Will 'Top Secret' Clinton Emails Impact Iowa Caucus Results?

To say the revelation from the State Department that 22 of Hillary Clinton's emails from her term as secretary of state contained top secret information is not good news for her presidential campaign is probably an understatement, but experts and Republican strategists doubt it will be a significant roadblock in her path to the Democratic nomination.

The State Department announced Friday that 37 pages of emails from the private server Clinton used to conduct her government business include information so sensitive that they cannot even be released in redacted form. This is the first official confirmation from the Obama administration that Clinton's emails did contain top secret material, which letters from the intelligence community inspector general had alleged.

18 emails between Clinton and President Barack Obama are also not being released "to protect the president's ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel." State Department spokesman John Kirby said those emails have not been determined to be classified.

More than 1,300 other emails released so far have been partially redacted due to classified information, but the State Department and Clinton's campaign have claimed that material was retroactively classified.

If she wins the nomination, it will certainly be an issue that her Republican opponent raises in the general election, but its effect on her in the Democratic primaries is blunted in part by the fact that Sanders has generally refused to attack her over it.

"I'm not so sure it really affects her in the primary because it doesn't seem that Bernie Sanders is going to go after her," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

If Sanders tops Clinton in both of the first two voting states and he sees a legitimate chance of winning the nomination, though, Skelley and O'Connell suggested Sanders may rethink his approach.

"You can run attack ads all day long with this information," O'Connell said, adding that the Clinton campaign's handling of the scandal indicates she has "been playing legal hopscotch from the beginning."

"It's clear even if you're a Clinton fan that she's been fudging the truth," he said.

"She hangs her hat on her experience and years of service. How did she not know?" O'Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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US Presidential Candidates Make Last-Minute Bids To Voters

Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls crisscrossed Iowa on Friday, making last-minute appeals to voters and tightening their attacks on rivals ahead of the state's crucial, first-in-the-nation nominating contest.

With just three days to go before the Iowa caucuses, both the Democratic and Republican races appear to be tightening. Almost every major candidate in both parties held campaign rallies and gave speeches across this rural Midwestern state.

The notable exception was GOP front-runner Donald Trump. The billionaire businessman instead looked past Iowa, opting to campaign in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's next nominating event February 9.

Though Trump succeeded in dominating yet another news cycle by sitting out the debate, the move also risks alienating Iowa voters, analysts said.

"We won't know whether or not this was truly a good move until we find out how Iowans cast their votes," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told VOA.

"If they don't feel shunned, then this was a brilliant move by Trump, because he wound up being the debate winner precisely because Ted Cruz was in the hot seat."

Read more from William Gallo at Voice of America

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College Students Are A Key Focus For Candidates Hoping For A Narrow Victory In Iowa

For Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a key step in winning the Iowa primary is getting college kids out to caucus.

This year is the first time public colleges in Iowa will be in session during the caucuses in two presidential cycles, which means there’s a big, concentrated pool of students who are potential caucus goers, including some out-of-state students who qualify to register.

With Sanders hoping to pull off a narrow victory Monday in the Hawkeye State, getting these students out to caucus for him could be a make it or break it moment.

On the Republican side, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also has had a steady ground game trying to engage students and get them out to caucus.

According to Cliff Maloney, Paul’s national youth director, the campaign has 25 Students for Rand chapters throughout Iowa that are “executing a full-throttle student get out the vote operation to capitalize on all of the ground work we have done since April.” The campaign has a goal of turning out 10,000 students the night of the caucuses to support Paul.

“It’s really hard to get 10,000 students out there,” said Ford O’Connell, former John McCain adviser and veteran campaign strategist. “We are looking at maybe 133,000 people turning out to the caucus. But if you are asking kids 18-to-24 to sit through a long night to caucus, 10,000 is a lot; you aren’t asking for that from people in New Hampshire, who just pull a lever. It’s asking a lot of commitment and students might not have the patience.”

Read more from Miranda Green at Scripps Media

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Republican Debate: How Donald Trump's Rivals Became Themselves

Donald Trump gave American voters an opportunity by boycotting Thursday night’s Republican debate: to see the other major presidential candidates in action without his domineering presence.

The result was revealing. Jeb Bush relaxed and owned his GOP “establishment” identity. He was, dare we say, almost joyful. Rand Paul returned to his libertarian roots. Chris Christie got to be the blunt-talking Jersey guy.

But the main show centered on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – the top two Republican candidates in national polls after Mr. Trump – who pummeled each other over immigration and the fight against the Islamic State.

“This sans-Trump debate was much more substantive, which might not help ratings, but it certainly helped voters,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Debate Rolls On Without Trump

The last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses was most notable for who was absent: Donald Trump, who kept his vow not to appear in the Fox News debate that included anchor Megyn Kelly. 

Even as he was absent from the stage in Des Moines and holding a rally of his own Thursday night, Trump had an impact. That was the consensus among a group of neutral observers I spoke to shortly after the debate concluded.

Another GOP consultant with no candidate in the race, Ford O’Connell, agreed.

“Trump was the debate winner precisely because Cruz was in the hot seat and Trump didn't have much to gain but potentially had much to lose by participating,” O’Connell told me. “Of those who appeared on the debate stage and who are currently in contention for the nomination, Rubio came out ahead. It's so much that Rubio won as no one else within striking distance of the nomination turned in such a standout performance that it matters at this juncture.”

O’Connell added that “without Trump on the stage, this debate was an opportunity for Cruz and Rubio to take control. Neither brought their A game and both got tripped up in the immigration quagmire.

“Jeb Bush and Rand Paul definitely turned in their best debate performances, but I'm not sure it will have a meaning long-term impact, given their meager standings in the polls. For Cruz, it was simply a missed opportunity that could cost him in Iowa.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Trump Debate Flap Throws Republican Party Into Deeper Chaos

As seven Republican presidential contenders squared off here for the final debate before voters begin winnowing the field, Donald Trump presided over his own, separate rally a mile away in front of a packed house of cheering supporters. 

It would be hard to find a more ideal metaphor for the forces tearing asunder the Republican Party. 

For months, Trump has chosen to operate in his own political universe, violating the conventional wisdom that governs presidential campaigns, thumbing his nose at conservative institutions ranging from the Fox News Channel to the National Review and advocating policies at odds with party orthodoxy.

And whether he wins the Iowa caucuses on Monday, Trump’s candidacy promises to continue to upend the established political order as the presidential race intensifies ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Most national opinion polls have him with more than 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate — and those voters are showing little sign of switching to anyone else.

But Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who is not aligned with any candidate, said Cruz may be too beholden to the conventional ways to win the nomination. 

“What resonates (for voters) is not just Trump’s bravado, it’s that the everyday man thinks he’s fighting for him,” O’Connell said. “Cruz assumes being a conservative means an ideological checklist. For a lot of others in the party, or for some who have left the party, it’s more of a feeling.”

And if Trump loses next Monday in Iowa — he is locked in a close race with Cruz in the state — polls show him with large leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the next states to hold nominating contests. 

"This is not something that fits into some nice little tight box. That is the beauty of Trump," O'Connell said. "I think he could be the nominee. And I think he could actually win the presidency."

Read more from James Oliphant at Reuters

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Email Scandal May Lose Hillary Clinton More Than Votes

The ongoing federal probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server could pose political and legal repercussions, experts said — including the possibility of criminal charges against the former secretary of state deep into the general election campaign cycle.

FBI officials have declined to discuss specifics about the ongoing investigation, including its timeline. But a former investigator said that a decision on whether to recommend criminal charges against Clinton or her aides could come later this year — regardless of the election. 

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the ongoing probe, even without a criminal charge, could turn independent voters off of Clinton.

“Even if she isn’t indicted, in a general election you are talking about a very small number of voters deciding” a close race, O’Connell said.

“It comes down to how independents feel about it.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins at The Boston Herald

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Ted Cruz In The Hot Seat For Next GOP Debate

All eyes will be fixated on Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Thursday night with Donald Trump officially bowing out of the Fox News/Google (GOOG) Republican presidential primary debate.

Trump pulled out on Tuesday saying he will “instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians.” This marks the first GOP debate Trump has not attended.

Cruz reacted to the news by challenging the Donald to a one-on-one debate via Twitter (TWTR):

“I challenged @realDonaldTrump to a one-on-one debate. Tell him to accept: https://www.tedcruz.org/l/ducking-donald/ … #DuckingDonald”

“This is an opportunity for Ted Cruz to make his case without being badgered by Trump. Cruz must win Iowa and anyway he can pull this out is good for him,” said Ford O'Connell, Republican political strategist and former McCain Palin campaign advisor.

He says with Cruz center stage the rest of the GOP contenders will have their “elbows sharpened“ to go after him. One weakness that candidates will surely target is Ted Cruz’s inability to unite the party with his congressional record. O'Connell says Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is ranked in third place in most  polls, has been making that case aggressively with one strategy in mind, “Rubio knows if Cruz slips up, he will be the one to slip into second place.”   

Other Republican contenders that have been fighting to break out of low poll numbers will also be vying for a chance to shine with Trump out of the picture and will certainly take aim at the billionaire businessman.

“Outside of Marco Rubio most of the other candidates have not been good at the debates, so the question is whether or not they will use the opportunity well,” said O'Connell. “I expect all the candidates will take an unabated shot at Trump, I can’t imagine they won’t go after him.

O'Connell says this is the last chance for the candidates to make an appeal to voters before the Iowa Caucus on February 1.

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business

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Is Hillary's Biggest Problem Sanders Or Servers?

Hillary Clinton's path to victory in Iowa is cluttered by the dueling problems of her email scandal and the excitement building behind her chief rival, both of which may threaten the outcome of a contest Clinton was once heavily favored to win.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' recent rise in Hawkeye State polls has coincided with a dip in support for Clinton, which occurred during several weeks of renewed attention to her private email use.

But Democrats seem to disagree on whether Clinton's slippage is due to her rival's growing popularity or her own inability to retire questions about her handling of potentially classified information while serving as secretary of state.

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said a Hawkeye State loss could exacerbate Clinton's already mounting email problems.

"I'm thinking that if I'm her, I'm rubbing a rabbit's foot to win Iowa," O'Connell said. "If this Sanders enthusiasm gap is as big as some people believe, then he's likely to win Iowa, because it's a caucus."

Read more from Sarah Westwood at The Washington Examiner

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Hey, Rush Limbaugh: I will Support The GOP Nominee

Background Note: I have been the subject of Rush Limbaugh's past three radio shows, this is my response! 

First, a note of thanks to Rush Limbaugh. I’m a longtime listener, though not a first-time topic, and to be mentioned on his show — not oncenot twice, but on three separate occasions over the past few days — is quite an honor. It's also not exactly bad for business, given my line of work.

I'm also glad Rush referred to me as a millennial. He thinks I'm as young as I wish I still were, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

But for this to be the unalloyed positive it can be, I must set the record straight. Through a brief mention of me in a story in The Hill, the nation's most popular radio host concluded I am disloyal to Republicans, would not support the GOP ticket if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Donald Trump emerged as the nominee, and advocate amnesty and greening the party.

For starters, he seems to think I wrote the article that angered him so. I did not. I was quoted in a three-paragraph section near the bottom of a story by Niall Stanage, a solid reporter.

Stanage's story made the point that Trump and Cruz were leading in polls despite having gone against the "autopsy" the party conducted after it lost the 2012 election, which suggested the party look to broaden its support by finding ways to appeal to ascendant demographic groups, such as single women, Hispanics and younger voters.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Hill

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