Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

Several potential successors are being eyed to fill outgoing Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's role as the party faces growing division between more mainstream Republicans and a faction of hardline conservative members.

Among those who are being floated as a potential replacement for the leadership position are senators John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-N.D.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Rick Scott R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced in a floor speech Wednesday he will step down from leadership in November. The Kentucky Republican is the Senate's longest-serving party leader in history.

Speculation about Thune, Barrasso or Daines taking over as leader stems from their current roles in GOP leadership. They serve as Republican whip, Senate Republican Conference chairman and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, respectively. 


"Chairman Daines is laser-focused on taking back the Senate majority," NRSC communications director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital.

One source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions shared that the "three Johns" — Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso — are not of the same political stripe. Barrasso is considered the most conservative out of the three, the source said. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don't always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Trump early last month.


"What I'm focused on is the election," Barrasso told reporters shortly after McConnell's announcement.

As for decisions regarding leadership, he said, "I'm going to talk to members of the conference, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction that they want to take with us."

Both Cornyn and Thune also endorsed Trump after Barrasso. Thune had initially endorsed fellow Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., who ultimately dropped out and endorsed Trump. 

Sen. Rick Scott was more pointed in his statement following McConnell's surprise announcement, saying in a statement, "I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for."

When Scott challenged McConnell for the position, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters McConnell received 37 votes from conference members, while Scott received 10. One Republican voted "present." Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were senators Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Braun; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who supported Scott in 2022, would welcome Scott's leadership if he were to take over, a staffer in Lee's office told Fox News Digital.


The source also shared that Cotton was being mentioned as a potential contender for the position. Cotton's office couldn't immediately be reached for comment. 

Cornyn, who does not hold a leadership position in the GOP and is poised to launch a potential bid for leader, said in a statement Wednesday that "today is about Mitch McConnell."

"But I've made no secret about my intentions," he added.

Cornyn on his timeline: "Not today."

Cornyn also endorsed former President Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee, and some lawmakers have begun looking to the likely GOP candidate for guidance about who should replace McConnell.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday the next person "absolutely" needs to have a more positive relationship with Trump, adding, "He's going to be the next president, we have to work together."

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., agreed. 

"It's so important that the next leader have a very positive relationship with the president," Marshall told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday. "I think that this next leader needs to have a little bit more, maybe a lot more of a populist view."

Marshall, who positioned himself alongside conservative hardliners who were critical of McConnell and voted against the bipartisan border deal in the national security supplemental package this month, added that the names being floated for leadership have been "interviewing for the job since I got here."

"I watch how they vote. I watch what their priorities are. I've been watching their volume on what issues they're championing," he said. "All the names … have great qualities. They would do a fine job. But I've not even started a process of weeding them out. And I tell you, it'll be one of the toughest decisions I've ever made."

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

3 deep red state governors’ races that could be surprisingly competitive in 2023 — and even expand Dem control

Republicans have a chance to flip two governors' mansions in red states this November as Democrats try to hold the line and are hopeful for one upset. 

Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi — all states that went double-digits in favor of Donald Trump against Joe Biden in the last two presidential elections — elect governors in 2023.

"Kentucky and Louisiana both present opportunities for the citizens to elect a Republican governor that better represents the values of those states," Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, told Fox News Digital. 

Two states could have their first elected Black governor, while another state’s contest is reminding voters of celebrities Elvis Presley and Brett Favre.


"Kentucky is the most competitive of the three, which we rank as a toss-up," Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, told Fox News Digital. "The others either lean or are likely Republican. But all could develop into highly competitive contests."

After disappointing 2022 midterms, a strong showing in off-year governors’ races would be welcome news for the GOP, but there is a tendency to overhype off-year elections, he said.

"Republicans would love to go into 2024 with victories under their belt," Rubashkin added. "But after the Republican candidate for governor won in Virginia in 2021 and almost won in New Jersey, some people thought it was a harbinger for a big red wave in the midterms. That didn’t bear out in 2022," 

Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has a 61% approval rating, according to a late January Mason-Dixon poll that showed him decisively leading four of the 12 Republicans competing for their party’s nomination in a May 16 primary. The two leading GOP candidates are Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Trump’s former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. 

While Inside Elections ranks the Kentucky governor’s race a toss-up, the Cook Political Report ranks it as "lean Democrat."

An Emerson College/Fox 56 WDKY poll last week found Cameron leading with 30%, followed by Craft at 24% and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles at 15%. Cameron could become the state’s first Black governor, while Craft could be the state’s second woman governor. 


Beshear is from a political dynasty, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear. A former state attorney general, the younger Beshear defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019. 

"Gov. Andy Beshear has built his own brand of caring and showing up, whether it’s helping people after floods in Eastern Kentucky or tornados in Western Kentucky," Sam Newton, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, told Fox News Digital. 

"Kentucky has record-low unemployment. Contrast that with 12 Republicans running. Kelly Craft is spending millions on attack ads saying Daniel Cameron is soft like a teddy bear. … Republicans are beating each other up and tearing each other down." 

Policies could cut against Beshear, said Scarpinato of the RGA.

"Andy Beshear has made decisions out of step with Kentuckians, whether it’s vetoing a transgender bill or his COVID-19 policies, where he shut down churches," Scarpinato said. 


The advantage could shift when Republicans likely unite after the primary, said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky. 

"A Republican opponent could get voters to think of Beshear not as a person but as a representative of the Democratic Party," Voss said. "But that is a lot easier to do in a Senate race than in a governor’s race. … The state is Republican enough that you can never rule out a GOP nominee despite the fact that Beshear is popular. It is a long time between now and November. It could be something neither candidate can control. Will the nation focus on national events? Will the focus shift to cultural issues?"

Both Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report rank Louisiana as "lean Republican." 

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited, so the state with the so-called jungle primary is going to be for an open seat. 


Most Democrats in the state are backing Bel Edwards’ former Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson. Attorney General Jeff Landry is the leading Republican, who the party formally endorsed in November 2022. 

However, other Republicans are running in the state’s jungle primary. These include state Treasurer John Schroder and state Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt.

Unlike the current moderate Democrat, Wilson could be too liberal for Louisiana, Scarpinato said. 

"In Louisiana, it’s an open seat, which gives us a strong chance, and the Democratic candidate is a progressive Democrat that does not fit the state," Scarpinato said. 

There may be more candidates on both sides, as the filing deadline is not until Aug. 10. In Louisiana, all the candidates compete in the same Oct. 14 primary. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the top two have a runoff regardless of party affiliation in the general election, which will be Nov. 18.

"The jungle primary does complicate outcomes in Louisiana politics," said Voss, the University of Kentucky professor who is a native of Louisiana, where he was formerly a political reporter and state Senate staffer. "Unlike Kentucky, Louisiana is more partisan and more in favor of Republicans. Any Democrat will have a hard time." 

A JMC Analytics poll last month showed Wilson at 29% and Landry at 28%. Other candidates were far behind.

If victorious in November, Wilson would be Louisiana’s first elected Black governor. The former Confederate state had two Black governors during Reconstruction. Oscar Dunn, a Republican, was the first Black man ever elected as lieutenant governor in 1868. He became acting governor when Gov. Henry Clay Warmouth, a Republican, was injured in 1871. That same year, Dunn died under mysterious circumstances. So, another African American, P.B.S. Pinchback, moved from state Senate president to the lieutenant governor’s job. In 1872, when Warmouth faced impeachment, Pinchback assumed office as acting governor.

The race is set with GOP Gov. Tate Reeves facing Democratic opponent Brandon Presley, the second cousin to Elvis Presley. 

Inside Elections and Cook Political Report each rank Mississippi as "likely Republican." Democrats are hopeful, as the race is surprisingly close, with Reeves leading with 46% to Presley’s 39%, according to a survey in a March by Magnolia Tribune/Mason-Dixon Polling.


"Tate Reeves is deeply unpopular across party lines," Newton of the Democratic Governors Association said. "Brandon Presley has a record of winning in deep red areas because he is focused on fighting for working people in Mississippi."

Presley is a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, an elected three-member board that regulates utilities in the state. Previously, he was mayor of Nettleton. 

In 2019, Reeves, as lieutenant governor, won 52% to defeat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. 

The governor has been loosely named in the controversy surrounding the alleged misappropriation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds that were redirected to unrelated purposes.

The state of Mississippi is now suing 38 people and companies, including retired NFL player Brett Favre, to attempt to reclaim $24 million out of the $77 million in federal welfare money. Favre helped raise money for the University of Southern Mississippi volleyball center. He has denied knowing a $5 million grant for the facility came from the welfare funds.

The relation to Elvis Presley is a net positive for the Democrat but won’t likely be decisive, Rubashkin said.

"At the national level, the last name is a hook for donors," Rubashkin said. "Within Mississippi, what’s more important is that his uncle was a sheriff and that he was mayor of Nettleton."

Kentucky Republicans leave abortion ban intact during Legislature’s annual session

After years of setbacks, abortion-rights supporters in Republican-leaning Kentucky thought they achieved a breakthrough in November, when voters defeated a measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion.

But their hopes that the state's sweeping abortion ban might be relaxed vanished well before the GOP-dominated Legislature ended its annual session.

After years of making anti-abortion policies a cornerstone of their agenda, Republicans skipped over the issue this year, leaving intact a ban on abortion at all stages of pregnancy while it's hashed out in the courts. Instead, social conservatives focused on enacting legislation aimed at transgender youths during the session that ended Thursday.

A handful of abortion bills, including proposals to restore abortion rights or add rape and incest exemptions to the sweeping ban, either failed to get a committee hearing or never were assigned to a committee.

For most states, this was the first legislative session since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and lawmakers on both sides have dug in. Republicans are moving to make abortion restrictions tougher, while Democrats are seeking to protect access.

In Kentucky, beleaguered abortion-rights proponents had hoped momentum would swing in their direction, only to be left frustrated.


Democratic state Rep. Lindsey Burke filed legislation to restore abortion access, saying she believed "Kentucky voters spoke loud and clear last November."

"If passing my bill was not possible, then I definitely think more should have been done to carve out at least some exemptions," Burke added.

Republicans pointed to legal uncertainties surrounding Kentucky's ban that allows abortions only to save a woman's life or prevent disabling injury. That has largely been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in their ruling last June. In February, Kentucky's Supreme Court refused to halt the law while sending the case back to a lower court to consider larger constitutional questions about whether abortion should be legal in the state.

"I still think there’s a desire to wait for more clarity from the courts before we move forward," said Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a staunch abortion opponent who even before the legislative session began had predicted it would be difficult to persuade anti-abortion senators to add more exceptions for when a pregnancy could be ended.

Abortion-rights supporters trumpeted the defeat of the anti-abortion ballot measure in November as a clear mandate from voters. But key Republican lawmakers didn't see it that way.


"I saw it more as the opposing campaign ran a better campaign that scared people into voting ‘no,’" Thayer said.

The abortion debate drew widespread attention during the campaign, when both sides mounted grassroots efforts, but it turned to silence during Kentucky's ensuing legislative session.

One bill briefly received attention when it was introduced in late February, nearly a week after the state Supreme Court opinion. That measure would have permitted abortions caused by rape or incest for up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. Another exemption would have allowed abortions if two doctors determined that a fetus has an "abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb."

The bill's lead sponsor was Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes, the House majority party whip, but the measure was never assigned to a committee.

"That’s something I believe in and I’ll fight for," Nemes said in recent days when discussing his bill. "But I don’t think there’s a mandate across Kentucky either way" on the abortion issue.

Democratic state Rep. Rachel Roberts, who unsuccessfully pushed for rape and incest exceptions last year, said she wasn’t surprised the exemptions bill went nowhere.

"The voters’ rejection of the anti-abortion constitutional amendment meant nothing to their party, which is as tragic as it is unsurprising," said Roberts, the House minority party whip.

Other failed abortion bills this year ran the gamut — from a Republican freshman's bill to allow illegal abortions to be prosecuted as homicides to the bill to restore abortion access.

Abortion came up in casual conversations during the session, but House Republicans didn’t formally discuss abortion measures in caucus meetings, said Nemes, a chief House GOP vote-counter who called it a "divisive issue."

Kentucky's GOP lawmakers instead focused on another issue that's energized the party's base across the U.S. — restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Republicans overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto to enact a bill that bans access to gender-affirming health care for transgender youths and restricts the bathrooms they can use in schools.

"With access to abortion care currently unavailable in Kentucky, those individuals needed another political football," said Angela Cooper, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. "Sadly, they chose to sit on the wrong wide of history and attack trans youth."

Kentucky Senate convicts former prosecutor in impeachment trial

An ex-prosecutor accused of promising a defendant favors in court in exchange for nude images was convicted on three articles of impeachment Thursday, in the Kentucky Senate's first impeachment trial in more than a century.

Senators voted 34-0 to convict former state prosecutor Ronnie Goldy Jr. on each impeachment article. The action will bar Goldy from holding a future elected office in the state.

Goldy had failed to appear at a hearing last week before the Senate impeachment panel.

Goldy had served as commonwealth’s attorney for Bath, Menifee, Montgomery and Rowan counties. He resigned effective Feb. 28 after the impeachment articles were drafted. The House voted 97-0 last month to impeach Goldy.


An attorney who represented Goldy did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Goldy has been embroiled in scandal since July, when the Courier Journal first reported hundreds of Facebook messages he exchanged with the defendant.

The defendant testified the Facebook messages were authentic and told a hearing officer for a bar inquiry commission that she and Goldy had sexual relations, with the prosecutor allegedly withdrawing warrants and getting her cases continued in exchange for the images, the newspaper reported.

In a written response to an inquiry from the House impeachment committee, Goldy defended himself by arguing that the nude photos and videos the woman sent him were "an extension of the friendship they had developed."

Kentucky Senate committee advances bill to expand address confidentiality program

A Kentucky Senate committee advanced a bill Thursday to expand an address confidentiality program intended to protect domestic violence victims from their abusers.

The measure builds on a limited, little-utilized program that shields victims' home addresses from voter rolls. The program would be broadened to mask their addresses on other publicly available government records if the bill becomes law.

The proposal heads to the full Senate next after clearing the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. It would still need House passage if it wins Senate backing.


Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said Thursday that the greater protections are needed in a state plagued by one of the nation's highest rates of domestic violence. The Secretary of State's office would administer the expanded program.

"When a victim decides to leave and find a safe place, often her abuser is able to find her, sometimes by finding her new location through easily accessible and free public records," Adams said in promoting the bill. "We can and must do more to protect victims."

The bill also aims to expand the program's accessibility.


Currently, victims who obtain court-issued protective orders can have their addresses hidden when registering to vote. Many victims don't obtain those orders, Adams said. Under the bill, victims who sign a sworn statement would have their addresses shielded from the broader list of records.

"I think that we will broaden the pool of people who can access this program," said Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams, the bill's lead sponsor,

The measure would bring Kentucky’s efforts in line with 38 other states that offer comprehensive programs for masking the home addresses of domestic abuse victims on public records. The Secretary of State's office runs Kentucky's address confidentiality program related to voter rolls.

The program, created a decade ago, has fewer than 50 people participating, Michael Adams said.

Kentucky Senate passes bill to ban TikTok from state-issued devices

The Kentucky Senate passed a measure Friday to ban TikTok from state government-issued devices, reflecting bipartisan concerns about the Chinese-owned social media app.

The bill easily cleared the Senate on a 31-0 vote to advance to the House. The action reflects a growing push among American lawmakers to block the social media platform from government devices, based on cybersecurity concerns.

In Kentucky, the measure is a "prudent" step in responding to those security concerns, said Republican state Sen. Robby Mills, the bill’s lead sponsor.


"We need to protect the data that exists on state government devices," Mills said. "And one very practical way of doing this is to remove a known data mining app from all the state of Kentucky’s digital devices and computers, as this bill does."

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear recently took executive action to prohibit the use of TikTok on executive branch devices. The bill would place the ban into state law.

TikTok has become a globally popular domain, known as a platform of choice for catchy videos. But there’s long been bipartisan concern in Washington that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Rand Paul calls Trump impeachment trial ‘dead on arrival’ after 45 GOP senators vote against it

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul declared former President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial "dead on arrival" on Tuesday after 45 Senate Republicans voted against holding the proceeding, viewing it as unconstitutional.