Judge Robert Ballou – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

A longtime magistrate judge on the Western District of Virginia, Judge Robert Ballou has beaten out public defender Juval Scott for a federal judgeship.

Background

A native Virginian, Robert Stewart Ballou received a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1984 and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1987. He then clerked for Judge Peter Beer on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana before becoming an associate with Christian, Barton, Epps, Brent & Chappell in Richmond. In 1992, Ballou moved to Roanoke to become a Partner with Johnson, Ayers & Matthews.

In 2011, Ballou became a federal magistrate judge on the Western District of Virginia, replacing Judge Michael Urbanski, who was elevated to a lifetime appointment.

In 2018, upon the recommendation of U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, he was considered by President Trump to be a district judge on the Western District of Virginia. However, in May 2019, the Trump Administration broached the nomination of U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen. However, Warner and Kaine refused to back Cullen unless he underwent the same vetting process that Ballou went through. Warner and Kaine reopened the nomination process after their choices to the White House were rejected and Cullen was recommended, nominated, and confirmed.

History of the Seat

Ballou has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. This seat opened on August 30, 2021, when Judge James Parker Jones moved to senior status. In August 2021, Warner and Kaine recommended Ballou and Western District of Virginia Federal Public Defender Juval Scott to fill the vacancy. After an unusually long vetting process, Ballou was nominated for the vacancy on July 13, 2022.

Legal Experience

Ballou spent his entire career prior to becoming a judge as a civil attorney in private practice. The vast majority of this practice was in the City of Roanoke. Among the matters he handled, Ballou represented Aaron Pierce, who was convicted in the hit and run death of Virginia Tech student Brian Joseph McCloskey, and was later sued for negligence. See Mike Allen, 2nd Lawsuit Filed in Tech Student’s Death; The Victim Was Run Over in ‘05; The Suit Alleges Negligence, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 6, 2007.

Ballou’s work involved personal injury work in both state and federal court, usually representing defendants. See, e.g., Campbell v. Aubrey Faulconer & Sons, Inc., 67 Va. Cir. 416 (Cir. Ct. Amherst Cnty. 1996). See also Arnold v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 866 F. Supp. 955 (W.D. Va. 1994). He also handled such matters on appeal, arguing before the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn a jury verdict holding his client responsible for a car accident where another vehicle skidded off a road. See Harris v. Harman, 253 Va. 336 (1997).

Jurisprudence

Since 2011, Ballou has served as a federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Virginia. In this role, he presides over settlement, preliminary hearings, bail, and any cases where the parties consent to his jurisdiction.

Among the matters he handled as magistrate judge, Ballou awarded plaintiffs approximately $75000 in legal fees after a suit against sectarian prayers at the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meetings. See Danville Register & Bee, Costs Keep Climbing in Pittsylvania Prayer Case, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 12, 2015.

In another matter, Ballou declined to sanction plaintiff’s attorneys for using the term “murder” to refer to the death of Linwood Lambert in police custody, after the attorney promised to remove the word from pleadings and not to use it going forward. See Bill McKelway and John Ramsey, Police May Have Violated Rules on Stun Gun Use in Man’s Death, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 13, 2015.

Among the opinions that Ballou authored, he found defendant Thomas King guilty of driving under the influence on federal lands, but found him not guilty of intentionally interfering with the official duties of the officers who apprehended him. See United States v. King, 894 F. Supp. 2d 737 (W.D. Va. 2012).

Overall Assessment

As a longtime magistrate judge with three decades of legal experience, Ballou is likely to have a comfortable confirmation process. Most criticisms of his nomination are likely to come from those disappointed with the fact that Scott was passed over, and that, with the nomination of Ballou, the Western District of Virginia, which has never had a person of color serve as a judge, will have to wait even longer for one.

75 Comments

  1. Uuuggghhh… This is one of the more disappointing district court nominees to date by Biden for various reasons. First, as the article states, Juval Scott would have definitely been the more exciting pick. She was a federal defender, much younger & would have been the first person of color in the district. With the court having only 4 judges, it may be quite some time before we get another opportunity that first again.

    Second, Ballou is around 60 years old. Third, he doesn’t have all that much of a progressive background. And deputy, he was considered by Trump & they went with a nominee over a decade & a half younger.

    After such a long wait, for this to be the nominee is truly disappointing. I’m sure the judge is a fine man if character but definitely not what I’m looking for from a Biden nominee in a state with two Democrat senators.

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  2. This is a horrible selection, a clear F. Downright awful and I would vote hell NO if I were in the Senate. I would rather leave the seat empty than appoint Ballou.

    If they disqualified Juval Scott for whatever reason, the Biden admin should have asked for additional nominees.

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    • This is the second time the Virginia senators have given Biden old options versus a clear front running younger option. I didn’t mind so much because the first time we got Tony Heytens who I like as a pick. But in this case this White House should have done what the Trump White House did when they eventually got Thomas Cullen over Robert Ballou & demanded additional names. It’s not like they didn’t have time, with this process taken over a year to get this nominee. Really a bad pick here.

      While I haven’t been happy with other nominees born in the early “60’s”, most of them have at least been progressive. Ballou should be in the last hearing of the year. Durbin shouldn’t take up a slot for better nominees that could get confirmed this year.

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  3. Seems like a well qualified pick by Biden. No problems here with the process, and he has represented many defendants, which progressives should be happy about, but instead will complain based on the antiquated concept of age.

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    • @Frank

      He definitely is qualified. That is never the issue. Nobody makes it this far in the process without being qualified. Even the 10 Trump appointees that were deemed “Unqualified” were probably at least basically qualified. So when we speak on nominees, it’s never about them not being qualified.

      So we look at the nominees politically. I know some on this site like to say you shouldn’t but that simply isn’t the reality we live in. Donald Trump would have never consider KBJ for the vacant SCOTUS seat when RBG died. Not because she wasn’t qualified, but for political reasons. We must accept that reality.

      In this case, we have a 60 year old man with little progressive chops in his background. Now if this was a state with at least one Republican senator I could understand. But in states with two Democrat senators, we really need to maximize those opportunities to put as many young progressives on the bench. This pick is neither.

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    • “Antiquated concept of age.”

      Was there a more paradoxical statement said on this site, ever?

      Touting that a judge is qualified is like saying that everyone in a 100m can run. Sure, but they aren’t all Usain Bolts. All else being equal, the judiciary needs vibrant young people, not pre-retirees.
      I know that this is a generational thing for some, but as I’ve said before, do not take my preference for youthful nominees as a bias against your age. I just want young judges. That’s all.

      Judge Ballou seems perfectly situated as a magistrate judge. I do not understand why the VA senators would want to upset this statue quo or why Biden would acquiesce.

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      • @Gavi

        Exactly. I truly don’t think, even under Trump, somebody in the 21st century could be nominated to a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary, be vetted by two home state senators & The White House Council’s Office without being qualified. That really doesn’t need to be part of the discussion when it comes to federal judges.

        If somebody says all they care about is a nominee is qualified then I would ask them this. If your a progressive, what if a SCOTUS vacancy happened tomorrow, would they be ok with Biden nominating James Ho? He’s qualified so why what would be the problem with Biden nominating him if that’s all that matters.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not saying that the younger candidates aren’t qualified, rather that they aren’t the most qualified (in many situations). I want to see the most qualified candidate picked, and someone like Juval Scott who has reprovingly had issues getting along with others and less career diversity doesn’t seem to be the most qualified nominee. Nominees like Rachel Bloomekatz are a great example of someone who is young yet also seemingly the most qualified nominee for the seat she was nominated to.

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    • I want judicial nominees to be As on not being corporate lackeys or criminal justice hardliners. I want nominees who primarily represented employment and class action plaintiffs, labor unions, people whose civil rights were violated, and non white collar criminal defendants. I also don’t mind AUSAs who primarily prosecuted white collar criminals, financial crimes, and environmental violations.

      95% of Democratic nominees will be pretty good on abortion, LGBT, voting rights, and other such issues. It’s on class actions, employment law, and criminal defense where the differences emerge.

      Candidates who are F on the issues I mentioned are a stab in the back. J. Michelle Childs is worse than Clarence Thomas as far as I’m concerned.

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      • And the only thing I would differ from @Shawn on is I want those types of nominees for all circuit court seats & district court seats from blue states. And yes I want them in their 40’s if not 30’s. The only nominees we should be getting in their 50’s is if they are just rock solid like Goodwin Lui ,Beth Robinson, Tana Lin & others. I understand I probably won’t get all I want from a purple or red state (For example Charles Fleming had a solid progressive background but is in his 60’s), but we should not have to debate if somebody is a F, D or even C in blue states.

        Now I give Biden great credit when it comes to the judiciary. He has probably been the best president at nominating young liberals ever but certainly in my lifetime. But unfortunately we are so far behind when it comes to the judiciary that we need to maximize every opportunity we can. This pick today doesn’t do that sadly.

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  4. There is probably a breakdown of the types of cases the Circuit courts hear the most….For example, I would think the 9th Circuit would have immigration cases as their #1?…..Be interesting to know what they are deciding the most..
    The 9th Circuit website has an archive where you can watch past arguments….

    From time to time, you’ll see District Court judges sit on a case, but I assume all the circuit courts are like that…

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  5. Juval Scott ran into problems which endangered her confirmability. Robert Ballou will likely be confirmed by a large margin.

    For progressives, he has represented ordinary people in personal injury cases.

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      • Exactly. This GOP already pre determines to unilaterally vote against any Biden nominee with the exception of a handful of senators. So we mine as well put up nominees in their 40’s who will get a vote or two less. I wish the Biden team had some spine to out right reject Dems recommendations but I know they won’t. Sucks to see Trump stand up to these same two senators & get a nominee 17 years younger & much more conservative then Ballou when they recommended him to Trump. Republicans play the long game so good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @Frank
        Whereas a Juval Scott-*type* nominee would only need one more than half the senators present to be confirmed and go on to outstanding service on the bench, not to mention prospects for elevation.
        Who would elevate a 60+ year old?

        @Dequan
        One of Obama’s lasting contribution to the federal judiciary, per historical accounts, is his *consistent* insistence that Dem senators send him at least three nominees per vacancy. This particular process highlights the wisdom in that approach. Even if Scott was somehow disqualified, surely a third candidate would be more fitting that Ballou.

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      • Absolutely. How can a senator giving The White House one nominee or even two recommending. That’s telling them who to pick. Now I know that’s how senator Schumer does it but frankly he’s damn good at picking judges so I don’t mind him so much doing it that way. Plus he’s the majority leader. Biden ahs really given the Virginia senators too much sway in my book.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think we should, although sometimes they’re a day late in getting those posted.

      I suspect we eventually see hearings for: 9/7, 9/21, 10/12, 11/9 (possibly 11/16), and then 11/30. Not sure if they’ll bother holding any December hearings or not, but if Dems hold the senate then maybe they’ll do so and carry them over.

      The candidates at those first three hearings should be able to get votes pretty easily. I feel OK about anyone getting a hearing on mid November, because they should clear committee by early December. For example, last year Gabriel Sanchez had his hearing on Nov 3, was voted out of committee on Dec 2, and got a cloture vote on Dec 17. If necessary, Schumer could have gotten him confirmed the next day, but they struck an deal with McConnell to hold him over and leave a day early.

      Anyone getting a hearing after Thanksgiving I feel pretty certain won’t get confirmed.

      Anyway, it’s going to be a very interesting couple of months, which potentially dozens of new judges confirmed to the bench.

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      • Not holding any additional hearings other then the every other week would be completely unacceptable by Durbin unless they hold more then the 2 circuit court & 3 district court nominees in each hearing. To not even get a hearing before the end of the year for every current nominee, all announced pre-September with the Democrats in control would be a smack in the face.

        McConnell wouldn’t hear of that if he was majority leader. Of course he wouldn’t have that problem since they would have had at least one hearing during the Summer recess which the Democrats didn’t.

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  6. I agree with you; this was just my hunch of what will happen

    I think an easy solution that most retains norms would be to simply work in a few additional nominees per hearing. If they just went to 3 circuit and 4 district noms per hearing that would go a long way and allow basically every circuit court seat to be filled prior to the end of the year and at least every current district nom.

    I’m really interested to see what Schumer does in the month of September after Lee/Mathis get confirmed. Hopefully this four week period is laser focused on getting the current backlog cleared.

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  7. Has there ever been more than 5 judicial nominees when the Senate has been tied before? If not, I doubt we will see any additional nominees at the hearings nor any additional hearings added.

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    • There never had been a circuit court nominee confirmed without the blue slips of state least one home state senator until there was under there was. Norms are only norms until they aren’t norms anymore. Republicans have no problem changing norms when they are in power. Democrats are in power now no matter if it’s 50 senators plus the VP or 55. I can assure you majority leader McConnell wouldn’t care if he had a 50 senate majority.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just don’t get the Democrats. For over a year Biden’s approval numbers were rivaling Trump’s lows. Over the past month or so they are actually getting legislation passed & Biden is being more forceful & now his poll numbers are tied for the highest of any of the past 5 president’s at this time into their presidency.

        When they get things done the American people respond. Had they cancelled just one week of their 4 week Summer recess, imagine how much more they could have gotten done. They could have framed it as the Republicans are blocking everything so we are going to stay in Washington to get work done for hard working Americans. When they come back, if they would just work 4 days a week instead of 3 days a week when they returned from recess, that extra day would get an incredible amount of work done.

        All they need to do is pretend they care even if they really don’t & give a little more effort. At least until November. They would get so much more done. So many Americans want to vote AGAINST the GOP. All the Dems have to do is give them the slightest reason to vote FOR them.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I completely agree with you Dequan. Progressives have been saying this for some time, that Biden’s low poll numbers were a result for this do-nothing Congress and an unwillingness to fight. When the do-nothingness stopped and the willingness to fight began, Biden’s numbers also started to shift.

        But I suspect that the shitty establishment Democrats think they have done enough (climate and loan forgiveness) to get their idealistic younger voters to the polls, and that they can win over swing voters by touting reducing gas prices, bipartisan bills, and basically attacking the GOP on abortion, J6, Trump and supporters who are threatening violence. And as disheartening as it is, they may well be right. Democrats may also have completely lucked out in that the election is held in the middle between raging inflation of spring and summer 2022 and the slowdown (and possible recession) of the first half of 2023.

        From an election point of view, I will say it again, the group that the Democrats should be concerned about are working class Hispanic voters, who shifted drastically to Trump in 2020. Working class Hispanic voters will decide the Nevada Senate race which along with Georgia and Wisconsin, will determine whether the Democrats will retain the Senate in November (as opposed to needing a December runoff in Georgia). The most likely scenario is that disillusioned Hispanic voters mostly stay home in a midterm rather than switch to the GOP (as they may in a Presidential year), but even that is not a good situation.

        Biden and the Democrats have done little for them directly except infrastructure. While polling suggests that they largely support Biden’s student loan forgiveness and other economic issues from the Democrats, few of these things are going to directly help these voters. There has been basically no realistic plan proposed on immigration reform either.
        Nominating a Hispanic judge from the Rio Grande Valley for the 5th Circuit (as well as other Hispanics) even if there is no chance of confirming her this Congress, could be a huge boon in South Texas and among other Hispanics in the Southwest.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I went through how many of President Obama’s judges have already left the bench. From the day he entered office until now has been less then 14 years. To highlight my emphasis on age, nobody nominated at the age of 50 or younger can retire in the span of 14 years.

    13 out of 55 circuit court judges

    27 out of 268

    Liked by 2 people

    • Crazy!
      Thanks for researching this, Dequan.
      As *OK* as I think Biden has been on judges, I think his biggest (and hopefully long lasting) contribution so far, is to be an inflection point for Dem presidents and party on the Federal Judiciary. The party and its presidents should never be allowed to go back to the pre-Biden mindset of not caring about the courts. Obama should be the last president.
      Biden and Dems still have some ways to go. Like truly “abolishing” the blue slip for circuit court nominees and adding more hearing and/or nominees.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I see some of the senators repeat questions for Brad Garcia. I love the quotes from Justice Marshall & Judge Stephen Reinhardt mentioned. And of course senator Kennedy had to bring up Miguel Estrada & now Garcia posed to be the first Latino on the DC circuit 2 decades later. Great answer by him to the question asking if he condemned Durbin’s comments back then & great nominee overall.

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  9. I have seen some criticism of Kelley Hodge prior on here. Her questionnaire says she has been a board member for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. I haven’t seen anything that shows me she is a bad nominee, particularly in a purple state like Pennsylvania.

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      • While I was joking, I am afraid Linsey may start to play hard ball a lot more in the SJC overall, not just with Garcia. Between his comments last weekend about violence in the streets if Trump is indicted, to the Georgia investigation to the overall lateness in the calendar, Democrats really need to pick up a net gain of one seat in the midterms because I don’t see Graham being as cooperative over Biden’s last two years.

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      • Garcia will need a discharge. I don’t agree with Dequan however, I expect Graham to vote out at least some nominees.
        Graham has always done this, talk like a far right extremist and vote like a reasonable conservative. Remember his nonsense with Benghazi in the Obama era.

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    • She has spent basically her whole career as a hardline criminal prosecutor (starting her career under one of the worst district attorneys in Lynne Abraham) and a BigLaw corporate lawyer.
      The former makes her an absolutely horrible selection, a grade of F. I would prefer the seat remain empty and I would vote hell NO on her.

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      • I won’t blame her for anything that happened under the district attorney you mentioned unless she was directly involved in the decision making. From what I’ve seen in her record I would probably give her a C-. A former federal defender who is on the board of the Innocence Project for the past 5 years alone brings her up to a D at worst in my book. I’ll take some off from my rankings for her age being in her 50’s but I wouldn’t do anything to tank the deal for the 4 nominees. The Republican pick Murphy is much better then any Toomey pick I would expect.

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      • I agree 3 Arianna Freemans for 1 Chad Meredith is a good deal. The problem is this is the Democrats we are talking about. In most purple states it’s a 2 for 1 deal which I wouldn’t take with that ratio. But if Toomey said he would return his blue slips for any 3 Dems then Scott & Hodge were bad picks (Perez is solid). But judging by their questionnaires, I don’t think that was the case.

        Both Scott & Hodge started their process in early 2021 & Murphy initially started in 2017 so my guess is other more progressive names were thrown around in the past year & a half & this was who Toomey agreed to. Remember Freeman herself initially applied for a district court seat according to he questionnaire & was upgraded to the 3rd circuit, presumably when Toomey rejected her for the district court.

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    • I think Dems will win NH, PA, & AZ, and so we can keep the Senate by winning either NV or GA. I think the GOP has a slight advantage in NV & GA since they are straight tossups & polls slightly underestimate the GOP. AZ & PA both have D advantage by at least 3 polls out of 8, and NH has D advantage on 6 polls out of 8.

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      • I think if Palin and Begich are both still in the race, I think Peltola can and probably will win in November. If either drop out, then the GOP will take this seat. That’s why I was actually hoping for very narrow Palin win.
        People forget that Alaska is moving toward the Democrats, Alaska is strongly pro-choice, and RCV is a wildcard. If Peltola wins in November, she may hold this seat for many years.

        But TBH, this is the one special election that tells me nothing about the national outlook regarding November. The RCV and Palin factors make me think that Peltola could have won this special election even if we were looking at a red wave.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Yea this race is much less of a national preview then the upstate NY special election & the Kansas abortion vote. A 3-way race can’t measure how most races which will be head to head will look.

    This is a welcome seat however with Charlie Crist stepping down today. I’m an not familiar with what important House votes are left but off the top of my head I believe there is still a budget that needs to be passed. The extra Dem will be welcome in the event any are out sick when they vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So the one thing I think it does signify nationally is that candidate quality still matters for statewide races. Expect the bad GOP candidates to perform worse than the standard ones.

      The House allows proxy votes, so someone out sick can cast a vote from their home or even their hospital bed.
      I don’t think Crist should have resigned frankly and there could be budget and debt ceiling votes in the lame duck (probably to prevent the GOP House from doing nonsense in 2023/4).

      If I were the Speaker, I would bring up a resolution defending the FBI, supporting its funding, and its investigation of Trump, and make the GOP vote no. But Pelosi and Democratic establishment is a joke, which is why they’ll probably come up short in November. I have the House right now at around 223-212 GOP, but the next 12-14 seats are all as difficult or moreso than NY-19. The Democrats will have to win at least half of them to keep the House, and I don’t see that unless you have a 2020 electorate.

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      • Oh the House still has proxy voting? I knew they had it for the pandemic but didn’t realize they still did. Well in that case yea, Crist shouldn’t have resigned. It’s not like the seat will be filled before November & you will have a Democrat incumbent. That was a poor decision on his part. I do like his pick for running mate though. I think a Latina teacher union boss from Dade County was a smart foil for the Lt. gov.

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      • The GOP leadership planned to sabotage the IRA by having all their members proxy vote, and then sue with a claim there was no real quorum, but it failed because there were too many members who refused to go along.

        So yes, House proxy voting is still allowed.

        Crist needs to hammer DeSantis for spending his time campaigning for other horrible anti-choice GOP candidates rather than being in Florida. I think it’s a very narrow path for Crist to win, but a path exists. There isn’t a path at all for Demings though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s really sad because Demmings would be a phenomenal senator, particularly in a senate without a black woman currently in it. Of course governor Newsome promised that f he gets an opportunity to appoint another senator it would be a black woman but it doesn’t look like Feinstein is taking the hint to bow out gracefully anytime soon.

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      • Unfortunately a lot of Black people live in states that are controlled by white Republicans. Thus, a lot of Black Democrats facing white Republicans in heavily Republican states don’t really have a chance. If there were a lot more Black people in the Northeast (where a lot of Democrat Senators are from) then there would be a lot more Black U.S. Senators.

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      • I would have guessed Newsome might pick London Breed a few months ago. But now with progressive push back against her & other San Francisco leaders over replacing those who were recalled a couple months ago with more conservative Democrats, I doubt she would be the pick now.

        If Malia Cohen is not involved in the decision making if who replaced those that were recalled (I don’t know the answer to if she was or not), she has a real good chance of being the pick.

        North Carolina has broken my heart too many times. They can’t seem to find a Democrat for senate that can keep their pants zipped up or out of committing fraud since pre John Edwards. I actually haven’t seen any NC senate polls but I will assume Cheri Beasley is probably realistically a point or two behind.

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      • Beasley is still an underdog, but she has a real path to win, and her opponent is well below average. (To put in perspective, if Ted Budd had been the GOP nominee in 2020 instead of an incumbent senator, Cal Cunningham may have won even with his scandals.)
        Demings frankly doesn’t short of Rubio imploding, which is unlikely for an incumbent. I really don’t think Rubio will lose to anyone other than a Hispanic and probably a Cuban opponent. He’s going to clean up among South Florida Hispanics against anyone else, and without doing as well as they did in 2018 in South Florida, there’s no path to beating Rubio.

        I would vote for Larry Elder over London Breed or any of her cronies. I hate backstabbing scum like her.

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      • What struck me about Florida in 2020 election was Biden’s small win margin in Miami, only about 8%, when Democrats usually win Miami by 25%+….But he won Duval (Jacksonville), even Obama lost there..

        Maybe not in Florida, but I would like to believe the Hobbs decision was so significant that it will catapult a few of the Democratic senate nominees / incumbents to victory..

        Liked by 1 person

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