Florida Could Be Last Stand For Both Rubio And Anti-Trump Campaign

Florida is the final frontier for GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who must squeeze out a win in his home state Tuesday if he hopes to have even a remote chance of getting the nomination. But just as supporters shift from boasting about Rubio’s momentum to whispering and accepting his likely defeat, a last-ditch effort has emerged in the Sunshine State of another kind. Anti-Trump PACs are mounting a media blitz to thwart a Donald Trump win in Florida.

“There are only two people who can win Florida: Trump or Rubio, and right now it looks like Trump is going to win,” said Ford O’Connell, former adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “Rubio would have to clean up everything in South Florida, all 11.5 percent of the state’s voters there.… There’s only so much you can do, and Trump is literally running away with this.”

The most recent poll in Florida shows Rubio trailing Trump by 23 percentage points.  While Rubio has made gains in the past few days, political scientists and strategists in the state remain skeptical that it will be enough to eke out a win.

Read more from Miranda Green at Scripps Media

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Is a Cruz-Fiorina Ticket On The Horizon?

Former Republican rival and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina officially endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Wednesday at a rally in Miami, Florida. Fiorina, who suspended her own presidential campaign last month, told Cruz supporters she checked his name at the ballot box in the Virginia primary last week.

Fiorina, who promoted herself as an ‘outsider candidate’ with business experience, told the audience Cruz is the candidate that stands for conservative principles and “will never settle for the status quo.” 

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and advisor to the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, says with Fiorina’s support people are beginning to see the GOP field as a two-person race between Cruz and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.

“All the bigger name Republicans are starting to pick sides. Clearly with Carly Fiorina, I’m sure there would be place in the cabinet if Cruz wins the nomination, but overall Carly Fiorina is looking to stop Trump and legitimize Cruz’s case,” said O’Connell.

Fiorina, who was the only female GOP candidate in the 2016 race, tried to position herself to be the conservative alternative to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Throughout her campaign she took shots from GOP frontrunner Donald Trump about her business record and her looks. Those comments backfired on Trump, turning off some Republican female voters, which O’Connell says Cruz is poised to gain.

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business

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Donald Trump May Need A Lot Of Rich Backers After All

Even if Donald Trump is “really rich”—as he reminds the world frequently—he doesn’t have nearly enough money to fund a general-election campaign, if he ends up being the Republican nominee for president.

Trump has made it this far mostly by self-funding his campaign, with help from donors who have sent in around $7.5 million in contributions of $2,700 or less. But that model won’t work in the fall if it’s Trump v. the Democratic nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton. “We’ll see an end to the self-funding if he becomes the nominee,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. “He’ll have to raise in excess of $1 billion.”

Republican donors have plenty of money to give, but Trump is in a tricky spot because he has sworn off super PACs, the groups able to raise unlimited amounts from wealthy contributors. Trump says donors writing six-, seven- or eight-figure checks “have corrupted our politics and politicians for far too long,” and has vowed not to accept big donations.

Read more form Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance

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Governors Whiff In Endorsement Game

Sitting governors in both parties seeking to influence the presidential race in their home states are failing miserably so far in 2016.

Republican governors are batting 1-9 with their endorsements. Only Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) got it right by supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who benefitted from home field advantage.

In the Democratic contests to date, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has won in four of the five states where the governor endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All told, the governors have ended up on the wrong side of voters in 12 of 14 elections. More often than not, the candidates they’ve backed were defeated in a rout.

Political analysts say the phenomenon is further evidence of the fierce anti-establishment mood of the electorate, which has buoyed outsider or insurgent candidates like Cruz, Sanders and Donald Trump.

“Voters this year don’t want to be told what to do. They want to make their choice free of anything,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “I don’t know why any of these governors would risk their coattails in a cycle this unpredictable.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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GOP 2016 Race Tightens

The Republican race for the White House is tightening ahead of pivotal clashes next week in Florida and Ohio.

Donald Trump remains the front-runner and is poised for a good night on Tuesday, with polls showing him favored to win three of the four GOP contests on tap, in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho.

Trump has seen his leads narrow over rivals in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, however, making it clear the race for the GOP nomination isn’t over after a weekend in which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gained on Trump in total delegates.

Trump maintains a lead of nearly 100 delegates over Cruz but has been the target of millions of dollars in attack ads amid an accelerating last-ditch campaign by the Republican donor class to destroy him before he can win Ohio and Florida.

Those sharpening attacks, coupled with a trend of late-deciding voters breaking against the billionaire — late-deciders in Louisiana over the weekend almost handed Cruz an upset victory — suggests Trump’s path to the nomination is narrower than it once was.

“I think Trump is hitting a little bit of a speed bump,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said in a telephone interview with The Hill on Monday.

“It’s not devastating, and it can be fixed, but he’s got to go out there and put up some W’s in Florida, Michigan and Ohio.”

“He’s losing steam, but he’s still the person who as of today is most likely to go to Cleveland with the most delegates” but not necessarily 1,237, added O’Connell, who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign but remains neutral in the current race.

Read more from Jonathan Swan and Rebecca Savransky at The Hill

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Florida Looms After Second Win For Marco Rubio

Third-place GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio racked up his second primary win in Puerto Rico yesterday but faces a do-or-die primary in Florida next week, with second-place contender Ted Cruz trying to muscle him out to become the uncontested establishment-favored rival to rogue front-runner Donald Trump.

“Obviously he has to win Florida if he’s going to have a legitimate shot at the nomination, but you’re also assuming his goal is to win the nomination, not stop Trump,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “If his goal is to stop Trump, then no, I do not see him getting out anytime in the near future.”

Rubio, who was born in Miami to Cuban immigrant parents, will face stiff competition for his home state’s winner-take-all 99 delegates from Cruz — also of Cuban descent — who has been beefing up his network of campaign offices in the Sunshine State in recent days.

O’Connell said it smacks of an attempt by Cruz “to end Marco Rubio before Marco Rubio can actually catch up to him in delegates” in the less evangelical states that lie ahead.

A loss in the Florida’s March 15 primary could lead to Rubio’s campaign contributions drying up, money Cruz likely has his eye on.

“People don’t get out of presidential elections because they don’t see a path forward, they get out of presidential elections because the money dries up,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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Hillary Clinton Has Become Inevitable Again

During a campaign stop in Maine, Bernie Sanders offered a contrarian take on his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

The socialist senator from Vermont said that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton had been "anointed by the pundits" from the start. "Well guess what?" he retorted. "It doesn't look like she's so inevitable now."

Maybe that was true in the 48 hours after the New Hampshire primary. But after Super Tuesday, Sanders is probably the only person in the nation's capital who believes Clinton's nomination is anything but inevitable, barring a turn for the worse in the controversy over her private email server.

"Once Joe Biden decided not to run, she was always going to be the nominee," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told the Washington Examiner. "The only question was when."

Read more from Jim Antle at The Washington Examiner

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Debate Fatigue Sets In For GOP

There are two more Republican presidential debates left on the schedule — and that is more than enough for party insiders, who fear that the insult-rich clashes are becoming deeply damaging to the GOP's image.

In their minds, Thursday’s debate in Detroit was a nadir. They single out, in particular, the moment when front-runner Donald Trump sought to rebut implied suggestions from rival Marco Rubio that his manhood was inadequate.

The debate also stooped to name-calling, as Trump constantly referred to Rubio on Thursday night as “Little Marco” and labeled his other main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, “Lying Ted.”  

Cruz — no stranger to robust debating tactics himself — asked plaintively at one point, “Is this the debate you want playing out in the general election?”

Magnifying potential problems for the GOP, the most outlandish clashes were highlighted in the following day’s media coverage, even as pundits criticized the tone.

“The voting window is closing and now they are throwing the kitchen sink out there — and that gets extremely messy,” said another Republican strategist, Ford O’Connell. “This is a complete result of these guys ignoring Trump. They failed Political Communications 101 — they allowed Trump to define himself before they defined him.”

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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Trump Down, But Not Out

His contradictory statements on different issues were replayed Thursday night when 2 of his 3 remaining opponents tag teamed the GOP front-runner — and he clearly did not have a good night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. 

But while a group of neutral observers I talked to shortly after the two-hour forum ended agreed Trump sustained damage, there was disagreement as to whether the momentum he acquired after Super Tuesday was in any way reversed.

“It was raucous, rough, and at times embarrassing,” veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell told me after the debate, “Frankly, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. John Kasich was the adult in the room tonight. He was optimistic and solid on policy minutia. 

"Unfortunately for Kasich, that is just not what a majority of Republican voters are hankering for this cycle.”

Regarding Trump’s performance, O’Connell (who has no horse in the presidential contest) felt that the billionaire “spent an awful lot of time on his heels and explaining his ‘flexibility’ due to the repeated body blows that Cruz and Rubio were delivering with rapid fire. And in politics when you spend an inordinate amount of time explaining, you are losing.” 

As to whether his latest debate performance will ultimately hurt Trump and change the trajectory of the race, O’Connell replied: “We won’t know until the votes are cast in Florida and Ohio. But it is doubtful because as long as the field remains divided, Trump is still likely to skate to the nomination with a plurality of votes because his core 35 per cent support is simply rock solid.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Personal Attacks Trump Policy At GOP Debate

The first Republican debate following Super Tuesday amplified recent mudslinging between presidential primary candidates.

The debate, held at Detroit’s Fox Theater just days before the Michigan primary, featured GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson did not participate after releasing a statement on Wednesdaystating, “I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results.” 

Debate moderators wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room; Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s fiery speech earlier in the day, which laid out his criticisms of the billionaire businessman.

Republican Strategist Ford O’Connell told FOXBusiness.com despite Cruz and Rubio’s best efforts to “Cuban sandwich” Trump, it may be too little too late.

“[The other candidates] allowed Trump to define himself before they could define him. They flat out ignored him for too long.”

He added, “They started to draw blood from Trump [this debate], but did they draw enough with the next set of elections looming?”

Read more from Marissa Piazzola at Fox Business

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