Thad Cochran’s Seat In Peril With Chris McDaniel’s Edge

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and insurgent challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel were locked in a tight battle as the votes were being counted late into the night here in the marquee Republican Senate primary race of the night Tuesday.

The six-term incumbent faced the real possibility of being forced into a politically perilous run-off June 24 as the result could have a major impact on Republican hopes of recapturing the Senate in November.

To win the nomination outright, a candidate needed to secure 50 percent of the vote. With 86 percent of the precincts reporting late Tuesday evening, Mr. Cochran trailed with 48.4 percent to 50.0 percent for Mr. McDaniel, with a third candidate taking the rest.

Mr. Cochran’s supporters hoped the incumbent could hang on for an outright win, fearing that a runoff later this month would favor his tea party-backed opponent.

The winner of the runoff will face former Rep. Travis Childers, who easily won the Democratic nomination and could benefit from an extended battle on the Republican side.

Ford O’Connnell, a Washington-based GOP consultant, said that Mr. McDaniel sent a message with his strong showing.

“Cochran has thrown everything at McDaniel including the kitchen sink and there is no question McDaniel is standing his ground,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Without Rose-gate this might likely already be over, because it increased turnout.”

Mr. O’Connell also said that Democrats are looking to expand the map wherever they can and are more likely to invest in the race if Mr. McDaniel wins the race.

“They are going to look for every opportunity they can to try to force Republicans to pick up seven seats,” he said. “So they could start to marshal resources if McDaniel won, but it is still a long shot even if McDaniel is the nominee.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Sen. Cochran And Tea Party Challenger In Dead Heat In Mississippi GOP Primary

The intense struggle for control of the Republican Party came to a dramatic head in Mississippi on Tuesday when Sen. Thad Cochran faced a stiff challenge from the tea party-backed Chris McDaniel in a nasty and expensive primary contest that was too close to call with a majority of the ballots counted.

With more than 95 percent of the vote tallied, McDaniel was ahead by less than one percentage point and the possibility of runoff in three weeks looked increasingly real.

Cochran went into the contest at risk of becoming the first U.S. senator to be toppled this year in an ongoing struggle between the GOP establishment and the conservative insurgency. With nearly all precincts reporting, McDaniel had 49.5 percent of the vote to Cochran’s 49 percent. If neither campaign can claim 50 percent of the vote, it would mean a second faceoff, on June 24. Late Tuesday, two counties had still not reported any results, according to the Associated Press.

The more than $12 million campaign tested the might of two starkly different Republicans split along generational and ideological lines. It came as tea party challengers elsewhere fizzled against more moderate GOP senators. The result, some Republicans said, was a coalition of national tea party groups desperate for a victory.

“They really want a McDaniel win because they want a head on the mantel,” party strategist Ford O’Connell said. Tea party groups “need to be able to raise money” to stay afloat, he added, “and to raise money, you have to show results.”

Read more from Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post

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Republicans’ Attempts At Obamacare Replacement Stall

The GOP push to replace Obamacare is stuck in neutral, with Republicans deeply fractured over what to do and fearful of giving President Obama and his Democratic allies an easy target ahead of November’s elections.

House Republican leaders vowed earlier this year to craft and vote on a bold proposal to fulfill the second part of its repeal-and-replace approach to Obamacare. But those plans have been derailed by rank-and-file lawmakers who say they want to see tweaks, but don’t want to vote on sweeping alternatives.

But Republicans say doing a broad replacement has become tougher after the immigration debate in the Senate last year, which made “comprehensive” a dirty word in GOP circles.

Republicans also fear that writing a specific plan will give Mr. Obama the chance to switch from defense to offense, particularly if the GOP comes up with a plan that costs less, but does not insure as many people as Obamacare.

“It is absolutely frustrating,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “But, essentially, elections don’t lend themselves to pragmatic policy development.”

In the Senate, legislative aides said Republicans are reluctant to expend energy on an alternative that will be ignored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Instead, they said a more practical method is to file amendments to scrap the medical device tax or other parts of the law before putting Mr. Obama’s veto pen to test by retaking the chamber in November.

Republican lawmakers said the law cannot be fixed and should be scrapped, but many realize their hopes for repeal are moot until control of the White House changes hands.

Read more from Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times

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Is Bowe Bergdahl The GOP’s New Benghazi?

It looks like Bowe Bergdahl may become Republicans’ new Benghazi. 

President Barack Obama on Saturday proudly announced the release of the only known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. But the GOP appears determined to turn what seemed like a big win for the White House into a major thorn in the commander-in-chief’s side.

Republicans are piling on Obama for releasing five Taliban militants in exchange for Bergdahl, suggesting the president negotiated with the enemy. They’re also complaining that he did not notify Congress before the swap. Complicating matters are questions about the circumstances under which Bergdahl, now 28, disappeared  in 2009 – with some of his former colleagues declaring him a deserter and claiming U.S. soldiers were killed as a result of searching for the Idaho native.

For his part, Obama has been playing a lot of defense over the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl, who was being held captive by what’s believed to be the Haqqqani terrorism network since 2009.

Obama’s announcement of Bergdahl’s release comes at a rocky time for the president – and a mere day after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned following reports that VA hospitals falsified waiting lists.

Some observers are asking whether the Obama Administration may have miscalculated on how Bergdahl’s release would be perceived.

“You have to question how well they thought out these optics,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. 

Still, O’Connell, the GOP strategist, warned Republicans have the potential to shoot themselves in the foot.

“Republicans need to tread lightly on this highly sensitive subject matter,” he said. “Not all the facts are on the table. There are a lot of unanswered questions. What they really need to be doing is pushing for accountability and transparency, otherwise they could go down the wrong rabbit hole and it could blow up in their face.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com

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News Analysis: U.S. Democrats Brace For Obamacare's Impact On Midterm Congressional Elections

While many problems with U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul have been cleared up, Democrats may still feel the sting of public dislike for the new law in November's midterm Congressional elections, experts said.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, sparked controversy eight months ago on the law's botched rollout, as its centerpiece website saw numerous technical glitches and around 4 million Americans were dropped from their healthcare plans after their coverage did not comply with Obamacare's requirements.

While the U.S. economy and jobs still top the list of Americans ' concerns, Obamacare risks becoming somewhat of a poster child for all that Americans believe is wrong with the White House and Democrats, analysts said.

"Obamacare is really a symptom of all of the issues. It's really a symptom that people are unhappy with Washington. And right now they're willing to (elect) anyone who (they feel) is going to give them a better path to the future," Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua. "Obamacare is the symbol right now for all that (people feel is) going wrong with respect to big government solutions."

Though the Obama administration is boasting higher-than- expected enrollment for the new healthcare law, only a minority of Americans -- 43 percent -- approve of the healthcare overhaul, a Gallup poll found Thursday. 

Moreover, Obama's flagging approval numbers and voters' wariness of Obamacare are bedeviling Democrats in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, with Republican candidates taking the lead in a number of competitive races, a Politico poll released earlier this month found.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at ShanghaiDaily.com

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News Analysis: White House Plays Defense Amid Growing Controversies

The White House has its back against the wall amid myriad scandals, forcing the administration to go on the defensive, U.S. experts say.

The controversies are numerous, ranging from last year's snooping by the Justice Department on journalists to the powerful Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting conservative groups. The White House's perceived obfuscation after the terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has also drawn controversy.

In recent weeks, the Veterans Affairs department has come under fire amid accusations that 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at hospitals administered by the department.

That has left the White House reeling, scrambling to control the damage as it goes into defense mode.

When news of the veterans scandal broke last week, U.S. President Barack Obama held a quickly arranged press briefing to address the issue, telling reporters "people will be held accountable."

But the statements have not held back the tide of criticism, and analysts say the White House needs to re-assess its media strategy and work overtime to get its message out.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said the White House's strategy would be to try to change the subject.

"We're seeing this with the foreign policy speech (Obama) is delivering on Wednesday. He's mired below the 40 percent mark. And when your approval rating is that low, you're going to do anything you can to try to change the subject or at least shift the spotlight on to the Republicans," O'Connell told Xinhua.

He said the typical way the White House handled scandals was to first declare outrage, then call for a study into the issue and six months later either declare the problem solved or blame the Republicans.

The myriad scandals have caused those Democrats in Congress who are facing re-election this year to distance themselves from the White House.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost

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Even Back Home In Virginia, Cantor Feels The Pressure On Immigration From Both Sides

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took heat in his own backyard Wednesday from both sides of the immigration debate, trying to fend off a primary challenge from his right flank even as he faces scorching pressure from immigrant rights advocates to lead Republicans in passing legislation.

The pressure from both sides makes Mr. Cantor a microcosm of the dilemma Republicans face nationally.

Minutes after primary challenger Dave Brat held a press conference at the Virginia Capitol accusing Mr. Cantor of being “the number one cheerleader in Congress for amnesty,” immigration activists were rallying inside the building, demanding that the No. 2 House Republican bring a legalization bill to the House floor for a vote this year.

Trying to push back, Mr. Cantor’s campaign sent out a mailer this week arguing he’s been the chief obstacle to amnesty.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said that taking heat from both sides is the price Mr. Cantor is paying for having good intentions and trying to step out on the issue.

“Passing the Senate’s bill is not an option for Cantor or House Republicans,” he said, predicting the House would become more open to dealing with the issue if Republicans take back control of the U.S. Senate in the fall midterm elections.

Read more from David Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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Strategist Ford O'Connell: Republicans Must Woo Hispanics

Supporting in-state college tuition for Florida's undocumented immigrants is "politically smart" for Gov. Rick Scott as he tries to hang onto his job against challenger Charlie Crist, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Newsmax TV on Wednesday. 

"He's got to tap into the 23 percent of Floridians who are Hispanic, and this is a way to open the door," O'Connell told "America's Forum" host John Bachman and Newsmax contributor Francesca Page.

"It is a little early to say" whether Scott's embrace of a position that plays well with Hispanic voters will, in turn, help Republican presidential candidates in 2016, O'Connell says. But he said that what is "a pragmatic policy" for one state could serve as a model for a GOP White House run.

"The only question is do you actually make the right outreach?" O'Connell said. "And at the end of the day, if Republicans want to win the White House in 2016, they're going to need Hispanics in the tent."

Read more from Sean Piccoli at Newsmax.com

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News Analysis: U.S. Media Turning Against Obama As Scandals Pile Up

While long perceived by critics to favor U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. media is now beginning to turn against him.

Critics have for the last several years blasted mainstream U.S. media for what they billed as favoritism toward Obama, the fist black president in the U.S. history, while seeming to sweep perceived White House missteps under the rug.

But now, as scandals pile up one after another, it has become increasingly difficult for media to ignore the controversy, the latest being accusations that U.S. veterans have died due to delays in treatment at veterans'hospitals.

Indeed, the scandals are numerous, ranging from last year's snooping by the Justice Department on journalists to the powerful Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups. The White House's perceived obfuscation after the terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has also drawn controversy.

In recent weeks, the Veterans Affairs department has come under fire amid accusations that 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at hospitals administered by the department.

The New York Times, long perceived by critics to favor Obama, recently ran a headline referring to Obama's "setbacks" in Japan and the Middle East. The Times'columnist Maureen Dowd also recently upbraided the administration over the 2012 Benghazi attacks that left four Americans dead, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

Many other publications have run stories critical of Obama's landmark healthcare overhaul, also known as Obamacare.

"They're certainly not going to be coddling him," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of media treatment of Obama in the lead up to the midterm elections.

"Unless the economy makes a dramatic improvement, and with the (veterans') scandal, it's hard to see how the media will take the spotlight off Obama, but then again all it really takes is some Republican gaffe somewhere" for the media to put its focus elsewhere, he said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost

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News Analysis: Obama To Make Foreign Policy Speech Amid Charges Of Weakness

U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to make a speech on Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, as critics cast him as a foreign policy paper tiger.

Obama's foreign policy approval ratings stand at a mere 39 percent, and critics say the president's repeated "red line" remarks -- that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a line that could invite U.S. military intervention -- have caused countries worldwide to see him as a leader who fails to follow words with action.

Indeed, critics called his "red line" statements tantamount to giving Moscow a green light to deploy troops to the Crimea in recent months, although Russia said the move was intended simply to protect ethnic Russians there.

Some critics call the U.S. response to Russia almost comical. After Obama lambasted Moscow for what he said was acting contrary to international law, he merely slapped travel bans on a handful of Russians, which was viewed as a lackluster response by those who advocated much harsher sanctions. 

Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday publicly mocked Obama. In a move that made many Americans cringe, Putin asked why "doesn't (Obama) get a job in a court or something," in an interview with the CNBC in St. Petersburg.

Obama's speech, to be made at the West Point commencement ceremony, is expected to counter suggestions that the president lacks resolve in the foreign policy realm. U.S. media reported Tuesday that Obama will explain his brand of foreign policy is international, rather than isolationist.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that the main criticism of Obama's foreign policy "is his aversion to military action that makes it harder for the U.S. to levy credible threats that force international foes to change their behavior."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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