Ford O'Connell At Politico's Arena: Will Obama's 'Lazy' Comment Haunt Him?

It doesn't matter if the president's "lazy" comment was taken out of context, because in politics: "perception is reality."

And the perception right now is that Obama is willing to blame everyone but himself for America's high unemployment and alarming debt. That said, Republicans should certainly take every opportunity to use the president's comment to their advantage.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at Politico's "The Arena"

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Ford O'Connell At Politico's Arena: Can The Newt Boomlet Last?

Back from the dead, Newt Gingrich has landed a leading role in the James Bond-inspired political thriller “You Only Live Twice!”

Gingrich’s remarkable rebirth is a direct result of his superior debate performances, the fact that his name is not Mitt Romney and a cast of “anti-Romney” supporting actors who continue to incur self-inflicted wounds.

For Gingrich to win the GOP nomination, he will need to find a way to overcome his personal baggage (specifically, Beltway insider dealings) and appeal to establishment Republicans while simultaneously scraping off Cain’s supporters. Of course, this entire conversation is moot if Gingrich doesn’t win Iowa.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at Politico's "The Arena"

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Romney's Play For Iowa

Re-Posted From The Daily Caller

In seven weeks, the game of musical chairs in the guise of debates will take a back seat to real voters in the Iowa caucuses. Although traditionally the Iowa caucuses have not determined the eventual Republican presidential nominee, the caucuses do have a track record of winnowing the field.

The early prognostication that Iowa would be a battle between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty for the endorsement of social conservatives looks quaintly naïve at this point. With Newt Gingrich rising in the polls and Herman Cain joining Rick Perry on the decline, Mitt Romney can certainly smell blood in the nominating waters.

If Romney wins the Hawkeye State nominating contest and follows up with a victory in New Hampshire, he will most likely capture the 2012 GOP presidential nomination without enduring a serious fight.

On the other hand, if another candidate wins the caucuses and the former Massachusetts governor fairs poorly, Romney could find himself engrossed in a long, protracted contest.

Conservatives across the country are rooting for the latter outcome. In their view, if Romney is to ultimately win the nomination, he should have to work for it.

Bloomberg News poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers (conducted Nov. 10-12) shows a virtual four-way tie between Cain at 20 percent, Ron Paul at 19 percent, Romney at 18 percent and Gingrich at 17 percent. The Romney camp may be publicly downplaying the significance of Iowa and keeping their campaign low key, but with Romney backer Chris Christie scheduled for an Iowa visit, it’s obvious that the campaign now sees Iowa as a big prize.

Seven weeks out, Romney certainly has an opening in Iowa and is looking to deliver a knockout blow to the rest of the field. Only time will tell if he is successful.

Ford O’Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, the editor of the Political Quarterback and an advisor to conservative candidates.

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Ford O'Connell At Politico's Arena: Can Nancy Pelosi Retake The House?

Republicans are likely to lose seats in the House next November, but Nancy Pelosi will have to do more than just channel her inner-Sam Rayburn for the GOP to lose control of the lower chamber.

For the Democrats to net 25 seats: the economy would have to significantly improve, Rick Santorum would have to be the GOP presidential nominee, and Pelosi would have to promise not to take over the gavel should the Democrats win back the House.

There are still a lot of unknown variables, and stranger things have happened, but I prefer to deal in a modicum of reality.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at Politico's "The Arena"

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Romney Still Trying To Seal Nomination

Mitt Romney is the Republican Party’s best bet against President Barack Obama.

Polls show he does best in head-to-head matchups against Obama, he has the most organized campaign team among Republican candidates, and he is easily winning the money primary by outraising all of his potential foes.

And if that were not enough, his top rivals over the last three months — Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry — have either flamed out or are on the brink.

Yet when Romney hits Sarasota on Monday for a private fundraiser just one month before Florida starts mailing out its first ballots, he will do so still struggling to put away a nomination that most political experts think he will eventually secure.

“This is Mitt Romney’s nomination to lose now,” said Ford O’Connell, a former presidential campaign adviser and a Republican. “He needs to close the door as soon as possible to keep the anti-Mitt vote from consolidating behind one of the other candidates.”

But conservatives continue to kick the tires on just about anyone else in the field. Even as the options dwindle, many still have refused to sign on with Romney.

“Mitt Romney just is not a true conservative,” said Lakewood Ranch Republican Craig Trigueiro, who a month ago wore a Rick Perry sticker on his lapel, then switched his support to Cain before sexual harassment charges against the candidate surfaced.

Even as those two candidates have run into new problems, Trigueiro is not ready to throw his support to Romney, weighing Newt Gingrich instead.

“I’m like a lot of conservatives,” he said. “If Mitt Romney is our nominee I will work hard to get him elected because we need to beat Obama. But I’d like to see someone else. Someone who is a true conservative. Someone who means what he says and says what he means.”

That sentiment ripples through the conservative ranks of the GOP, said O’Connell. The smart money is on Romney, but conservatives and Tea Party Republicans are still resisting because of Romney’s past positions on health care and a perceived shift on core issues such as abortion, climate change and immigration.

“For a lot of them, they have 2008 in the back of their minds,” O’Connell said. “Back then they went with John McCain because the establishment told them he was the most electable.”

McCain lost, and now conservatives are vowing not to go along with nominating a candidate just because they are told he or she is the best to bet to win next November.

Despite his opponents’ seemingly obvious flaws, Romney cannot seem to shake them — no matter how smooth his answers in debates or how well-researched his policy papers appear.

“In a lot of ways Romney has been trying to be the perfect candidate,” O’Connell said. “Those voters don’t care if you are perfect; they just want to see if you have some convictions.”

The image issue has dogged Romney for months. Even among his supporters, there is a perception he has repositioned himself since his days as Massachusetts’ governor on key issues. The perception is enhanced by influential conservatives such as founder Erick Erickson, who is pushing an anybody-but-Mitt campaign.

“There is no issue I can find on which Mitt Romney has not taken both sides,” Erickson wrote on one of the most well-read Republican blogs on the Web. “He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself.”

Between now and when Iowa votes on Jan. 3, Romney has to demonstrate conviction on some issues to make conservatives come on board, O’Connell said.

Iowa is critical for Romney. With the rest of the field in disarray, Romney has a chance to finish near the top there. If he does, and wins as expected in New Hampshire, Romney will be headed for Florida’s Jan. 31 primary with the money and momentum to clinch.

But if Romney struggles in Iowa with the conservatives, he could head to Florida in a must-win position, in a close race that could quickly become a protracted and expensive slog, O’Connell said.

Financially, that is a worst-case scenario for Romney. Already he has amassed $32 million for his campaign — nearly double that of his closest rival, Perry. But looming on the horizon is Obama, who awaits with $86 million in his re-election fund.

The pressure to raise money is driving Romney to spend Monday and part of Tuesday in Florida.

According to a poll released last week by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, Romney would fare best against Obama. The poll of likely general election voters in key swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, shows that Romney does better against Obama than any of the other challengers, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In Florida, Romney beats Obama 45 percent to 42 percent. No other candidate in the field leads Obama in Florida.

Read more from Jeremy Wallace at Herald Tribune Politics

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Perry's Not Done Yet

Rick Perry’s “oops” moment will go down in history as one of the worst debate gaffes in presidential political history.

But, it doesn’t kill Perry’s campaign.

“Rick Perry still has a chance,” former presidential campaign advisor Ford O’Connell, a Republican, said.

The Texas governor has raised $17 million for his campaign in just three months on the trail giving him the second biggest campaign war chest heading into the early primary season.

That fundraising (click here for a ranking showing where all 8 of the top candidates line up when it comes to fundraising) assures that Perry is still Romney’s top rival because he can financially afford to advertise statewide in a big media market state like Florida.

It explains why Romney’s campaign, despite Perry’s slide in the polls, continues to put out press releases attacking Perry’s record in Texas. O’Connell said Romney’s camp isn’t going after Gingrich or Cain, because they know Perry is the candidate who is their biggest threat still.

The question becomes, how does Perry play his gaffe. The good news is that Perry is in demand for every talk show in the country at this point. If he can laugh it off and come off as an everyman who just went blank, he can recover, O’Connell said.

Read more from Jeremy Wallace at Herald Tribune Politics

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Ford O'Connell At Politico's Arena: Can Perry Recover?

While gunning for number one, Texas Gov. Rick Perry certainly stepped in number two last night. Perry’s gaffe is destined to become it’s own Saturday Night Live skit complete with CNBC’s Jim Cramer barking at him.

Gov. Perry could conceivably recover from this if he works to humanize the moment and wins over Iowa caucus-goers, but the money in Las Vegas is against it. Right now, Mitt Romney may be the luckiest man in politics.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at Politico's "The Arena"

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After Debate Gaffe, A Rattled Perry Focuses On Iowa

Gov. Rick Perry spent Thursday putting the best face he could on one of the worst TV debate moments in U.S. presidential campaign history. But his supporters and donors alike are deeply rattled, and they are treating first-test Iowa, with its caucus scheduled for Jan. 3, as if it is his last chance for political survival.

The governor has been in full damage-control mode since his infamous flub during a CNBC debate Wednesday night in which he could not remember the third of three federal agencies he has vowed to eliminate (he managed to say the Education and Commerce Departments but couldn't remember Energy). He rushed to the media “spin room” after the debate to joke about and explain the gaffe, a 53-second memory lapse so painful to watch, and so embarrassing, that the governor himself ended it by saying “oops.”

Perry abruptly changed around his schedule Thursday, too, making the rounds of all the morning talk shows and taping an appearance on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman. Perry canceled a fundraiser that had been scheduled in Tennessee for Thursday.

It was probably a no-brainer: The money game hasn’t been going well recently — and his latest debate appearance will make it even more difficult, sources close to the fundraising operation told The Texas Tribune.

Ford O'Connell, a Virginia Republican strategist who advised the McCain-Palin campaign in the last presidential race, said Perry's debate performance will make it very difficult for him to be a serious contender in early primary states. But, he said, if Cain slips, voters who want an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might give the Texas governor another look.

"If he can win Iowa he can get back in," O'Connell said of Perry. "The man is one of the best retail politicians we have in the Republican party."

O'Connell called Romney, whose poll numbers have remained largely stagnant, "the luckiest candidate in a Republican field that's imploding."

Perry, once a front-running candidate, had been trying to recover after suffering a series of debate setbacks when the "brain freeze" hit him Wednesday night. One Perry endorser in Iowa, Hamilton County GOP chairman Mark Greenfield, let his frustration spill out into the open.

“He’s been in the single digits and has not been getting any traction,” Greenfield said. “His poll numbers are down.”

Greenfield said he had high hopes for the Michigan debate, but the gaffe left him dejected.

Read more from Jay Root and Emily Ramshaw at The Texas Tribune

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Cain Didn't Know Suburban Accuser? Wrong Response, Experts Say

As GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain decried allegations of sexual harassment by a suburban woman, he insisted he “didn't even know” his accuser.

Yet, eyewitness accounts have him in close, one-to-one conversation with Sharon Bialek of Glenview last month at a Midwest Tea Party Convention in Schaumburg.

That misstep in Cain's and his campaign team's handling of the allegations is damaging the Georgia businessman's recent surge in the polls.

“To say that the Cain campaign is handling this like amateurs is insulting to amateurs,” said Ford O'Connell, Republican strategist and former presidential campaign aide for McCain-Palin in 2008. “It should have never gotten this far.

“Essentially they've walked into a trap and I don't see a lot of ways out for them.”

Cain “has complete amnesia and I think he believes himself; pathological liars usually do those kinds of things,” Bialek told ABC News on Wednesday en route to a MSNBC interview in Chicago.

Cain, at a news conference Tuesday, said, “I tried to remember if I recognized her and I didn't.”

Eyewitnesses point to at least one public encounter between the two.

Cain, who has never held elected office, began to surge in the polls early this fall, with his keynote address in Schaumburg only serving to stoke the local fire.

O'Connell points out that the former Godfather's Pizza CEO is attractive because of three factors — his affability, his easy-to-grasp 9-9-9 tax plan, and his experience as a business executive.

Yet, “part of being a business executive is crisis management,” O'Connell said.

Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield, said Cain “didn't know her” statements point to a lack of strategy and a junior campaign that was not ready for prime time.

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Cain Looks To Move Past Controversy At Debate

Republican Herman Cain will try to move past an escalating sexual harassment controversy on Wednesday during a U.S. presidential debate on economic issues held in the hard-hit manufacturing state of Michigan.

The debate will be a homecoming for Cain's rival Mitt Romney, who was born in Michigan and hopes to consolidate his status as the candidate-to-beat in the Republican race to choose a 2012 challenger to President Barack Obama.

The economic focus is likely to limit discussion of the harassment allegations by four women against Cain, which threaten to derail the former pizza executive's White House campaign despite his denials.

But the controversy, which has lingered for more than a week, will be hard for voters to forget. Polls show it has eroded favorable voter perceptions of Cain without knocking him from his spot near the top of the pack with Romney so far.

"This debate is going to be about Herman Cain even if nothing is said about the harassment allegations all night," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said.

Cain's rivals have tiptoed around the subject, trying to avoid looking like they are piling on. Romney and Newt Gingrich urged Cain on Tuesday to address the charges, which he did in a news conference where he repeated his denials and vowed they would not force him to withdraw.

Cain's difficulties could open the door for one of the handful of other candidates battling for the allegiance of conservatives in hopes of becoming the clear alternative to the more moderate Romney in the Republican race.

"The whole Cain saga creates a real opportunity for one of the other anti-Romney candidates, someone like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry, to shine," O'Connell said.

So far conservatives have failed to coalesce around a single candidate. A series of conservative contenders -- first U.S. congresswoman Michele Bachmann, then Perry and now Cain -- has risen in polls to challenge Romney only to fall back.

Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters

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