Boehner Departure Could Put 2nd Californian In Top House Spot

Kevin McCarthy, the prematurely gray, 50-year-old former “young gun” Republican from Bakersfield, is heir apparent to become speaker of the House of Representatives with the surprise resignation of embattled Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on Friday.

With Democratic leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco showing no sign that she intends to retire anytime soon, the powerful but deeply divided California congressional delegation would have the top two jobs in the “people’s chamber” of Congress should McCarthy win election by his colleagues.

The leadership election is yet to be announced, but presumably will take place before Boehner leaves office in a month. Vicious internal power struggles are expected to roil the leadership even if McCarthy wins the top slot. 

A small-business moderate early in his career, McCarthy has moved right with the national GOP since he entered the House in 2007 on issues such as immigration, but never has been closely allied with the party’s fire-breathing conservative wing.

His rise is due in part to his success in recruiting House candidates and raising money. That could potentially earn him loyalty from members who thought nothing of bucking Boehner.

Even so, McCarthy will face the same “antiestablishment feeling that is going throughout the country, particularly among Republican primary voters, that’s being pushed by Donald Trump’s message,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “It’s this message going on in Republican circles that everyone in politics is lying to you and is bad at their jobs and Republican leaders are the worst of all because they’re elected to represent your views.”

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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GOP 2016: What Carly Fiorina's Failed Senate Race Says About Her Presidential Campaign

As Carly Fiorina gains increased media attention and ramps up her presidential campaign after her strong performance in the second Republican debate last week, she may still be struggling to overcome the obstacles that led to her defeat the only previous time she sought elected office.

While Fiorina has billed herself as an "outsider" candidate, she does have political experience -- she just wasn’t successful. Her 2010 campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in California saw fierce campaigning (she’s often remembered for the “demon sheep” ad) and pressure on Fiorina to defend her business record before the former Hewlett-Packard CEO eventually lost.

That one campaign does not make her a political insider like establishment candidates who have built careers in elected office, according to Republican strategists, but they say it could give Fiorina knowledge about her weak spots and where she’ll need to improve this time around.

During her 2010 campaign, Fiorina was hit hard by ads from Boxer that criticized her laying off of 30,000 employees at Hewlett-Packard, as well as Fiorina’s own firing when the company's stock price dropped.

Some strategists point to her strong communication skills in the debate and in interviews, saying she is doing a better job of explaining her record now than she did in 2010.

“She’s been doing much better,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. “But herein lies the problem that Carly has. She is trying to explain this to a mass audience, and that is very difficult. ... What she’s talking about takes a little bit of business acumen. Everyone wants business experience, but it’s tough to explain that in soundbites.”

“If she can continue to demonstrate authenticity in other aspects of her life, which she’s been doing with her cancer story and her daughter [her stepdaughter died after a struggle with drug addiction], then people might empathize and will believe her more” about her business record, O’Connell said.

Read more from Abigail Abrams at International Business Times 

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Pope Francis Under Fire From Conservatives

As Pope Francis prepares this week to deliver a historic address to Congress, he is drawing fire from an unlikely group: conservative hardliners. 
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) announced last week that he will boycott Thursday’s speech over expected remarks on climate change, saying the pontiff is acting like a “leftist politician.”
Rush Limbaugh called Francis’s views on capitalism “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” And conservative columnist George Will wrote in a recent column that the Holy Father "embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony.” 
This pope is no liberal on many of the social issues — such as abortion and gay marriage — that matter most to the far right. But his positions on immigration, relations with Cuba and Iran, and income inequality are at odds with the those held by the GOP.

Recent polling shows Francis is widely popular among Americans. A CNN-ORC poll released this week found that 63 percent of Americans view Pope Francis favorably, compared to 74 percent among Catholics specifically 

Republicans who choose to publicly disagree with the views of a major religious leader whose every word matters to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics do so at their own peril.

Republicans have to be particularly careful given that their base includes conservative religious evangelicals, strategists say. 
“That's the Pandora's box that Republicans have to navigate particularly given the religious fervor of their supporters. But at the same time, they need to find a way to stand up on the key critical political issues,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Christina Marcos at The Hill

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Chris Christie Takes Campaign Break To Visit Drug And Alcohol Treatment Program In Paterson

Governor Christie took a break from his presidential campaign to visit a Paterson drug and alcohol treatment program Tuesday afternoon to highlight the work of a task force he appointed one year ago to combat addiction in the state.

Tuesday’s event followed several media appearances by Christie, and Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement Monday that he was suspending his presidential campaign. Christie isn’t showing any signs that he plans to follow Walker or former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in dropping out.

While Christie has pushed to put a focus on addiction treatment and other issues – including overhauling Social Security; reforming the tax code; and bolstering the country’s military – his campaign has been struggling to gain traction.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said Christie has more hurdles to overcome than the other Republican candidates because Democrats worked so hard to smear his reputation in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

“The traditional rules of rising to the top don’t apply to Christie because he’s still battling the perception the Democrats labeled on him beautifully of being damaged goods,” O’Connell said. “He has to turn in two or three of these good debate performances because he has to dig himself out of a bigger hole than a lot of these other candidates.”

And in order to remain relevant ahead of the next debate in Colorado on Oct. 28, O’Connell said Christie needs to raise money. Though he noted Christie’s campaign has been smart by keeping its staff slim – unlike Walker who blew through the funds he raised – and by relying largely on a super PAC to run ads supporting his bid.

He said Christie has an opportunity with Walker dropping out of the race and donors looking for someone to back other than frontrunner Donald Trump.

“The best thing he has going for him is Jeb Bush isn’t gaining traction and John Kasich didn’t light the world on fire in the last debate,” O’Connell said. “Where the money people are looking is who can take on Trump.”

O’Connell said the question is whether Christie can convince the big donors to back him becayse many donors are “keeping all their options open.”

Read more from Melissa Hayes at

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Candidates’ Super PAC Footage Tests Spirit Of Campaign Finance Laws

Before Carly Fiorina announced she was running for president, she sat down to tape footage for a supportive political action committee that is poised to begin running it this week as part of a pro-Fiorina documentary — in a move that tests the spirit of campaign finance laws.

Both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have done the same thing, sitting down to film with super PACs supporting their campaigns, despite laws that say the candidates and PACs aren’t allowed to coordinate.

The trick, in each case, was the candidates sat down in the weeks and months before they officially declared, making it legal, but calling into question the efficacy of the campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.

“It is not the spirit of the law,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “They might be abiding by the letter of the law, but this is not what was intended.”

Mr. O’Connell said that there is a “very blurry line” that is making it “hard to tell where the campaign ends and the super PAC begins.”

“I think eventually you are going to have reform on this, but as of right now it is open season for everyone,” he said. “How the super PAC evolved from 2012 to now is amazing. Eventually someone is going to have to put their foot down, and the only question is when.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Campaign Finance: 2016 Richest Ever

Forget about the top 1 percent. An analysis of federal elections data by POLITICO shows that five candidates, led by billionaire Donald Trump, are in the top 0.1 percent. Fourteen of the candidates — 12 Republicans and two Democrats — have an average net worth above $1 million. Ten of the candidates (eight Republicans and two Democrats, including the front-runner) exceed the $7.76 million that qualifies them as members of the celebrated 1 percenters club.

Still, the wealth of these candidates isn’t necessarily a turnoff to voters as long as they can talk about it effectively — without coming across as either dishonest or too elitist, several presidential historians and strategists told POLITICO. 

In the 2012 election, Democrats were successful in portraying Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire in part because of the sluggish economic recovery and in part because the former Massachusetts governor allowed himself to be defined that way. 

“It’s more about if the candidate is comfortable in his own skin,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who served as an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Romney was not.”

Trump’s current front-runner status is the clearest counterargument to the critique usually leveled at rich candidates that they are unable to connect with average voters. 

“Trump set the pace on a lot of issues — this is one that a lot of candidates are probably glad he did,” O’Connell said, adding that the millionaires in the field know they can now be open about their wealth. But with the exception of Trump, who boasts of his billions at every opportunity, the other candidates avoid acknowledging their affluence in favor of hearkening back to their humble roots.

Read more at Politico 

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Donald Trump Takes A Hit In Debate

A group of neutral observers almost unanimously agreed Thursday night that Donald Trump fared poorly in the second Republican presidential debate. The big winners in the eleven-candidate extravaganza, most felt, were Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie.

Most in the group also gave high marks to Marco Rubio, for his grasp of foreign policy.

Several, however, noted that Trump thus far has not been hurt in polls by bad performances and cautioned against “instant analysis” of the CNN-sponsored show-down at the Reagan Presidential Library.

My group included pundits, an historian, a pollster, and political consultants.  

Almost all in the group cited moderator Jake Tapper’s questions about the tycoon hopeful’s cutting comment on her looks and Fiorina’s withering reply: “ I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said."

“Carly resonated on woman’s issues and her interchange with Trump concerning his unsavory comments was a homerun,” GOP political consultant Ford O’Connell told me soon after the debate’s conclusion, “Her knowledge of foreign policy given that she is an outsider really turned some heads.”

Next to Fiorina, the candidates the group felt gained the most from the debate was Christie. 

“He made the American people the focus and not the candidates,” O’Connell agreed, “When he interrupted the Trump/Fiorina squabble on their personal successes — Christie was right to steer the focus to the struggling middle class. That said, given his low standing in the polls, I am not sure it will change his sagging fortunes. Christie is probably slapping himself for not running in 2012.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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U.S. Presidential Candidate Carson Surging Ahead To Challenge Donald Trump Before Republican Debate

U.S. Republican presidential front-runner and billionaire mogul Donald Trump is finally facing a real challenge from another candidate who is right on his heels.

Ben Carson, a medical doctor and Washington outsider who just weeks ago was seen as a lightweight, is surging ahead, and in one recent poll trails Trump by only four points -- within the margin of error and essentially putting the two candidates neck-to-neck.

The bombastic Trump is riding a wave of populism and anti-establishment sentiment, as many Americans are fed up with Washington insiders that are perceived as out of touch with ordinary folks and not representing the interests of the middle class.

Carson, an award-winning brain surgeon but with no political background or experience running a large organization, resonates for his status as a Washington outsider. His message is a mix of traditional conservatism and anti-Washington views, yet delivered with far less braggadocio than the controversial Trump.

"(Carson) has obviously tapped into that outsider, anti-establishment, anti-politician thing that Trump has," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua. "But the difference here is he is very principled...and he's also got a likability right now that's over 70 percent that's basically worth its weight in gold."

"His whole spin is that being soft-spoken is a strength and not a weakness," he said, but adding that in a general election against the Democratic nominee, his subtlety may be a strike against him, if he were the Republican nominee.

The next Republican debate, which is slated for Wednesday, will likely be more important for Carson than for the other candidates, O'Connell said. "Here's someone who's surging and we're going to find out whether, after the next debate, he is just (a fad) or a very serious candidate."

"He's been far more durable than any of us would have thought. He and Trump, in terms of durability, I think have turned conventional political wisdom on its head," O'Connell said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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A Tag-Team Effort Needed To Topple Donald Trump In Debate

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s three biggest threats tonight could come from a re-energized Jeb Bush, a surging Carly Fiorina out for blood after the New York billionaire’s “look at that face” put-down, and a combative New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with little left to lose, political observers told the Herald.

But even that might not be enough to knock off the real estate and casino mogul, said one Republican strategist.

“I don’t think one of them can take out Donald Trump — it has to be a concerted tag-team effort,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell. “He’s basically defied political gravity.”

As for Trump himself, O’Connell said he should focus on the two other candidates splitting the rest of the anti-establishment vote — Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who consistently comes in second in the polls.

“What Trump wants to do is consolidate the outsider vote,” said O’Connell, noting the trio of non-pols in the race regularly draw more than 50 percent of support in polls. “If he does that, he knows he can be one of the final two candidates, no matter what.”

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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Will Lightning Strike Again In The Second GOP Debate?

With the Republican presidential campaign continuing to tighten between billionaire Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the second nationally televised GOP debate Wednesday night is assuming added importance in the winnowing process as 16 candidates vie for the nomination.

Will the brash Trump continue to defy political convention, belittling his competitors and promoting an agenda of harsh anti-illegal immigrant action, tough talk about ISIS and tax increases on the wealthy? Will Carson and others in the crowded field find ways to slow his march to the nomination next summer?  A New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday suggested that Carson, with his more subdued message to conservatives and evangelical Christians, is rapidly closing in on Trump, 23 percent to 27 percent.

While Trump and Carson are certain to headline the debate televised by CNN from the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will likely be a thorn in Trump’s side throughout the evening, in retaliation for his comments to Rolling Stone that she lacks “the face” to be elected president.

Fiorina used the Fox News undercard debate on August 6, affectionately dubbed the “happy hour debate” by its participants, to catapult herself to the main stage on Wednesday.  While Fiorina has moved up slightly in the polls and begun to attract money and bigger audiences, GOP strategists warn not to expect lightning to strike twice, even though the four candidates appearing in the earlier time slot tonight will have more time on air than their cash-strapped campaigns could ever hope to buy.

“They pretty much need an act of God to move up,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, noting that all four are “career politicians” in a year where polls show GOP voters prefer candidates without government experience.

“But then again there’s nothing that’s been logical about this process so far,” added O’Connell, who worked for the McCain-Palin GOP campaign in 2008.

Read more from Martin Matishak and  Eric Pianin at The Fiscal Times

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