The 2016 Republican Dark Horses

As the 2016 White House race begins to form, more than a few dark horse GOP candidates could end up breaking away from the pack.

With the Republican presidential field wide open, the campaign could be a repeat 2012, when even candidates thought to be longshots briefly stole the spotlight and spiked in the polls. 

“We don't even have anywhere near a front-runner and it doesn't look like one is going to break free,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “There's a potential opening for a lot of these wild-card candidates.”

Republican National Committee rules have changed since then, shrinking the debate schedule that gave underdog candidates a chance to leap out front. Still, the lack of any clear front-runners, the rise of single-candidate super-PACs and the ease of reaching voters online with less money and free media makes it easier than ever for anyone to gain traction with a catchy message.

Here are four potential aspirants whose names aren’t on the regular presidential watch list – but could make some noise if they do decide to run.  

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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U.S. May Intensify Air Raids In Iraq, Unlikely To Send Combat Troops

U.S. President Barack Obama announced this week extra military personnel would be sent to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities after Islamic State terrorists overran vast areas in north Iraq. The move is unlikely a pre-curser to resending massive combat troops, but air raids may be intensified.

The United States aims to keep terrorism in check more than a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, which is why Washington is hitting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in an airpower campaign.

The militants' territorial gains have made Washington worry that its ultimate nightmare could come true -- that the group could eventually carve out a haven in Iraq or Syria and use it as a staging ground for attacks against the U.S., much like al-Qaida did in Afghanistan in the lead-up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Indeed, the terrorists have already threatened America, saying earlier this month they will "raise the flag of Allah in the White House."

This statement has alarmed many U.S. observers, experts, policy makers and politicians.

For his part, Obama would not be averse to toughening air attacks, and the Congress would likely approve such a move, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua. "Congress is pretty much prepared to authorize him to use more force," O'Connell said.

But the White House faces a dilemma: While Obama is unlikely to deploy U.S. combat troops, the fight against the Islamic State militants cannot be won by airstrikes alone, experts said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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What If Republicans Take Over The Senate?

Two months before Election Day, the battle for the Senate is wide open. Republicans have an excellent chance of taking over, based on the map and on voter unhappiness with President Obama and the larger dysfunction in Washington.

Of course, the Democrats could hold on. Vulnerable Democratic senators are hanging tough in polls and now have an unexpected opportunity for a pickup in Kansas. But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Republicans do gain at least six seats and win the majority. Then what? We’re already in gridlock with just the House in GOP hands. If Republicans control both houses of Congress, do we just double down on gridlock?

Maybe, but not necessarily, analysts say. Already, Senate Republicans are quietly working on an agenda for next year that looks modest in scope but in fact could have a powerful impact on the party’s image: It could show that Republicans are interested in governing. And it’s possible that Mr. Obama, looking out for his legacy and for his party’s own image, might play along.

For the Republicans, “it really is about perception,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “First, can these guys win elections? Then, can they govern?”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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GOP Strategist: Not 'Sold' Obama Knows End Goal For ISIS

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell and Rick Ungar, senior political contributor for, discussed how President Barack Obama will develop a strategy for combating the Islamic State on Newsmax TV's "America's Forum" on Wednesday. 

O'Connell said he is "not yet sold" that Obama knows "what the end goal is," while Ungar said what is "critically important" is how the threat is contained.

Watch the video and read more from Wanda Carruthers at

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Christie’s Mexico Trip May Showcase Split On Immigration

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie arrives in Mexico City tomorrow on a three-day trade mission with a chance to distinguish himself from fellow Republicans on immigration.

The visit, including meetings with Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto and business leaders, comes as his party wrestles with how to win the Hispanic vote. In 2012, Mitt Romney garnered just 27 percent of the demographic group’s support in his failed presidential bid.

Christie, who has said he’s considering a run for the White House, has an opening to take a stance more sympathetic to Mexican-Americans, said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington. Christie in December signed a bill allowing children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey’s colleges and universities. He told reporters in July that he has “empathy” for unaccompanied children from Central America who are crossing into the U.S.

“What he’d really like to do by the time 2016 comes rolling around is demonstrate that he has pull with Hispanic voters,” said O’Connell, who has worked in the past with Christie political adviser Mike DuHaime. “Immigration is not very popular in a Republican presidential primary, but it’s an issue that you’re going to have to work through if you want to become the nominee and actually win in a general election.”

Read more from Eric Martin and Terrence Dopp at Bloomberg Businessweek

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GOP Strategist O'Connell: Labor Unions Are Dying

Labor Day celebrates America's work force, but labor unions don't have a lot to cheer about, according to Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

"On the private sector side, the labor union is certainly dying," O'Connell told Rick Ungar, guest host of "The Steve Malzberg Show," Friday on Newsmax TV. "Only 6.3 percent of folks are unionizing the private sector."

But there is a silver lining, according to O'Connell, author of "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."

"Where they are doing very well is in the stable part of the labor base on the public sector's side, which is about 35.3 percent," he said.

"Laborers are trying to figure out what its roles are going to be and how it can strengthen its foundation moving forward, particularly with the rise of the global economy. 

"Laborers are facing some tough times, and they're really trying to figure out which way to go forward."

O'Connell said that big business has long despised labor unions.

"Because at the end of the day they feel they're paying more for the work than for the output," he said.

Watch the video and read more from Bill Hoffmann at

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Will 2016 Donors Hold Their Breath — And Wallets — For Romney?

Mitt Romney is leaving the door open — ever so slightly — to the possibility that he could run for president for a third time in 2016. That, coupled with some in the party urging the former Massachusetts governor to give it another go, could affect other candidates’ ability to woo donors, who could theoretically sit on the sidelines, waiting for the 2012 presidential nominee to jump take the plunge.

f potential donors do hold out, it would likely have the greatest impact on moderate Republicans who would be primed to assume the Mitt-like establishment role. That means former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Christie, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. He said it could become a bigger problem for other candidates if donors continue to keep their wallets shut in early 2015. Every would-be 2016-er is eager to raise as much cash as soon as they can, and the longer donors wait on the sidelines, the more it hurts everyone.

Several major GOP donors declined to comment for this story. O’Connell speculates that donors may be staying mum because there’s so much dissatisfaction with the GOP field as it stands, pointing to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker re-election struggle, Christie’s so-called “Bridgegate” scandal, and Sen. Marco Rubio coming under fire from the far right for endorsing a bipartisan proposal on immigration reform that the many in the party felt was far too lenient.

“They are sick and tired of losing presidential elections and they’ll do anything they can to find that one candidate to win … they haven’t figured out who that one person is,” he said.

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at

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Obama Climate Change Plan May Be 'Struck Down'

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell and Rick Ungar, senior political contributor at, debate the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's international plan to address climate change on Newsmax TV's "America's Forum" on Wednesday. 

O'Connell said the plan "could be technically struck down," while Ungar questioned the legality of the agreement and said the proposal was an "effort to get around" the Senate. 

Watch the video and read more from Wanda Carruthers at

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GOP Senate Candidates Mum On Birth Control Mandate Change

Republican Senate candidates are staying silent on President Obama's latest changes to the birth control coverage mandate, even as the policy catches flak from the religious right.  

Top GOP hopefuls haven’t weighed in on the issue since Friday, when the administration announced new measures meant to accommodate religious groups and businesses owners who object to their insurance covering birth control. 

Republican Senate candidates failed to jump on the announcement that day, and a dozen campaigns reached individually this week all declined to comment. 

The lack of response reveals would-be GOP senators' extreme caution as they approach the birth control debate at this point in the election cycle. 

While lawmakers in safe seats freely expressed their disappointment alongside outside groups, GOP candidates involved in tough races have, so far, declined to join the debate. 

Republican consultants said candidates would be foolish to risk comments that could alienate female voters at this stage of the campaign with Democrats so ready to pounce on the “war on women” message.

"There is no need to draw attention to an issue that is so down in the weeds, so deep in the minutiae, that could spoil an entire Senate campaign," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. 

"Republicans recognize ... that they shouldn't be discussing birth control right now, unless they can be on offense," O'Connell said.  

While a handful of would-be senators, such as Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). have talked up policies like over-the-counter birth control, most are loathe to engage too deeply in the debate. 

GOP candidates "recognize the trap," said O'Connell. "Democrats are looking for any opportunity to mobilize women, and they know how to make one candidate's comment play in every race." 

Read more from Elise Viebeck at The Hill

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GOP Courts Black Voters With Sweet Tea

In North Carolina, an order of Republican politics comes with a free hot dog and a glass of sweet tea. On Friday, the GOP’s North Carolina African-American Engagement Office put on “Sweet Tea and Politics,” at Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries in Hoke County, in an attempt to woo more black voters into the party’s fold.

This is the local side to a larger national push by Republicans to solve the demographics problems outlined in the party’s March 2013 “Growth and Opportunity Project,” commissioned by the Republican National Committee’s chairman Reince Priebus after Mitt Romney’s bruising loss in 2012. Last month, according to MSNBC, Priebus said the party was spending about $8.5 million a month to engage potential African-American, Latino and Asian voters, which the party needs more of in order to compete with Democrats on a national scale. North Carolina is one of 13 states – presidential battleground states, plus a handful of Southern states – that Republicans are especially targeting for black engagement.

But will free sweet teas and hot dogs really move the dial?

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, says that conservatives are “beyond in the doghouse” with black voters, so showing up at churches, at barber shops, anywhere in the community, does help. O’Connell argues that it’s not about the events Republican groups are hosting, but what happens next.

“It’s whether or not you get past the meet and greet stage,” O’Connell says.

Using the example of canvassing during a presidential election, O’Connell talks about what happens when a stranger shows up at a someone’s door versus a friendly face.

“Usually you don’t have warm and fuzzies about them,” O’Connell says. “If one of your neighbors shows up and says I’m voting for him … [it’s] a lot more powerful conduit.”   

O’Connell also used the real life example of Reverend James Meeks, a black pastor from Chicago’s South Side, who’s supporting the GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner. Meeks’ endorsement is opening the door for his predominantly black parishioners to ditch the Democratic governor, too.

A big part of this is making the right pitch, and there are issues that might play especially well with black voters, the RNC’s Watson suggested. Among them: jobs and education.

Read more from Nikki Schwab at U.S. News & World Report

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