South Carolina Could Be Make Or Break For Bush

Jeb Bush could be making his last stand today in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, as party insiders say the former Florida governor needs to finish third or better to press on in the race for the nomination.

Bush has embraced his family this week in South Carolina, where the name is popular, a drastic shift from the start of the campaign that reflects his attempt to gain traction. Another back-of-the-pack finish for Bush after his sixth-place showing in Iowa and a fourth in New Hampshire could spell disaster.

Bush — polling at 12 percent, behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — led in early polls and held the party’s establishment lane that he’s now fighting over.

“Jeb’s future starts and ends with Marco Rubio,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If Rubio ends up pulling off a Houdini act and finishes second, the calls for (Bush) to drop out will be louder than a heavy metal concert.”

The GOP wants to narrow the field of candidates to pull support from Trump, O’Connell said, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio this week signals Bush might not make the cut.

“That was a sign within the party’s mainstream that (Bush) doesn’t give it the best shot to win the nomination,” he said.

Read more from Brian Dowling at the Boston Herald

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Ted Cruz Has Four Weeks to Prove He Can Win

It’s usually a mistake to infer large messages about presidential primaries from the results in any one state, but sometimes a single primary can be very revealing about the future of individual candidates. That’s almost certainly the case with South Carolina and Ted Cruz.

The Texas senator, currently running second to Donald Trump in both national polls and in the most recent polls of the Palmetto State, is at his strongest among “very conservative” voters and Evangelical Christians. That means that Cruz should be turning in his best performances in the Deep South — the heart of the Bible Belt. If he can’t perform there, election analysts say, there’s good reason to assume that he will struggle in the rest of the country.

That’s why South Carolina looms particularly large for those watching the Cruz campaign. Like other states in the Deep South, it has a majority white, Protestant electorate with a large Evangelical element. His performance there is likely to be at least somewhat predictive of how Cruz does in the “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1 — possibly the most important day on the calendar for his campaign. With 12 states voting, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, it’s the largest block of Cruz-friendly states on the calendar.

“I think if Cruz underperforms in South Carolina, his campaign will be drinking Maalox before Super Tuesday,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The next four weeks are paramount for the Cruz campaign. If they can’t pick up some W’s by then, it’s very hard to see how he can win the nomination.”

At minimum, what Cruz needs on Saturday, O’Connell said, is “a really strong showing coming out of South Carolina, so that even if Trump wins, the media is still talking about him.”

Read more from Rob Garver at The Fiscal Times

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In Nevada, Polling Uncertainty Overtakes Campaign Narratives

The unpredictability of polling in Nevada has left it unclear whether each party’s presumed presidential front-runner will pull off a victory.

And while Republican Donald Trump has been ahead in polls, strategists say Ted Cruz has shown success at mobilizing caucus supporters.

The timing of the contests could throw a wrench into Nevada’s results, as well, with the GOP caucuses scheduled for Tuesday, three days after the party’s South Carolina primary.

Nevada, which became an early-voting state in 2008, has dubbed itself the “first-in-the-West” caucuses.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Silver State’s contest works and what to watch for.

“The only person who can potentially top Trump in Nevada is Ted Cruz, just because he’s been demonstrating himself to be very effective with mobilizing in caucuses,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush are all competing for GOP establishment voters, and whoever among them emerges from South Carolina as the strongest might have some momentum going into Nevada.

“I think that the real race here between South Carolina and Nevada is who consistently finishes first among the mainstream candidates and whether or not Cruz is actually able to overcome Donald Trump in one of these two places,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Lisa Hagen at The Hill

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Trump Has Solid Lead In South Carolina

For all the intensity and sharp exchanges viewers saw last Saturday night, the ninth debate between the Republican presidential hopeful changed very little among likely voters in South Carolina, which holds its primary next Saturday (Feb. 20).

According to the latest CBS tracking poll, Donald Trump leads among likely GOP primary voters with 42 percent, followed by Ted Cruz with 20 percent, and John Kasich and Marco Rubio tied for third with 15 percent each. 

In what could possibly spell disaster for Jeb Bush in the state where his father and brother won critical primary wins in 1988 and 2000 respectively, CBS found the Florida governor tied for fourth place with Ben Carson.

Neutral observers to whom I spoke after the debate, in fact, commented more on the rancorous nature of the televised encounter in Greenville, S.C., than on points scored by the six candidates.

“The debate was held at a peace center and there was nothing peaceful about it,” said veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell, who has no favorite in the presidential race, “In fact it got down right ornery at times.”

But, O’Connell quickly added, “When a debate descends into complete chaos like this one did at times, Trump wins simply because his supporters will stick with him through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean Trump gained any new supporters tonight, particularly with his 9/11 commentary.”

He added that “Rubio’s performance in Greenville will make voters quickly forget about his previous debate debacle and for him that is all that matters — Rubio just simply has to run faster than Bush and Kasich in the Palmetto State and I think he accomplished that tonight.” 

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Trump Faces New Questions On Conservatism After Scalia Death

Hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the first question of Saturday's Republican presidential debate turned to the question of appointing his successor and front-runner Donald Trump's views on it.

Republican leaders in the Senate hastily made it known that they do not intend to approve President Barack Obama's nominee for the position, apparently regardless of who that person is. Obama plans to nominate someone anyway.

Responding to John Dickerson's question about that dispute,Trump said if he were in Obama's position, he would nominate someone too. However, he hopes "Mitch and the group" can delay the president's choice, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Later in the debate, Sen. Ted Cruz revisited the issue and questioned Trump's credibility as a candidate who would nominate strong conservative justices, since he has supported liberal positions in the past. He also made the stakes clear for primary voters, as he sees them.

Trump has changed a number of his political views in recent years, most notably on abortion. In 1999, Trump described himself as "very pro-choice in every respect," but he now claims to be pro-life.

"The death of Scalia in a microcosm, at least for Republicans, is what the 2016 election is all about," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

To Trump's credit, O'Connell noted that he was the only candidate on the debate stage who named specific judges in his debate answers Saturday, but the strategist is skeptical Trump will gain or lose much support over the matter.

"Ted Cruz and all the other candidates are doing everything possible to dislodge Donald Trump from the pole position," he said. It may influence some undecided voters in more religious states that hold primaries over the next month, but those voters were likely already aware of Trump's inconsistent positions on social issues.

"Those issues were issues for Trump anyway for the next four weeks," O'Connell said.

Although Justice Scalia is seen as "the father of modern conservative legal scripture" among many Republicans, O'Connell observed that he has never seen a major election driven by judicial appointment issues and he doubts 2016 will be any different. He pointed to a 2006 poll that found more Americans were able to name two of the seven dwarves than two Supreme Court justices.

"Most people don't even know who sits on the court," he said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Obama Sets The Stage For Fierce ‘Battle’ Over Nomination Of Scalia’s Replacement

President Obama vowed to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, saying the nomination was “bigger than any one party” — setting up a fierce political fight with Senate Republicans who are expected to pull out all the stops to ensure that job falls to the next commander in chief.

With a half-dozen or more major cases before the court, Obama said he planned “to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that he and his GOP counterparts are ready for a tooth-and-nail fight over the nomination.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said he doesn’t expect the Republican-controlled Senate — which must approve a replacement — will do so without a fight.

“I think it’s going to be a cold day in — and you can fill in the blank — before a Republican Congress allows a lame-duck president to nominate a Supreme Court Justice,” O’Connell told the Herald.

“This is going to be the fiercest battle in Washington over the next 10 months.”

Read more from Owen Boss at The Boston Herald

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Obama Moving Forward On Supreme Court Nomination

Although Republicans immediately made clear Saturday they intend to deny Senate confirmation of any nominee President Obama names to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama has plenty of reasons to try.

Within an hour of the news of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement declaring “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president. ... The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” 

Many of the GOP presidential hopefuls, notably Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, likewise said Obama should not name a replacement.

But the president will not wait to choose a nominee. Speaking from Rancho Mirage (Riverside County), where he is preparing for a summit with Southeast Asian nations this week, Obama said he will “fulfill my responsibility to name a successor,” saying his duty to do so is “bigger than any one person ... it’s about our democracy.”

Any Obama nominee would dramatically alter the high court’s fragile 5-4 split on the most controversial decisions, where Scalia has been the intellectual leader of the dominant conservative wing. Whether Obama nominates a replacement or not, the mere existence of the vacancy, and Scalia’s towering stature on the conservative right, only raises the stakes for both parties heading into the election, said Republican analyst Ford O’Connell.

“Scalia’s death is a microcosm of the 2016 election for both sides,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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Trump Shows His U.S. Presidential Bid Is No Mere Publicity Stunt

Donald Trump served notice on Tuesday to those who have refused to take his 2016 White House campaign seriously: The celebrity real-estate developer and former reality show host is no joke. 

While Trump had been expected to win New Hampshire's nominating contest, he swamped the Republican field by almost 20 points, demonstrating that his passionate, anti-establishment supporters could be relied on to show up and vote when it counts.

Trump still has a long road ahead. He suffers from high unfavorability ratings and is often an undisciplined candidate who invites controversy with his policies and insults, going so far this week as to repeat an audience member’s assertion that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz was a “pussy.”

Yet after finishing second in the Iowa caucuses last week and now first in New Hampshire, Trump can take solace in the fact that rarely is the ultimate nominee from either party not one of the top two finishers in Iowa or New Hampshire.

His immediate prospects were further helped by the failure of any of the establishment candidates to emerge as a clear challenger. Taken together, the mainstream candidates pulled in enough votes to overcome Trump. But no single one came close to him and there are few signs of a major consolidation anytime soon. 

“The victory by Trump here has the makings of a major disaster for the establishment,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Read more from James Oliphant at Reuters

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Trump Takes New Hampshire

Donald Trump, the businessman who's brought ferocity, flare and fireworks to the 2016 presidential race, can finally call himself a "winner" tonight.

After a tough second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, the Republican presidential hopeful corrected the course of his campaign Tuesday with a victory in the first-in-the-nation primary.

His commanding win in the primary put him in a strong position as the race moves to South Carolina, where polls show he's well ahead.

"Now that he's won, the Trump train is back on track and the question for him is if he can parlay the momentum in New Hampshire into South Carolina," said veteran Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

O'Connell warned that Trump's unconventional campaign style and shaky ground operation in South Carolina,and later voting states could prevent the leading GOP candidate from securing a winning streak. "In South Carolina, he still does not seem to invest in ground operations at all.

"I think not having that in South Carolina could hurt him and the reason is it's winner-take-all by congressional district," he said, adding that "Nevada could be problematic also because it's a caucus."

Read more from Gabby Morrongiello at The Washington Examiner

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Road Ahead For Clinton's Nomination Bid Could Be More Smooth Despite Defeat In New Hampshire

Leading U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was soundly defeated in the primary vote in New Hampshire Tuesday, but the path ahead for her bid to win party nomination could be more favorable, experts said.

In a surprise development, Clinton's only rival Senator Bernie Sanders won a resounding victory over the former first lady and secretary of state, earning 60 percent of the Democratic vote.

This was the first loss in Clinton's bid to win the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the White House. She narrowly defeated Sanders in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, a U.S. Midwest state, last week.

But experts said Clinton will have better luck going forward, as Sanders is not expected to attract the same level of support in other primary states. One key constituent is African Americans, and Clinton has a 2 to 1 lead over Sanders with this crucial group.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that among voters under 30, Clinton was demolished in New Hampshire.

"She's got to find a way to get young people in. While at the same time, she also has to try to win the nomination without rubbing Sanders' (supporters) the wrong way ... She can't keep casting Sanders as living in fantasy land and his female supporters as being gender traitors. She's got to watch that," O'Connell said.

On Sanders, O'Connell said, the question still remains: Can he get minorities to support his campaign?

"If he can, he's turned what was once a hopeless cause into something that is just a little less hopeless," he said.

O'Connell said that Sanders' challenge is to get African American voters to support him, noting that they make up a nearly half of the Democratic party in some Southern states.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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