was the nation's first black governor during Reconstruction, serving from 1872 to 1873. The next would not come until 1990, when Douglas Wilder would be elected in Virginia. Deval Patrick was elected in 2007 and David Paterson served as New York governor from 2008 to 2010.

There has never been a black female governor in American history.

"What's more important to me is that I'm opening the doors for others who may not have seen themselves in positions of power and leadership, and I can speak for communities that are unseen and unheard," Abrams said.

All of them recognize the change their campaigns represent and what could be a unique place in history if they are all successful.

"It is a wonderful season we are in," said Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., at a later event honoring black female lawmakers. "I'm excited about the midterm elections, and I know that regardless of what the outcome is that God still has his hands on us."

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FLAKE: PUT BRAKES ON KAV. VOTE

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The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is working to keep the Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation on track after Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Sunday he was working on setting up bipartisan calls to keep Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation on track.

Grassley’s office said it was working to hold calls alongside Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, to speak with Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman alleging the judge sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago.

“The Chairman and Ranking Member routinely hold bipartisan staff calls with nominees when updates are made to nominees’ background files,” Grassley’s office said in a statement. “Given the late addendum to the background file and revelations of Dr. Ford’s identity, Chairman Grassley is actively working to set up such follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote.” 

Ford revealed her identity on Sunday in The Washington Post after information leaked that Feinstein was in possession of a letter accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting a woman in his high school years. Ford alleges that Kavanaugh was “stumbling drunk” at a party in the 1980s where he pinned her to a bed, groped her, grinded his body against hers and attempted to pull off her clothing. 

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations. 

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee initially released a statement Sunday calling Ford’s motive into question and seemed ready to continue with Kavanaugh’s confirmation as scheduled.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told Politico Sunday that he was “not comfortable” with moving forward without speaking to Ford.

“We need to hear from her. And I don’t think I’m alone in this,” Flake told Politico.

GOP Donor Les Wexner Announces Departure From Republican Party After Obama Visit

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The L Brands CEO had previously condemned Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville in a speech to employees.

Ohio billionaire and longtime Republican donor Les Wexner says he is officially done with the party, and was prompted to leave after former President Barack Obama visited the state.

Wexner, the CEO of retail conglomerate L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, announced at a leadership summit in Columbus on Thursday that he “won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party” anymore, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The announcement, made at a panel discussion, came the same day Obama visited Columbus before heading to a rally in Cleveland to support Democrat Richard Cordray’s run for governor. 

“I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said of Obama.

Wexner said he’s been telling lawmakers that he is now an independent.

“I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” he said.

Last year, following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Wexner condemned the racists in a speech to his employees. He said Trump’s tepid response to the violence ― in which a white supremacist killed counterprotester Heather Heyer ― made him feel “dirty” and “ashamed,” the Dispatch reported.

In a speech in Illinois earlier this month, Obama also called out Trump’s lukewarm response to the violence, in which the current president said there were “very fine people” on both sides.

“How hard is it to say Nazis are bad?” Obama said.

Wexner has long donated to Republican causes, including cutting a check to Jeb Bush for $500,000 in 2015 during Bush’s presidential run. The billionaire philanthropist has also donated $2.8 million to With Honor, a super PAC that endorses both Republican and Democratic candidates. 

During the panel discussion Thursday, former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman praised Wexner for standing up to his former party, the Dispatch reported. 

Lindsey Graham Doesn’t Deny Brett Kavanaugh Could Spur Roe V. Wade Reversal

“There’s a process to overturn a precedent, and I think he understands that process,” the GOP senator said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday did little to calm abortion rights advocates who fear Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court would lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Graham, who opposes abortion rights, said he believed President Donald Trump’s pick for the high court understands the process for reversing a precedent like the one established by the court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal in all 50 states.

“Here’s what I hope [Kavanuagh] will do: If there’s a case before him that challenges Roe v. Wade that he would listen to both sides of the story, apply a test to overturn precedent,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The bottom line here is there’s a process to overturn a precedent, and I think he understands that process, he will apply it,” he continued. “If it were up to me, states would make these decisions ― not the Supreme Court. But it is a long-held precedent of the court. It will be challenged over time, and I hope he will give it a fair hearing.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will hold its first confirmation hearing with Kavanaugh, Trump’s second nominee for the Supreme Court.

Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against the nomination of Kavanaugh, a conservative circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would likely shift the Supreme Court further to the right, giving its conservative faction a five-vote majority.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as well as Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have expressed concerns that Trump may have picked Kavanaugh as a way to shield himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Kavanaugh has argued that presidents should be exempt from civil suits, criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions. 

“Should a president be allowed to appoint somebody who’s already made it clear that he would give immunity to him should anything come before the Supreme Court?” Booker asked in an interview with Business Insider in July. “So this is a stunning thing to me that is so shocking that we’re going to have to allow this to happen.”

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Andrew Gillum Becomes First African-American Nominee For Florida Governor

Andrew Gillum addresses the audience at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta on Aug. 1

The election for the top job in the third-largest state will be a referendum on President Donald Trump, who considers himself a part-time resident of Florida.

Andrew Gillum has become the first African-American nominee for Florida governor, pulling off an upset win over favorite Gwen Grahamand two big-spending businessmen in a crowded Democratic primary field.

The Tallahassee mayor will face Jacksonville congressman Ron DeSantis, who easily defeated state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam thanks to the backing of President Donald Trump.

“We’re going to bring this thing home,” Gillum told his election night gathering in Tallahassee. “As the mayor of Florida’s capital city, I humbly accept the Democratic nomination.”

Gillum never led in any public polling, but was showing signs of gaining momentum in the final weeks. He benefited from being chosen by the progressive wing of the party’s most generous benefactors ― including billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros ― as well as from a barrage of negative ads against Graham by billionaire Jeff Greene.

Greene wound up finishing fourth in the five-way pack, but he spent $10 million on ads attacking Graham ― more than she spent on television on her own behalf. Liberal outside groups, meanwhile, coalesced around Gillum and served as his turnout operation, particularly in urban areas with large concentrations of younger and minority voters.

Gillum, 39, had difficulty raising money for his campaign after the revelation that the FBI was investigating Tallahassee city government. He says he heard he is not a target of the probe, but one of his closest friends and a former political ally has been the subject of federal subpoenas examining a restaurant he developed in part using city money.

Gillum wound up raising the least money of the five candidates ― $8.4 million between his campaign and a political committee under his control. In contrast, Greene raised $43 million, $40 million from himself. And Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, who started airing TV ads 10 months ago and led the race for several months, raised a total of $41 million, of which $29.5 million was his own cash.

But throughout the race, Gillum’s embrace of progressive ideals such as Medicare for all and his engaging public speaking style made him a favorite of the party’s most liberal activists. In the final weeks, he was endorsed by Vermont senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who campaigned with Gillum in the closing days of the race.

Gillum cut his teeth on political activism as a student government leader at Florida A&M University just a few blocks from Florida’s Capitol, where he led protests against Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to revamp the state’s affirmative action programs. He went to work for People for the American Way before running for a seat on the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. He became the city’s mayor in 2014.

The Florida gubernatorial race will now become a referendum on Trump’s presidency, with Gillum painting DeSantis as a Trump clone and DeSantis hoping to bring out as many Trump voters as he can in November.

Trump has spent winter weekends and holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach for years and considers himself a part-time resident of the state. It is unclear how frequently, if at all, he will campaign for DeSantis in the two months leading up to the Nov. 6 general election. Whether Republicans retain control of Congress could determine the survival of the Trump presidency, and his political advisers may choose to focus his time on House and Senate seats.

Trump campaigned with DeSantis only once during the primary, at a rally in Tampa in July, and sent out a handful of supportive statements on Twitter, including the message “VOTE FOR RON” in all capitals late Monday. But in a GOP primary electorate bearing little resemblance to the one that supported former Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, Trump’s seal of approval allowed DeSantis to overcome enormous disadvantages in cash and traditional support.

The state Republican establishment was solidly behind Putnam even before he announced his candidacy. From a cattle ranching and citrus family in the heart of the state, Putnam had been grooming himself for this run from the time he graduated college. He won a state legislative seat at age 22, then moved to Congress four years later, returning to Florida in 2010 to run for state agriculture commissioner.

He served two terms, coinciding with Rick Scott’s years as governor, and had appeared the heir apparent to the job as Scott leaves because of term limits.

DeSantis, in contrast, entered politics just six years ago, when he ran for Congress from the wealthy suburbs of Jacksonville, his hometown, after serving as a Navy prosecutor. His deployment to Iraq during President George W. Bush’s “troop surge” there was a highlight of his biography on the campaign trail. Despite the populist, pro-Trump rhetoric he has delivered for years from the Fox TV studio near the U.S. Capitol, DeSantis graduated from Yale and received a law degree from Harvard.

President Donald Trump talks with Ron DeSantis during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Ta
CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
President Donald Trump talks with Ron DeSantis during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018. 

And while Putnam also praised Trump repeatedly on the campaign trail, his standing with Trump likely was irreparably damaged in October 2016 after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that featured Trump bragging that his celebrity enabled him to grab women by the genitals. Putnam criticized Trump for the remarks, while DeSantis did not. 

DeSantis leaned on Trump’s approval heavily, mentioning it often in stump speeches and in TV ads. He even produced an ad using his young children as props, dressing up his infant in a “Make America Great Again” onesie.

Yet while DeSantis’ love for and from Trump clearly helped him against Putnam in the Republican primary, it may wind up hurting him in the November election against Gillum. Trump is not popular with many independents and even some moderate Republicans. Democrat Margaret Good defeated the son of sitting Republican congressman Vern Buchanan in a special election for a state House seat in Sarasota earlier this year, even though the district leans solidly Republican.

Florida Democrats have not won a governor’s race since 1994, when Lawton Chiles won a second term by defeating Republican Jeb Bush. The party has come within a single percentage point in both 2010 and 2014, losing both times to Scott.

 

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