Leading In Polls, Scott Walker Waits

Scott Walker edged closer to a White House bid this week, but his official entry into the race is still not expected until mid-July.

The Wisconsin governor’s slow-moving campaign launch could cause him to lose altitude, some observers say, since other top-tier candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are already in.

He is widely expected to join the race on July 13 in his native Wisconsin, the state where he has been governor since 2011. He won a recall battle in 2012 and reelection in 2014. 

Some GOP strategists believe that Walker is being wily in holding off from a full declaration of candidacy for as long as he possibly can. Super-PACs are playing an increasingly important role in campaigns, they note, but coordination between an official candidate and a super-PAC is prohibited.

Some Republicans believe that Walker’s skills are being underestimated by a news media that don't recognize his blue-collar appeal.

“What Walker brings … is the white working-class voter,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “He has the ability to speak to them in a way that they gravitate toward. When he talks about shopping at Kohl’s, a lot of people in the media roll their eyes. But that resonates so well with voters.”

O’Connell also argued that more time away from the spotlight could assist Walker, in terms of letting him bone up on issues that he is less familiar with — notably foreign policy. 

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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On Charleston Shootings, 2016 Contenders Aim To Set Themselves Apart

As the growing caravan of Republican and Democratic presidential candidates jockey furiously to distinguish themselves from one another, many are seeking to set themselves apart over the tragedy that has captured the nation’s attention: the mass shooting at a South Carolina church.

In a flurry of written statements, public remarks and social media posts, candidates and would-be hopefuls have signaled where they stand on religion, guns and race, three sensitive issues at the center of Wednesday’s deadly attack at a black church, which is being investigated as a hate crime at the hands of a white man.

In some cases, their input has been subtle. Other times, unmistakable. The reactions, which have poured in from the field in the day-and-a-half since the slayings, highlight how the candidates want to be perceived by voters. They also provide a telling glimpse of how they plan to campaign in the comings months.

While most of the candidates expressed condolences without trying to sound political, their undertones showed how they intend to pursue the presidency in the coming months.

“Sadly, that’s the nature of politics,” said Ford O’Connell, who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Most Americans don’t follow it all that closely and when you have a national backdrop like this, regardless of party, most politicians feel a need not to let a crisis go to waste politically, as crass as that may sound.”

Read more from Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post

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After Campaign Kickoff, Tough Road Ahead For Jeb Bush In 2016 Presidential Race

Despite being a Republican Party (GOP) front-runner for the 2016 US presidential race, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush leads the pack by only a nose, and will have a tough fight ahead in his bid to grab the party nomination, US experts said.Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and second son of former President George H. W. Bush, officially announced his candidacy on Monday in a speech in Miami, vowing to "take Washington -- the static capital of this dynamic country -- out of the business of causing problems."

But while Bush is expected to be well-funded, using his brother's connections and being the favorite of many establishment Republicans, there is still no clear winner in the race to clinch the GOP nomination and go on to face likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. And unlike the last presidential race, this time the GOP filed its chock-full of talented candidates clamoring for the nomination.

"He's struggling to gain traction. He's a front-runner, but he' s a tepid front-runner as of right now," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

"(Bush) has two problems. The first, which is also an asset, is his last name. He has to find a way to become Jeb, the former governor of Florida, and not the third Bush," O'Connell said, referring to Bush's father and brother, who are both former presidents.

"The other problem is that he's running against an extremely talented field," he said. "If he's to win the nomination, it's going to be a long, drawn-out affair."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Global Times

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Election 2016: Many In GOP Wary Of Donald Trump's Entry Into Race

Steer clear of the "stupid zone."

That's how one Republican consultant is telling the GOP field to react to Donald Trump's explosive entry into the White House race.

The real estate mogul, flinging insults and bombast while announcing his run Tuesday, is threatening to upend the party's singular focus on a primary process that yields the strongest possible nominee and avoids some of the farcical scenes that tarnished candidates in 2012's circus-style debates.

GOP insiders also warn that more conventional presidential hopefuls must beware Trump's efforts to draw them into his constantly swirling media vortex, one that could lure them into political controversies and hurt their appeal to moderate voters.

Trump, of course, rejects the notion that his candidacy is anything close to damaging to his own party, instead calling it a boon to the GOP when asked Wednesday to respond to Republicans who say he is a distraction to the primary process in a tough election year.

How long Bush and fellow GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls can maintain that discipline, hold their tongues and resist Trump's provocations could dictate just how much the billionaire wildcard will impact the party's primary contests.

But another GOP strategist, Ford O' Connell, who is not currently working with a GOP presidential contender, said it was not going to be easy for candidates to turn the other cheek.

"If you are one of the other candidates, particularly one that has a window to victory, it's hard to ignore The Donald ... but that is your best bet," he said.

While top-tier presidential candidates like Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may have little to gain from a tangle with Trump, the temptation for a lesser candidate -- desperate for the media spotlight -- might prove irresistible.

"It's going to take a team effort to ignore Trump," said O'Connell.

Read more from Stephen Collinson and Jeremy Diamond at CNN

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Donald Trump Has Hired Serious Strategists To Help His Presidential Campaign

Donald Trump's presidential announcement may be drawing snickers, but he's hired a few serious strategists.

Former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Don McGahn is on board and helped Trump set up the legal framework of his campaign.

Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowksi, is a New Hampshire-based veteran of the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity. Chuck Laudner, who helped Rick Santorum win the 2012 Iowa GOP caucus, is running his Hawkeye State efforts.

Former South Carolina House Majority Leader James Merrill is an adviser.

“He's actually hired some serious staffers,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Trump says he’ll self-fund his campaign.

“You're going to be well taken care of working for him. As an operative that's an attractive thing,” said O’Connell.

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The New York Daily News

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The Race For President Really Begins This Week

Mark this down as the week the race for president begins in earnest.

Hillary Clinton's relaunch is a go. Jeb Bush is officially off the sidelines. And the crowded GOP field now includes 11 candidates, while Democrats have four hopefuls in the race.

For Republicans especially, the pressure is on to make the most of their nascent campaigns to make it into the first presidential debate, which is a mere 52 days away on Aug. 6 in Cleveland.

"Everyone's starting their engines and deciding they're going to have to make this push now," said national GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

Monday, all eyes were on Bush, as he officially launched his presidential campaign. Though he was one of the first to confirm in December he was "actively exploring" a bid — and he has so many establishment advantages of money and organization — his unofficial campaigning over the past few months has been unable to put any space between him and the rest of the field. He hopes his official campaign announcement can be something of a reset.

While the past two nominating cycles have seen the GOP establishment favorite eventually take the nomination, strategists warn that this cycle there's now no clear front-runner.

"He's the one with the hardest task," said Ford O'Connell, who worked for the Arizona senator's 2008 campaign. "Unlike previous establishment folks like [John] McCain and [Mitt] Romney, the one thing he faces they didn't is a very challenging field."

"A lot of people don't understand that running for president looks real easy from the cheap seats but it's a lot different from the ground," said O'Connell.

Read more from Jessica Taylor at NPR

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‘Sheer Force’ Could Be Enough To Propel Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush To 2016

residential front-runners Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will struggle to convince skeptical voters in New Hampshire appearances this week that they’re fresh and invigorating candidates, but “sheer force” and “dynasty” may yet prove their winning hands in 2016, political operatives say.

But GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised John McCain’s 2008 campaign, countered that the key to clinching New Hampshire for Bush is “to convince people that he’s Jeb the former conservative governor from Florida and not the third Bush.”

“It’s a record that, honestly, if you remove the last name, everyone would be going gaga over,” O’Connell said, citing reduced taxes and improved education.

Bush is expected to formally announce today in Florida, then travel to the Granite State. Clinton today will attend an early education forum in Rochester, a launch party in Concord and a Democratic dinner in Manchester.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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'Religious Nones' Are Growing Quickly. Should Republicans Worry?

Jenny Schulz isn't religious.

Schulz is not alone. She is part of a growing group of American adults who do not identify with any religion. More than one-in-five American adults say so now, the highest in U.S. history. They are being identified as the religious "nones," so called for their lack of religious affiliation. As they grow in size, they are also gaining political power. 

Those "nones" consist of atheists, agnostics, and people who simply say they subscribe to no religion in particular. Altogether, they make up nearly 23 percent of the adult population, according to Pew.

That's more than than Catholics, and nearly as many as evangelicals, at 25.4 percent, according to the most recent Pew Religious Landscape Survey. Between just 2007 and 2014, the adult population of "nones" skyrocketed by 52 percent, to nearly 56 million. And that growth makes the "nones" one of the biggest, but least-noticed, stories in American politics, Smith said.

But even with all of the public displays of religion, you can already see politicians playing to a less religious electorate. Republicans, who fare poorly among the "nones," are subtly tailoring their messages for an increasingly secular nation.

"You're already seeing Republicans, in particular, take this into account, and you're seeing it with gay marriage," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008, chair of CivicForumPAC, managing director of Civic Forum Strategies and author of Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery. "What you're starting to see is Republicans significantly changing their tone and rhetoric. ... For example, on gay marriage — they're couching it as 'religious liberty,' which sounds less divisive."

"The real question for the Republican Party is will this trend continue and will it continue at this rate?" O'Connell said. "I can see them changing their views on not so much abortion but other related issues [like same-sex marriage] by 2024."

Why 2024? Because that's when today's millennials will be entering middle age, replacing today's Gen-Xers and baby boomers. As millennials marry, settle down and have kids — things they're doing later than their parents — he thinks there's a possibility they will shift rightward. The GOP does better among married women than single women, he points out (though his logic assumes that marriage could make a person more conservative, not just that conservative women might be more likely to be married to begin with). And once people marry, he added, more-religious people might end up bringing their less-religious partners into the church.

Read more from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR

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Jeb Bush Prepares To Enter 2016 Presidential Race

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is in the midst of a European trip where he hopes to bolster his foreign policy credentials in advance of his official presidential candidacy announcement on Monday.  Bush’s foreign policy trip includes visits to three U.S. allies — Germany, Poland and Estonia.

In the run up to his presidential campaign, Jeb Bush has been quick to pay tribute to his father and brother, both former presidents, but insists he will be his own man should he win the White House next year.  

Once he officially launches his presidential campaign, Bush faces the challenge of introducing himself to the public as his own man, according to Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. 

“Obviously his last name is his greatest benefit in terms of raising money but it is also his greatest obstacle.  What Jeb Bush needs to become is ‘Jeb’, not the third Bush," he said.  "And that is going to be very hard for him because talk radio is sort of the lifeblood of the Republican Party and right now they have a target on the back of Jeb Bush because they want him out of there no matter what.  And it is Jeb’s job to remind them that he was a conservative when he was the governor of Florida.”

Public opinion polls show Bush near the top of the 10-person Republican field at the moment along with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  Bush’s announcement will make him the 11th official Republican candidate so far to enter the 2016 race.

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Marco Rubio Revels In 'Media Attacks'

Sen. Marco Rubio’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination is getting an unlikely lift from The New York Times.

The newspaper published two unflattering stories about the Florida senator in the course of five days, including a piece about his family’s traffic violations that was widely mocked on Twitter.

Republican strategists argue that attacks from the mainstream media, and the Times in particular, could help galvanize conservatives behind Rubio’s candidacy.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Rubio was right to try to use the coverage to his advantage because “it’s a badge of honor to be attacked by The New York Times, the Democrats’ paper of record.” 

But O’Connell also cautioned that this was only a positive so long as the Times did not identify, in the story about finances, an area from which more embarrassing or substantial revelations might emerge.

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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