Donald Trump Vs. Dr. Ben Carson In High Stakes Debate Showdown

Donald Trump’s front-runner status is on the line during tonight’s Republican primary debate — as new polls show Ben Carson surging — setting up a high-stakes prime-time showdown between the brash billionaire and the mild-mannered neurosurgeon.

“He’s going to come out guns-a-blazing on Ben Carson because that’s the person who poses the most immediate threat to him,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said of Trump.

The reality TV star — who had projected an image of invincibility up to now — has suffered a series of setbacks in the last week, trailing Carson in three different Iowa polls and a national New York Times/CBS survey released yesterday.

O’Connell pointed out Carson is the one picking up evangelical supporters in Iowa and his calm demeanor and humility are winning over female voters.

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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A Paul Ryan-Led House Unlikely To Shift Much On Climate Issues

After a turbulent five-week search, the House is expected to elect Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as speaker this week. The change in leadership, which comes amid political gridlock and a colorful presidential campaign, doesn't bode well for climate action on Capitol Hill, environmental and political experts said.

Ryan will replace Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who has served as speaker for the past five years. Boehner announced his retirement from Congress last month after 25 years in office. Under Boehner's leadership, Congress has tried to stymie federal climate change action in recent years, from slashing funding for environmental regulations and science through appropriations bills to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

A Ryan-led House likely won't be much better, experts told InsideClimate News.

And that's if the House tackles climate change at all in the next couple of years, said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Ryan's first priorities in office will be the debt ceiling, the Highway Trust Fund and the 2016 budget, O'Connell said. By next spring, Washington will be captive to the presidential election.

"Right now Congress is just trying clean its slate," O'Connell said. "There's just no room on the agenda for climate change, even if both sides were in agreement over it."

Read more from Katherine Bagley at InsideClimate News

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Donald Trump In Florida: Can The Republican Presidential Hopeful Beat Bush And Rubio In Their Home State?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took swipes Saturday at the Florida home-state candidates against whom he's competing -- former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio -- mocking Bush's campaign finances and calling the two Floridians comical for fighting on the 2016 trail. The critiques were delivered during campaign stops in Florida, just a day after announcing his campaign chairpersons for the state.

If Trump is able to beat those two in Florida, it could have an important impact on the 2016 Republican nomination. If he wins in Florida, he will have an edge that nobody may be able to beat.

"If he wins Florida, he is the Republican nominee," Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain presidential campaign, said. O'Connell noted that there are plenty of elections before Florida's voting day, but that the state is a big source of delegates and could decide candidates in a narrow field. "It basically becomes winner-takes-all, and Florida is one-twelfth of all the delegates you need.”

Florida's primary March 15 takes place after "super Tuesday," the nomination day when 13 states decide which candidate their delegates will support. It takes place after the majority of other states have held nominations, meaning that it's highly unlikely that the Republican primary field will be as big as it is now, with more than 10 so-called legitimate candidates seeking the presidency. With nearly 20 million residents, Florida is a big state with a lot of bargaining power in the democratic process. 

Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times

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Mike Huckabee’s Latest Strategy Aims To Turn Trolling Into Better Polling

With the Iowa caucuses a little over three months away, Huckabee has yet to have his moment. His poll numbers are bad (though not bad enough to bump him from the mainstage at next week’s CNBC debate.) And he’s way behind in the GOP money race, having raised just $1.24 million – the lowest out of all the 10 candidates who’ve made a top-tier debate this year.

Given those challenges, it’s understandable then to see Huckabee now dabbling with a bit of political theater, to say the least. A former Baptist pastor, Fox News pundit, and author of several books, Huckabee knows how to speak in soundbites to get a good headline – particularly when it comes to social issues. Most recently, he’s picked a fight with Rainbow Doritos, criticized President Obama’s treatment of the pope as “classless,” and staged a highly dramatic scene outside a Kentucky jail for the release of anti-gay marriage Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. Like Donald Trump, Huckabee has also been a consistent source of entertainment on Twitter, although he hasn’t proven to be quite as politically adept at it as the real estate mogul.

Yet with the summer “silly season” long gone and the presidential field beginning to winnow, this latest Benghazi rant begs a serious question: Is Mike Huckabee still making a genuine play for the White House, or just trolling the candidates who are?

The Huckabee camp, for its part, insists it’s the former.

Some are skeptical of Team Huckabee’s optimism, however, and view his inflammatory tweeting as a clear act of desperation, if not outright trolling.

“People aren’t taking him that seriously,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked with Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. “I don’t know if he’s solely just a troll. But he’s definitely a candidate who’s down on his luck, grasping at straws.”

“[Huckabee’s] strong point has always been social conservatives, and right now they’re gravitating toward Carson and Cruz,” said O’Connell. “He’s a man without a slice of the party right now.”

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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Presidential Candidates Pulling the Plug; Who is Next?

Should I stay or should I go? That is the pressing question facing many 2016 presidential hopefuls in pursuit of the White House.

When it comes to the GOP field, a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll released Friday points to a new leader in Iowa. GOP candidate Dr. Ben Carson surged to the number 1 position with 28%, beating out former front-runner Donald Trump with 19%. Carson is up 10 percentage points since late August while Trump is down by 4 points. Texas Senator Ted Cruz picks up 10%, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is at 9% and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has 5%.

Reevaluating campaign resources could be a good idea for some candidates. The new poll also explored who should exit the 2016 race. When asked which GOP candidates they would like to see drop out, a whopping 25% of prospective Iowa voters chose Donald Trump. Tied at 22% are former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Following closely behind with 21% is former New York Governor George Pataki.

“Most people don’t know the blood and sweat that goes into a presidential campaign it is really hard to tell people to drop out, it is a pride swallowing experience,” said Ford O’Connell, Republican strategist and former adviser on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

“The next two weeks will be very important for Chris Christie and Huckabee. Rand Paul really needs to start focusing on defending his Senate seat, Bobby Jindal: how’s he ever going to gain ground? Pataki, Graham and Gilmore I see nothing and Rick Santorum the 2016 competition is not 2012, the votes that you got back then weren’t for you they were anti Romney votes.”

O’Connell says Carson, Trump, Fiorina and Rubio are doing well for the time being. While Bush is playing a long game for a win and Ohio Governor John Kasich must step up soon.

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business 

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Can Debates Keep Carly Fiorina Going?

Carly Fiorina's post-debate surge to the top tier of the Republican presidential field has faded just as quickly as it came.

The former business executive shot to second place after taking Republican front-runner Donald Trump to task and flaunting her foreign policy chops during the CNN debate in mid-September. And her invitation to participate in the second prime-time debate was fueled, in part, by a standout performance in the "happy hour" event preceding the first Republican debate.

But two polls released this week, one showing Fiorina dropping from her post-debate position at 15 percent to seventh place at 4 percentand the other placing her in sixth place behind establishment favorite Jeb Bush, have some strategists wondering whether her inimitable debate performances are evidence she's a one-trick pony.

"It's like once she has these great debates, her campaign isn't able to harness the news cycle and really expand her and make her look presidential," explains Ford O'Connell, a political strategist and former adviser to the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign.

"The worse she does in debates, the worse off her campaign is going to be because that's been her top strength thus far," he told the Washington Examiner. 

Read more from Gabby Morrongiello at The Washington Examiner

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Hillary Clinton Readies For High-stakes Benghazi Testimony

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is preparing for high political drama on Thursday when she testifies before the House Select Committee probing the 2012 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the attacks and her testimony could have an impact on her White House hopes for 2016.

Republicans on the committee are expected to grill Clinton about the terror attacks that took four American lives, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, on September 11, 2012.

But Clinton has tried to put the focus on the committee by seizing on Republican comments that the Benghazi panel is targeting her politically. The Clinton campaign put out an ad that included a now-infamous clip of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy talking about the Benghazi probe in an interview with Fox News.

Given Clinton’s presidential aspirations, the political stakes for her appearance are huge, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. "And I think the optics [appearance] of it could really be damaging to Hillary Clinton, regardless of what comes out of that hearing," he said.

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Donald Trump’s Play For The Millennial Vote

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is hoping to lure millennial support with his unconventional campaign — and a promise of providing jobs for a generation that's struggled to enter into the economy.

Trump's bid to sway younger voters relies heavily on his image as a billionaire businessman. He told The Hill during an interview this week that he is often swarmed by younger voters who beg him for jobs during his campaign rallies and said it's not uncommon for some supporters to attempt to toss him resumes.

This is, after all, a generation that grew up watching him host NBC's "The Apprentice," a show featuring contestants vying for a chance to serve in Trump’s employ.

Pundits are split over Trump's chances with younger voters.

"Millennials are attracted to personality over substance," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. "And there is no question that the Donald is the strongest personality on either side of the aisle."

Read more from Kevin Cirilli at The Hill

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Huckabee Finances Challenge His Future

Mike Huckabee faces the greatest challenge of the top 10 GOP presidential candidates in continuing his campaign, according to the latest fundraising reports released on Thursday. 

While the former Arkansas governor is in no real danger of missing the cut for the third debate in two weeks based on poll numbers, his financial picture is a different matter. 

Huckabee raised just $1.24 million, the lowest of any candidate who has made a top-tier debate this year and half as much as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose poll numbers have dropped over the past few months. 

Candidates posting poor figures “should be extremely worried,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked with Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) presidential campaign in 2008. 

“Donors want to back the winner and it’s becoming completely clear who the winners are likely to be.” 

“It’s horrible for Huckabee…if he doesn’t win Iowa he is dead in the water,” O’Connell said. 

“Sixty percent of the Iowa Republican caucus base is evangelical, you have to make a straight religious, social values play,” he added, something the former pastor is built to do even as religious voters find homes under the wings of other candidates. 

Read more from Ben Kamisar at The Hill

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Election 2016: What Does Mega Donor Sheldon Adelson Want From Marco Rubio?

When Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson dropped $5 million on the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in January 2012, media outlets considered the donation a saving grace. While Adelson eventually switched his allegiance to eventual nominee Mitt Romney, his donations kept Gingrich’s campaign afloat much longer than it otherwise would have been able to afford and caused a bruising fight for Romney early in the primary, despite his front-runner status.

This time around, with a much wider field and no clear favorite contender, a growing number of Republican presidential candidates have been eagerly vying for Adelson's blessing -- and his money. But reports in recent weeks indicate that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been growing closer to Adelson and is likely to get his support in the near future, perhaps even by the end of this month. This could mean a huge influx of cash for Rubio, who has been struggling to build his campaign war chest after rising in popularity thanks to his strong performances in the Republican debates. For Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate with a penchant for politics, it could also be a long-awaited chance to influence a presidential contest.

“Back in 2012, the competition that Romney faced was actually stronger than what Hillary [Clinton] faces right now,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “This time you have four or five people who could actually win. They’re looking around and saying who best represents the issues we care about, but also who can actually win,” O’Connell added of Adelson’s staff.

However, while the topics of Israel, Iran and trade have all come up during the 2016 presidential election, Rubio will not be stretching his own ideas if he agrees with most views held by Adelson. “Marco Rubio’s way into the nomination was always foreign policy, specifically on Israel,” and now also on economic growth, O’Connell said.

Read more from Abigail Abrams at International Business Times

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