Mitt Romney Exit Jolts 2016 GOP Field

Mitt Romney shook up the 2016 GOP field on Friday with his announcement that he won’t be seeking the presidency for a third time. 

In a call with supporters early on Friday, the 2012 nominee said it’s time to “give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

Potential GOP candidates were respectful in their responses to the former Massachusetts governor’s decision, which came after a surprising three week flirtation with another run. 

But the contenders also know that the early exit of a formidable fundraiser with a deep political network bolsters their chances of winning the party’s nomination.

Republican strategists say Bush is the biggest beneficiary — the two appeared to be gearing up for a heavyweight fight for donors, top-level political operatives and the right to claim the party’s establishment mantle.

GOP strategists say that after Bush, Romney’s exit buoys the potential candidacies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Sen. Marco Rubio the most.

GOP strategists say Walker falls into the party’s sweet spot – they believe he can pull support from both the establishment and the Tea Party wing as a candidate that can “drive in both lanes,” as Republican consultant Ford O’Connell put it. 

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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CAMPAIGN 2016: Rand Paul Steers Middle Course On Climate Change Amid White House Buzz

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appears to be preparing for a likely White House run by embracing issues that are not traditional conservative priorities -- including man-made climate change.

The libertarian joined 14 other GOP senators last week in voting for an amendment by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) offered to the Keystone XL oil pipeline bill that declared that man-made emissions contribute to warming. But while many of the other Republicans who backed the language were either climate moderates or up for re-election in swing states in 2016 -- or both -- Paul is neither. He is defending his seat next year in deep-red Kentucky, where he can point to a solid history of anti-regulatory rhetoric and bids he led to kill U.S. EPA rules.

Paul declined requests to explain his vote on Hoeven's amendment, but political observers say he seems to be aiming beyond Kentucky.

Political analyst and Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said Republicans would stand firm on policy while trying not to let Democrats nail them down on climate science.

"What Republicans all agree on is that they don't want to see so many job-killing regulations and taxes, and they want to maintain flexibility so that they can come to a consensus [on science] behind the scenes without handcuffing the 2016 nominee," he said.

Read more from Jean Chemnick at E&E

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Mitt Romney Says No To 2016. Who Wins?

Mitt Romney isn’t running for president in 2016 after all, and Republican strategists are heaving a sigh of relief.

With a large Republican field forming, it had become clear that Mr. Romney wouldn’t sail to the nomination, after winning it in 2012. Donors from the GOP’s establishment wing were in a bind. And a key operative, David Kochel of Iowa, just signed on with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Kochel was with Romney in both of his past presidential runs.  

Romney’s decision to step aside, three weeks after a surprise announcement that he might run again, helps to clarify the GOP contest and makes the choices clearer for donors and strategists on whom to back.

So who benefits most from Romney’s decision?

“Obviously, Bush is a no-brainer,” because of the big-money donors both he and Romney were competing for, says Ford O’Connell, chairman of CivicForumPAC.

Romney’s decision benefits “Walker, Bush, Rubio, and Christie, with an emphasis, I would argue, on Rubio and Walker,” says Mr. O’Connell. “Walker and Rubio can run in both lanes.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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How Jeb Bush's Wife Could Help Win Him The White House

Jeb Bush’s secret weapon in his potential White House bid is his wife of 40 years, Columba Bush, supporters of the former Florida governor say.

Columba, who would be the nation’s first Hispanic first lady if her husband wins the presidency, largely eschewed the public spotlight in Florida and is known for having a shy public demeanor.

Before Bush (R) announced in December that he was exploring a bid for the White House, it was thought that Columba could even put the brakes on his national candidacy. 

Yet friends of the Bush family, and those who have worked closely with Jeb and Columba for decades, say that beneath her private persona lies a rock-solid interior. They argue she’s fully prepared to step into the pressure cooker that awaits if Jeb runs for president in 2016.

The Mexican-born immigrant has steeped Jeb in Hispanic culture. They speak Spanish at home, and Bush allies credit her with helping shape Jeb’s “act of love” message on immigration reform.

But some Republicans believe Jeb’s moderate tones on immigration reform are a conservative apostasy that will doom him, particularly in early-voting caucus and primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

“In the primaries, the idea of a candidate talking immigration reform with a biracial family on the stump is going to be a big moment,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “She’s going to have to navigate it as well as Jeb does.”

“These moments, you never know when they’ll come, but they’ve come for all of the first ladies,” O’Connell added.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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On Climate Change, 'Not A Scientist' Not Enough For Some U.S. Republicans

Rick Perry's farewell speech to the Texas legislature listed the accomplishments expected from an outgoing Republican governor of the country's largest oil-producing state. But his Jan. 15 speech also did something less predictable: touting his environmental record, from lowering Texas' carbon emissions to turning the state into a global leader in wind energy production.

"We have expanded our economy while protecting our environment," said Perry, who is openly exploring a second White House run in 2016.

It was a greener message than the one he delivered ahead of his last presidential campaign, when he called climate change a "contrived phony mess," and it reflects an expectation among some in the party that voters in 2016 will want Republican candidates to develop a more sophisticated climate change message.

"'I'm not a scientist' won't be a winner in the presidential field," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of the now common response Republican lawmakers and candidates offer when asked about climate change.

Read more from Valerie Volcovici and Amanda Becker at Reuters

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Chris Christie Starts 2016 Presidential Campaign PAC

Governor Christie moved to level the playing field in a crowded GOP presidential primary field, unveiling a political action committee Monday that allows him to hire staff and fund cross-country travels as he considers a potential candidacy.

The move was expected and comes after Christie worked to woo conservative voters in Iowa Saturday and as he prepares for a trade-mission to England this weekend, a trip aimed at bolstering his foreign policy credentials.

Contributions to the new committee are capped at $5,000, while other potential candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, are connected to “super” PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts.

Political analysts say this is just the first of many calculated moves the governor will make as he plots out a presidential bid in a field where many other candidates already have a fundraising apparatus in place.

“This is step one in a two-step process. But what he’s concerned about in the timing is not being able to raise money, but getting the folks on board who can help him raise the money,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. The next step, O’Connell said, is to create a super PAC.

Christie’s position at the RGA – which took him to 37 states for more than 180 events – gives him some advantages over the competition. But the governor also faces the challenge of breaking into a crowded field during a time when New Jersey’s economic recovery is lagging behind the nation’s and he’s facing questions over top aides being involved in a plot to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

O’Connell pointed to Christie taking on a heckler in Iowa as an example of why he could do well in the primary – he’s good with people and the governor’s team knows that.

“They recognize that the power to get higher up in this game is having Christie out on the stump and connecting with people because no one comes away with a negative when he’s out there,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Melissa Hayes and Herb Jackson at

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Republicans Find It’s Not Easy Being In Charge

Three weeks into their historic House majority and after taking control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, Republicans find themselves in a meltdown over rape and charges that they quashed debate on a Keystone pipeline bill so their presidential hopefuls could make pitches to the billionaire Koch brothers in Palm Springs.

The two debates were supposed to be easy lifts on popular GOP issues. Instead, the dueling imbroglios showcased a backlash by more moderate Republicans and Tea Party conservatives and the appearance — fueled by Democrats — of a connection between the GOP’s pro-fossil fuel agenda and industry campaign contributions.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the amendment process will help pass the Keystone bill by allowing senators to have their say. “Keystone is not just about one pipeline,” O’Connell said. “It’s about an energy argument that the Republicans want to have with the Democrats.”

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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TALK OF THE TOWN - - CARLY FIORINA: 2016 GOP ATTACK DOG? Sorry, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), but did the real Republican rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address come this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Former-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is mulling a GOP presidential run, confronted White House insider and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on the White House's record of equal pay for women. Video, via The Hill's Justin Sink: 

-- GOP STRATEGIST FORD O'CONNELL emails OVERNIGHT: "This is why Carly Fiorina is valuable to the 2016 GOP presidential conversation. She can return fire in real time and credibly push back on one of the Democrats' favorite plays in presidential elections and key policy debates - the 'war on women.'" 

Read more from Kevin Cirilli at The Hill

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Chris Christie Aims To Grab Spotlight In Iowa With Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush Absent

Jumping in while potential rivals Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are absent, Chris Christie will try to grab the spotlight in Iowa on Saturday at the first big gathering of likely 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

At the Iowa Freedom Summit hosted by Republican Rep. Steve King, the New Jersey governor will wade into a potentially hostile crowd of influential activists who largely eye him with distrust for his stewardship of a liberal state, his silence on immigration and the "Bridgegate" scandal.

The summit will unofficially kick off the battle for the powerful state's support, and could be a significant moment for a Christie campaign that would need grassroots conservatives alongside its mainstream donor base.

A warm reception could help Christie regain momentum after weeks of headlines about Bush and Romney, and blunt the perception that his brash style would antagonize Iowa Republicans.

"Chris just can't hang on the establishment mantle, the field's getting crowded," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, noting that Christie speaks about his pro-life beliefs in a compelling way for social conservatives.

"If he is going to shed the (Republican in name only) label, he is going to have to mingle with Republicans of all stripes."

Read more from Gabriel Debenedetti at Reuters 

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Obama Marks Start Of 2016 White House Race With State of Union Speech

In an opening salvo for the 2016 race for the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday night touted the U.S. economic comeback and spelled out his party' vision for the country's future during a nationally broadcast speech viewed by millions of Americans. 

Rather than following the usual State of the Union protocol of going through a laundry list of initiatives, the president instead underscored the partial U.S. economic rebound in a nationally televised annual State of the Union speech.

Experts contend that the speech was aimed at sending a clear message to the public and spelling out Democrats' vision for the country in the lead up to the 2016 race to the White House.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell also told Xinhua that Obama's focus of this speech was to look forward to 2016. "He's trying to frame the race heading forward by focusing on economic mobility and stagnant wages," he said.

"The question is can Republicans come up with a set of solutions or at least a road map of solutions to beat the Democrats to the punch. If they can, they have a great shot of winning the White House in 2016," O'Connell said.

"Republicans win (the midterms) because people didn't agree with all of their policy plans. They won because most Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction and they don't think the economy is growing fast enough," O'Connell said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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