Ted Cruz's White House Run Underscores Foreign Policy As Top Concern For 2016 U.S. Elections

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's recent announcement of his intention to run for president underscored the major role foreign policy will play in the 2016 race to the White House.

Cruz, a conservative Republican, on Monday became the first Republican candidate to formally announce his decision to run. In a nationally televised speech, the Tea Party backed senator upbraided the current administration for its perceived missteps in the foreign policy realm.

While Cruz has virtually no chance of gaining his party's nomination to face likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, his emphasis on U.S. foreign policy foreshadows a race in which foreign policy will be a top issue, experts said.

"We have two factors at play -- the rapid rise of IS (Islamic State) and what could be a highly controversial nuclear deal with Iran," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of the terror group that has overrun vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, as well as the nuclear deal with Iran that Republicans and other critics are likely to blast as too soft on Iran.

"These two things are driving national security higher on the agenda for the average voter," O'Connell said.

"Will foreign policy trump economic concerns? No. But I don't think it will take a back seat like it has in the past," he added.

While Clinton racked up nearly a million miles in the air and visited dozens of countries as secretary of state, Republicans will likely blast her for playing it safe and not having solved any of the world's troubles.

"Republicans are going to turn around and say 'that's not an accomplishment, that's just you earning frequent flyer miles," O'Connell said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Political Activist: If Huckabee Were VP Pick, GOP Would Be In WH

Political activist David Lane says that if former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had been the vice presidential pick in 2008 and 2012, Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would have won because he would have helped them pick up the evangelical vote. 

"In 2008, the McCain campaign did not really go for the evangelicals," Lane, founder of the American Renewal Project, told J.D. Hayworth, Miranda Khan and Republican strategist Ford O'Connell on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

Watch the video and read more from Courtney Coren at Newsmax

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Chris Christie Decision On 2016 Presidential Run May Take Months

With one Republican already formally running for president and another about to announce he will run, Governor Christie is now saying he’ll decide whether to enter the contest in the “next three months or so.”

That extends the time frame for his presidential decision by several months, which could offer some advantages to Christie, once seen as a top-tier candidate but now trailing in polls nationally and losing favorability at home.

Chief among the reasons for Christie’s delay would be getting the state’s fiscal house in order amid lagging revenue and ballooning state pension payments – as well as possibly wrapping up the federal investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

Some analysts said Christie could get a fundraising jump on his competition by announcing early, but there are also advantages to waiting. The ongoing federal investigation into the September 2013 lane closures continues, as do several outstanding issues in New Jersey: the need to fund transportation projects, another attempt at a pension overhaul, and the constitutionalrequirement to sign a balanced state budget by July 1.

“When you’re a governor, you’ve got to march to a beat of a different drum, you have to worry about your state at the same time,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns. “The best thing he could do right now is make sure that he’s got his ducks in a row in New Jersey and that he’s obviously dealt with the skeletons in his closet, because I have a feeling we’re going to have some ups and downs in this race.”

O’Connell said he thinks Christie is more likely to announce sometime in June. And he said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who ranks among the possible front-runners for the nomination, faces a similar challenge of needing to govern his state. Cruz, on the other hand, needed to jump in early to define himself amid a crowded field of Republicans vying for the more conservative vote, O’Connell said.

O’Connell said Christie — whom he ranks third among the establishment candidates, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — has experience in town-hall settings and could do well among New Hampshire voters who expect that kind of campaigning.

Read more from Melissa Hayes at NorthJersey.com

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Ted Cruz Launches 2016 Bid, Hoping To Revive Religious Right

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a bold play for grassroots and social conservatives on Monday by launching his presidential campaign at Liberty University, the nation’s largest evangelical school.

The fiery address leaves no doubt his campaign will charge hard to the right in a bid to lock down the conservative core of the GOP base, with a special emphasis on social and religious conservatives.

He is the first major candidate to formally launch his presidential campaign, putting pressure on other conservative rivals to possibly move up their time tables. 

In announcing first, a surprise move that only leaked this weekend, Cruz is trying to jumpstart his campaign. He’s been stuck in single digits in many early state polls behind others he’d be battling for the conservative mantle, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and retired surgeon Ben Carson.

“He has a very narrow window to win this nomination. To do it, he has to become the preeminent candidate for grassroots conservatives and social conservatives. That means he has elbow Huckabee, Carson and Santorum out of the way,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who advised McCain in 2008. 

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Ted Cruz Declares Candidacy, Vows To ‘Reignite The Promise Of America’

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced Monday that he is running for president, making him the first official candidate in the 2016 race for the White House.

“I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Mr. Cruz said during a speech at Liberty University, sending a strong signal that he plans to compete for the evangelical Christians that traditionally play a big role in the GOP nomination race.

“I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise in America,” he said. “And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States.”

The big question for Mr. Cruz is whether he can build a big enough coalition to claim the mantle of the conservative alternative to the establishment candidate in a Republican race that will likely also feature former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Mr. Cruz is running near the middle of the pack in early national polls, behind Mr. Bush, Mr. Walker and Mr. Paul, who is planning to enter the race early next month.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said Mr. Cruz has a “narrow” path to the nomination.

“For Cruz to have a legitimate shot at the nomination, he has to become the preeminent candidate for both grassroots conservatives and social conservatives, which means he has to elbow out the darlings of social conservatives — Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ben Carson,” Mr. O’Connell said.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Ted Cruz Launches 2016 Race With Twitter Video

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s decision to announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination today will have other second-tier GOP presidential hopefuls scrambling to throw their hats in the ring, an expert says.

“To the folks not named Scott Walker or Jeb Bush there will be a lot of pressure now to jump in on the Republican side because you need to be able to put down markers on the campaign trail,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told the Herald. “This is certainly going to put pressure on the folks who are not necessarily vying for the establishment mantle.”

Cruz, 44, jumped into the race late last night on Twitter, just two years after being elected to office and is the first of a field that is expected to include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“To legitimately have a shot at winning the nomination, Ted Cruz will have to be the pre-eminent candidate for both grass-roots conservatives and social conservatives,” O’Connell said. “Which means he will need to elbow out (former Arkansas Gov.) Mike Huckabee and (physician) Ben Carson, he’ll have to eat into Scott Walker’s support right now, and he’ll have to pretty much quash Rand Paul altogether.”

“Jeb Bush and Scott Walker can take their time announcing their candidacy,” O’Connell said. “The others, I think, will find that there will be more pressure for them to jump in.”

Read more from Owen Boss at the Boston Herald

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Loretta Lynch Confirmation Gets Even More Complicated

The irony could have never been this bitter for Loretta Lynch. Just in the final stretch of becoming the nation’s first Black woman attorney general — poised to replace Eric Holder, the first Black male AG — Lynch now finds her political fate bound and tangled up in, of all things, a human trafficking bill.

Lynch should have been confirmed last week, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), seeking to save face with a doubtful Republican caucus that watched him bungle near-government-shutdown spats over immigration and the budget, abruptly reneged on his promise to hold a final vote on the nominee even as her nomination slid almost effortlessly out of committee.

The always prickly subject of abortion had entered the Senate scene as the next in a string of bizarre snags delaying Lynch’s confirmation. Prepped to pass a bi-partisan bill bolstering the national fight against human trafficking, Senate Democrats caught Senate Republicans sneaking a controversial anti-abortion amendment into the bill.

Hence, some observers, and many Lynch supporters, are now cautious that inserting race into the equation could cloud a needed and ongoing conversation about her qualifications.

“If current Attorney General Eric Holder were not African American, the Democrats’ strategy might be more effective,” Republican strategist and CivicForum PAC founder Ford O’Connell tells the Tribune. “But given that the Democrats’ best argument against the Republican foot-dragging on Lynch is ‘for shame,’ racial politics, they probably should recalibrate. This fight is not really about Lynch, but leverage as it pertains to legislation.”

O’Connell, along with senior sources on Capitol Hill, predict Lynch won’t be confirmed until April or May. Other observers expect more stonewalling until Republicans figure the political cost is too high elsewhere.

Read more from Charles D. Ellison at The Philadelphia Tribune

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GOP's Medicaid Block-Grant Plan Won't Happen While Obama's In Office

The Republican House and Senate budget blueprints agree that Medicaid should be turned into a capped state block-grant program to save hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade. But both Republican and Democratic strategists say the proposal will not be enacted this year—and won't be seriously considered unless Republicans win the White House and hold Congress after the 2016 elections.

The proposal to block-grant Medicaid would cut federal funding by $913 billion over the next decade, according to the House budget plan.

Restructuring the Medicaid program into a block-grant model would mean the federal government would make a fixed contribution to the states that would not necessarily keep pace with rising Medicaid costs. States would receive a fixed dollar amount that would rise annually with general inflation and population growth, under the GOP proposals. This would give states the flexibility to do what they want with their Medicaid programs, including customize delivery systems and reduce eligibility and benefits, without strict oversight by the CMS.

Despite years of making no progress in turning Medicaid into a block-grant program, Republican lawmakers will continue to push for it because their constituents say they want tangible solutions to bring down the federal deficit, said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008.

Read more from Virgil Dickson at Modern Healthcare 

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Jeb Bush Leads Republican Candidates, But Needs To Connect With Rank-And-File Party Voters

Jeb Bush topped other potential U.S. presidential candidates within the Republican Party (GOP) in a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday, but he needs to broaden his base of supporters if he hopes to clinch the GOP nomination, experts said.

The former Florida governor led the poll on 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, beating out former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who dropped six points from last month. While the race for the White House is still more than one year away, candidates are gearing up for elections early.

While Bush is winning in the race for donors, endorsements and staffers, he needs to make gains with rank-and-file Republicans, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua in an interview.

"The establishment appears at this point to be consolidated behind him, but they are not sure whether his billion dollar balloon is going to bust," O'Connell said.

"Jeb has to find a way to make inroads beyond the establishment if he wants to win this nomination," he said.

 Bush's biggest challenge right now is Walker, as the latter connects well with grassroots conservatives and working class voters, O'Connell said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost 

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Conservative PAC Head: Spending True Test For GOP Congress

As the newly Republican-led Congress unveils its first budget proposal, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips says that reining in spending is the "true test" for the GOP.

"They've been given a second chance [to repeal] Obamacare" and push "back against the global warming nutty agenda," Phillips told J.D. Hayworth and Republican strategist Ford O'Connell on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV on Wednesday. 

Watch the video and read more from Courtney Coren at Newsmax

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