Ford O'Connell: GOP Needs 'Electable' Candidates And Grassroots

The important lesson from the North Carolina primary is that the GOP needs to find "the most electable candidate" they can, because it is very difficult to defeat an incumbent, says Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

"What most people don't understand is an incumbent, even as vulnerable as Kay Hagan, always has the upper hand," O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV. 

North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis won the Republican Senate primary against tea party favorite Greg Brannon. Tillis will challenge Hagan in the November midterm elections. 

Many are touting the primary as a win for the Republican establishment. 

"What I'm concerned about here is that if Thom Tillis should lose to Kay Hagan, we're going to see [people say], "oh, I told you so, we should've gone with Greg Brannon, and I don't think the people realize how hard it is to unseat an incumbent in the general election," O'Connell said Wednesday.

Even though it is important for the GOP to find electable candidates, it is also important that it not ignore the grassroots, O'Connell says. 

"I would like to see the GOP establishment listen to the grassroots more because . . . the Republican Party has a lot of diverse wings to it, and if you can't keep the party together and the base together, then you're not going to win overall," he added. "A party without a base is not a party."

The Washington Post recently gave Republicans an 82 percent chance of taking the Senate in November, but the GOP analyst says that while the odds appear to be in the Republicans' favor, there are still a lot of variables that make such a prediction a bit premature. 

Read more from  Courtney Coren at

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No Joy For Tea Party In Early Round Of GOP Primaries, Including N. Carolina

The Republican establishment is breathing a collective sigh of relief after Tuesday’s victory by Thom Tillis – speaker of the House in North Carolina – in the state’s GOP primary for US Senate.

Speaker Tillis won 46 percent of the vote, beating seven other competitors, including two insurgent candidates with high-profile support. By topping 40 percent, Tillis avoids a divisive, costly runoff in July. He can now focus immediately on defeating freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D), one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable senators in the November elections.

“Tillis is definitely the most electable among the field,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But it’s not time to pop the champagne. Kentucky and Georgia are next.”

In the Kentucky primary, on May 20, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) looks set to defeat his tea party challenger, businessman Matt Bevin. But in Georgia, also on May 20, the GOP primary for the seat held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) features a crowded field with no clear frontrunner – and appears headed for a July runoff. Some of the candidates are far-right conservatives with a history of making provocative statements. The Democrats have a strong likely nominee in nonprofit CEO Michelle Nunn.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take over the Senate, and can ill-afford to lose any seats they currently hold. The GOP establishment is also loathe to see the party squander pickup opportunities by nominating undisciplined or hard-line candidates who make comments that turn off general election voters.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor 

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Republican Primary’s Absurd Storyline: Why The Media’s Drama Narrative Is All Wrong

The temperature is warming, the flowers are in bloom, the trees are filling out, and it’s an even-numbered year: ahh, it must be primary season, with the sweet smell of headstrong disruption emanating from Republican races across the land. Which “establishment favorites” will be ousted this year for once daring to draw a perceived RINO breath? Which tragicomic, rape-ain’t-so-bad clownheads will replace them and go on to lose seats that they have no business losing? It’s springtime for “Republican civil war” narrative-crafters.

If only there were more material to work with. So far, GOP Primary Season 2014 has been heavily overrated as a stage for intraparty drama.

Let’s consider the main event tonight: North Carolina’s Senate Republican primary, the winner of which will face vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in November.This is the one to watch, we’ve been told. And that’s because it sets up perfectly for political media typecasting. There’s state speaker Thom Tillis, the “establishment” favorite, getting endorsements from the Mitt Romneys and Karl Roves of the world, and having lots of money. Then we have Dr. Greg Brannon, the non-career politician “Tea Party” crusader, endorsed by the likes of Sen. Rand Paul and FreedomWorks and Gadsden flag-wavers everywhere; the guy who can’t go four seconds without quoting some clause of the Constitution that instantly provides the answer to all of our most complex socioeconomic problems. And then there’s Mark Harris, the Mike Huckabee-backed Bible dude.

The establishment guy, the Tea Party guy, the social conservative guy. Got it?

So who’s going to win? Is it a toss-up or something — is that why we’re paying attention? Not really. We’re paying attention to see if there’s going to be… a runoff. A runoff that Tillis, in all likelihood, would win.

But then we get to the sub-sub(?)-narrative, the one that Republican party officials are more worried about: that if Tillis can’t lock up 40% in today’s kickoff special, it will set a cynical, “here they go again” tone within the media for the whole season. From The Hill:

“It’s extremely important. If Tillis avoids a runoff the headline is ‘GOP dodges a bullet’ and if he doesn’t, it’s ‘Hagan dodges a bullet,’” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

O’Connell said the race could help set the tone for the rest of the primary season, for better or worse.

“It’s important for Tillis to get the party beyond this hump psychologically as well. It could make a lot of other things go easier. The last thing the party wants is the ‘here they go again’ narrative,” he said.

Read more Jim Newell at

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Republican Senate Candidates Stake Out Difficult Immigration Stances

While most of the Republicans testing the 2016 presidential waters are in favor of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the GOP’s Senate candidates are generally focusing on the enforcement side, calling for a crackdown — a striking difference that underscores just how difficult the issue is for the party.

With the exception of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, Republican presidential candidates have generally been to the left of their party on immigration, with George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain leading the pack.

The same sort of scenario is playing out in the run-up to the Republican nomination race, with the exceptions of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who opposes amnesty for illegals, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who says that lawmakers should secure the border first before discussing anything else.

But Senate candidates, responding to a much different electorate, tack to the right, and it’s difficult to find even incumbent Republican senators who are running on a platform of legalizing illegal immigrants.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said those candidates are eyeing the presidential math.

“If you go solely for blue collar white voters, yes, you can win a presidential election, there is no doubt about it, but you have to thread a very narrow needle, and that window is going to keep closing,” the strategist said.

“Nobody is saying that immigration is going to get you votes,” he said. “What a lot of people are saying is that, ‘We have a problem and it is only getting exacerbated because it is easier to come her illegally then legally and, frankly, eventually you are going to run out of white voters. So this is more seen as a doorway to being able to being able to begin that conversation.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Fight For Senate Begins In North Carolina

A slew of May primary battles begins Tuesday as the Republican establishment looks to reassert its control over a divided GOP in a number of states.

Its first big test comes in North Carolina, where business-friendly GOP groups have gone all-in for House Speaker Thom Tillis as he seeks to avoid a primary election runoff and turn his focus to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). The race is a top priority for the GOP as it seeks to win back the Senate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads have combined to spend nearly $2.5 million on ads boosting Tillis in the race, deluging the airwaves to raise his name identification. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney endorsed Tillis on Monday, joining former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R).

As the TV battle heated up, Tillis rose quickly on the polls and is now on the cusp of the 40 percent he needs to win the primary on the first try, according to recent public and private polling. If he falls below that mark he’ll have to contend with a mid-July primary runoff against either Tea Party candidate Greg Brannon (R), who is campaigning with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday, or Rev. Mark Harris (R), who has former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s (R) support.

A win on Tuesday allows Tillis to conserve resources for the general election and train his fire on Hagan, who has had a narrow lead against Tillis in most recent public polls. But if he falls short he’ll have to slog it out for another few months, potentially hurting his chances in the general election and giving the Tea Party another shot. 

“It’s extremely important. If Tillis avoids a runoff the headline is ‘GOP dodges a bullet’ and if he doesn’t, it’s ‘Hagan dodges a bullet,’ ”  said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. 

O’Connell said the race could help set the tone for the rest of the primary season, for better or worse.

“It’s important for Tillis to get the party beyond this hump psychologically as well. It could make a lot of other things go easier. The last thing the party wants is the ‘here they go again’ narrative,” he said.

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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GOP Senators Turn Against Their Own In '16

Fearful of a third successive Democratic triumph, concerned Senate Republicans are turning against 2016 presidential bids by upstart hopefuls within their own ranks.

In forceful comments to The Hill, GOP senators made it plain that they would much prefer their party nominate a current or former governor over Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Rand Paul (Ky.).

Those senators have created a buzz among conservative activists, but their colleagues in the upper chamber are eager to support a nominee from outside Washington with a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats.

They worry that Washington has become so toxic that it could poison the chances of any nominee from Congress in 2016.

And history suggests bids from the Senate face structural problems. Only 16 senators have gone on to become commander in chief, including President Obama, who defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. So, it’s not surprising that officials in both parties have long preferred governors to sitting members of Congress. Yet, the emphasis is greater this time around on the GOP side.

Part of the reason is that the political stocks of Paul and Cruz, who have made enemies quickly in the GOP establishment, have risen as Christie’s has sunk.

Republicans say the bottom line is their pick for 2016 has to beat Hillary Clinton, who left the Senate to become Obama’s secretary of State.

Ford O’Connell, who worked on McCain’s 2008 campaign, said a governor can run against Washington as well as his party’s own establishment, an attractive possibility when the GOP’s brand fairs poorly with important electoral blocs, such as Hispanics.

“They recognize the key to winning is demonstrating to voters the value of governing competence over governing ideologically,” he said of Senate Republicans’ preference for nominating a governor who can “run on their own brand versus the party’s brand.”

He argued that the spate of attacks on Christie shows Democratic strategists are much more concerned about him than Paul, Cruz or Rubio.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Expert: Democrats Better Off To Join Benghazi Probe

Despite a call to boycott the Republican push for a select committee investigation of the 2012 Benghazi attack, Democrats will have to take part to avoid losing control of the narrative if more damaging memos emerge about the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks, observers told the Herald.

“The call for a select committee is predicated on those recent memos, with more to come,” said Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution, referring to last week’s so-called smoking gun emails. “So if they were to boycott it, and if they have another one of these Ben Rhodes memos, they’d look really stupid right before the midterm elections. They’d be better off to go along with it and hope nothing else surfaces.”

Hanson said Dems will want to be able to shape questions for officials who come before the committee, particularly if more material emerges like a previously withheld email by White House speech writer Ben Rhodes that documents efforts to frame the terrorist attack as a response to an anti-Muslim video, and another previously classified email that indicated the attack was immediately identified as an Islamic extremist terrorist attack. The 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-
Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” called the Benghazi committee “a tremendous red herring” and a waste of money, and said he’d recommend Democratic leaders boycott it.

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) slammed the boycott suggestion, saying it would be “terribly arrogant” and “wrong.”

“If Democrats boycott this committee, refuse to take part, the American people are going to conclude, and I think quite rightly, that they feel they have something to hide,” King told Fox News.

But GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said Republicans who want to see further inquiry into Benghazi need to be careful about their approach.

“The Republicans really have a little more going for them, but they have to be careful not to be too political about it, and make this about transparency and good government,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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GOP Strategist O'Connell: Dems' Minimum Wage Push Is PR Stunt

The desire by Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage is little more than a campaign ploy ahead of the midterms and Republicans need to do a better job at publicizing the facts, according to Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over 30 months. 

O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on NewsmaxTV the proposal is "the dumbest since New Coke was invented," because of the negative impact it has on job creation and consumer buying power. 

O'Connell added that the bill was another election-year example of "the Democrats [wanting] to run their favorite play: the GOP hates the poor."

"The 21 states and the District of Columbia that have higher than the federal minimum wage standards are also states that not only are Arctic Blue strongholds, but generally speaking, are ones with very, very high unemployment," O'Connell said. "This is nothing more than a campaign tactic. Basically, 60 percent of those who are making the minimum wage are women, and basically another half are under the age of 25. This is about turning out women and minorities and the youth vote at a time that they're abandoning the Democratic Party"

According to O'Connell, the Left has traditionally had the upper-hand in terms of public perception when it comes to the minimum wage debate because Republicans have fallen short in getting their message across.

"Sixty-seven percent of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage," O'Connell said. "Now here's the kicker, 58 percent don't want to do it if it costs jobs. Herein lies the problem for the Republicans: 59 percent of Americans don't understand that if you raise the minimum wage, it's going to cost jobs. Republicans need to get out there and explain that to people and say, 'Hey, don't take our word for it. Listen to the [Congressional Budget Office], the government's bean counter who keeps score on this because they're telling you it's going to cost jobs and hurt your buying power in the long run.'"

Read more from Joe Battaglia at

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Gay marriage: Is GOP Tiptoeing Away From Opposition?

A great debate is going on within the Republican Party over how to handle one of the most sensitive social issues of modern times: the definition of marriage.

Supporters of same-sex marriage point to signs that the party is gradually changing its tune on the issue, as it seeks to grow its appeal among younger voters and project a more inclusive image.

While defense of traditional marriage has long been a defining issue for GOP social conservatives, a recent Pew poll found that 61 percent of Republicans under age 30 favor the right to same-sex marriage.

“The movement in favor [of same-sex marriage rights] is moving much faster than many would have predicted in the Republican Party, but it’s still a very difficult issue,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.  

After the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee (RNC) did some soul-searching on how to widen its appeal among women, minorities, young voters, and other groups that skew Democratic, and released a report on its findings.

It was more a call for a change of tone than a full-on call for support of same-sex marriage. But some Republicans call it an important start.

“You have to have a slow move toward where you’re talking about respect, and saying, ‘Hey, these are people, too,’ ” says Mr. O’Connell, who adds that it’s “highly unlikely” the party’s presidential nominee in 2016 will endorse gay marriage.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Can Obama Deliver Votes In 2014?

“He’s the problem,” a strategist said. “He should stay away.”

The strategist, in this case, was a Republican and the year was 2006, when George W. Bush’s approval rating had sagged so low that few GOP candidates on the midterm ballot wanted to be in the same area code. But it could just as easily be Democrats talking about President Obama today.

Two polls this week gave fresh ache to what strategists have been feeling in their guts for some time: that Obama’s tumbling marks are dragging down hopes of retaining Senate control and reclaiming territory in the House.

The numbers—from the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor and ABC News/Washington Post polls—have given fresh urgency to a question that has been haunting the White House and the Democratic Party for weeks: What do you do with a president who’s being abandoned by voters—particularly independents—in droves?

Unlike four years ago, when Obama was frequently criticized for being disengaged as issues surrounding his economic and legislative agenda were getting Democratic candidates pummeled, the White House has signaled that it will take a more active approach this time, with a revamped internal political operation. The president has made it sound like he doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines, telling a crowd at a fundraiser last month that Democrats paid “a dear price” for being “sleepy” in the 2010 midterms.

But even if Air Force One is fueled up and ready to go, what’s the flight plan?

At the very least, the president is expected to continue raising money nationwide, a task at which he continues to excel—and which is all the more urgent given the recent Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC that made wealthy donors more pivotal than ever. Democrats say that’s the single most critical way he can make a difference, both to help candidates counter attacks from third-party groups and finance GOTV operations.

But beyond that, there are ways in which Obama’s role could be different than Bush’s eight years ago. Then, Bush largely campaigned in friendly states such as Texas and Georgia and avoided battlegrounds. Obama may not be so constrained. He may be the only figure, strategists say, who can drive those to vote who would otherwise stay home.

Sen. Mark Pryor, in a tight battle in Arkansas, is looking for help from the former president, not the current one. For Pryor, “it’s give me Bill Clinton or give me death,” cracks Ford O’Connell, a Republican consultant.

O’Connell says Obama should let Clinton do much of the heavy lifting, particularly in the South, as the ex-president gathers chits for a potential Hillary Clinton run in 2016. “He’s seen as more respected,” O’Connell says.

The most aggressive move, strategists say, would be to send Obama to Atlanta in an effort to get out the black vote for Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia, or even to Louisville, to try and bolster Alison Lundergan Grimes against Sen. Mitch McConnell.

But those moves carry great risk, says O’Connell, the Republican strategist, by potentially galvanizing Republicans and dragging down two candidates who have taken pains to paint themselves as Washington outsiders. Obama to Kentucky, he says, would elevate McConnell and allow him to boast that it took a president to try and stop him. And should McConnell become the leader of a new Republican Senate, that’s something this president would never live down.

Read more from James Oliphant at

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