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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Deep South Dems mount comeback with familiar names

Thursday, 20 March 2014 03:09 Published in National News
ATLANTA (AP) — Democrats in the conservative Deep South are looking to recapture some old political magic in the 2014 elections.
 
President Barack Obama's party is running candidates with familiar names, like Carter and Nunn in Georgia, in hopes of rebuilding clout where Republicans rule. Given their recent political struggles in the region, some Democrats say they have nothing to lose.
 
"We need known quantities while we continue to build our bench for the future," said Georgia Democratic Chairman DuBose Porter, a failed candidate for governor in 2010. "This gives us a short game and a long game."
 
The candidates are carefully managing their family connections and their own political histories — a tactic that reflects the risk of looking like a party of the past and the sheer difficulty of winning in the face of widespread disdain for Obama and his signature health care law.
 
Southern Democratic Party leaders counter that it's still their best shot to restore an old majority coalition: blacks, urban liberals and just enough whites from small towns and rural areas. That would mean remixes and retreads successfully luring voters who have trended Republican or stayed home in recent years while the GOP built a virtual monopoly on statewide offices.
 
In Georgia, Democratic hopes are pinned on new generations of old political families. In South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi former officials and a previously unsuccessful candidate are waging comebacks.
 
Georgia's likely lineup for November looks a lot like the 1970s, when governor-turned-president Jimmy Carter and Sen. Sam Nunn towered over the state's politics. This year, it's Michelle Nunn, a nonprofit executive in Atlanta, making her political debut by running for her father's old job in Washington. Jason Carter, who toddled around the White House Rose Garden and Oval Office when his grandfather was president, already serves in the Georgia Senate, but he's making his first statewide bid by running for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's seat.
 
In South Carolina, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen is trying to unseat Republican Nikki Haley four years after she beat him by 60,000 votes, a margin of 4.4 percent.
 
Mississippi Democrats, meanwhile, hope former Rep. Travis Childers can knock off the winner of a potentially bruising Senate Republican primary between Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party challenger Chris McDaniel, a state lawmaker.
 
"We're losing elections because Democrats stay home and we're not persuading independents," Mississippi Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole said. "In a statewide race, we have to look to our known prospects first to get those folks back."
 
And in Alabama, where Republicans hold every statewide federal, executive and judicial office, Democrats are turning to former congressman and state legislator Parker Griffith to take on popular Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, even though Griffith has switched parties multiple times.
 
Georgia Democrats say the races are an opportunity to prove what they've claimed for years, that demographic shifts in the growing state will loosen the GOP's grip and make it a battleground — including in the 2016 presidential election — alongside Virginia and North Carolina.
 
So far the Democratic candidates have tried to steer their campaigns away from the past, despite their familiar names.
 
Carter's campaign biography calls him a "ninth-generation Georgian," but alludes to his 89-year-old grandfather only with a notation of the grandson serving as a Carter Center trustee. When Jason Carter first ran for state senator in 2010, he didn't tap his family connection publicly until days before the election; he and Jimmy Carter knocked on doors together in Carter's district, just east of downtown Atlanta and the former president's library and international humanitarian center. The candidate rarely mentions his grandfather in public remarks, instead using campaign stops and Senate floor speeches to draw contrasts with Deal on education and other issues.
 
Nunn, who is on leave of absence as CEO of former President George H.W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation, is far more likely to emphasize her ties to the first family of Republican politics than to mention her 75-year-old father. It was the elder Nunn — not his daughter — who appeared publicly with Vice President Joe Biden when he came to Atlanta this month to raise money for Senate Democratic candidates.
 
After she filed papers to be on the June primary ballot, the younger Nunn bristled at questions about never holding office and capitalizing on her name. She trumpets her first-timer status as a benefit: "I don't believe career politicians are the answer."
 
But Porter argues that well-known names allow a targeted appeal other Democrats might not have.
 
"Michelle and Jason can raise money and energize young people in their own right," Porter said, adding that as professionals with school-age children — Carter is an Atlanta attorney — they can appeal to others like them, including independents and Republicans in the populous Atlanta suburbs.
 
"Beyond that," Porter said, "their last names get other folks to take a closer look. It provides voters a comfort level they might not otherwise have."
 
It's those "other folks" — older, conservative whites outside metropolitan areas — who've been increasingly hard for Democrats to reach.
 
Sheheen notes often that he grew up in the same town where he now practices law. His father and uncle were active in state government, though they weren't household names. The home county that sends him to the Legislature opted for Mitt Romney over Obama in 2012 by 18 percentage points, well ahead of Romney's 10-point margin statewide.
 
Sheheen supports expanding the Medicaid insurance program under Obama's health care law, something that appeals to core Democrats, including black voters who make up more than 30 percent of the electorate. But he couches it in terms of local economies — healthy workers, financially stable community hospitals — in an effort to target more pragmatic Romney voters.
 
The outreach is more complicated for Childers in Mississippi and Griffith in Alabama. In Congress, both voted against Obama's health care overhaul but were unable to hold their congressional seats in the 2010 Republican tide.
 
Childers, then a longtime county clerk, won a 2008 special House election and months later was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote, well ahead of Obama's 37 percent in the district.
 
Griffith won his seat with 52 percent, which was 14 percentage points ahead of Obama.

SLPD move to new HQ delayed until summer

Thursday, 20 March 2014 02:53 Published in Local News
   The St. Louis Police Department's move to its new headquarters building is being delayed again.  Chief Sam Dotson tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the $6.3 million renovation of the department's new home won't be finished until June and the move will take about three weeks.  Dotson says the good news is that renovations to the seven story building at Olive and 19th Streets are still within budget.  
   Police had hoped to move into the building last spring, but disputes over the bidding process delayed the project's start to summer.  Other construction delays have pushed back next month's move until summer.
   The police department used $2.7 million in asset forfeiture money to buy the building after engineers said it would cost at least $75 million to bring the Clark Street headquarters up to code.  
   Renovations of the building are being financed through a $3 million donation from the St. Louis Police Foundation, private donations, asset forfeiture money and city bond funds.
 
   CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago's mayor and the governor of Illinois are among those celebrating the life of gay rights activist Vernita Gray, who died Tuesday at age 65.
   Gray and her partner, Patricia Ewert, wed in the state's first same-sex marriage in November. Her terminal cancer and her wish to marry convinced a federal judge to order an expedited marriage license. That allowed the couple to get married before the June 1 effective date of Illinois' new same-sex marriage law.
   Gray had worked for gay rights for decades.
   Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised Gray's work for equality and civil rights in a statement Wednesday, calling her "an inspiration to all who crossed her path."
   Gov. Pat Quinn says Gray "fought for what she believed in and made a difference for people across Illinois."

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