Less than 50 days before the New Hampshire primary, several Republican presidential candidates are looking for big endorsements that might make a difference in one of the most exciting presidential races in history.
Big names including 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have yet to endorse in the race.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a favorite in New Hampshire who won the state's primary in 2008, also could be looking to endorse after Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) decision on Monday to leave the race.
Polls show businessman Donald Trump, who has dominated the Republican race, with a commanding lead in New Hampshire.
The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Trump with more than double the support of Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), his nearest competitors.
Still, there's time for a challenger to topple Trump, expecially if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) manages to win the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.
Neither Cruz nor Trump is a candidate the GOP establishment wants to embrace, leaving several other Republicans to vie for that crown.
Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are all hoping to break out in New Hampshire.
Here’s a look at the top names who might be able to help them with an endorsement.
Graham’s exit from the race on Monday has freed up the GOP’s 2008 nominee to take his support elsewhere and potentially assist in foiling the hopes of Cruz, who he has called a “wacko bird.”
McCain, who has won New Hampshire in two presidential primaries, will make a strong surrogate for someone in the Granite State. He campaigned hard for Graham there, despite the long odds Graham faced.
McCain brings instant credibility among veterans and establishment-minded Republicans alike.
“It’s hard to know if he’s a great endorsement in this era of strong anti-establishment sentiment,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But he brings an aura of competence and he’s someone that a lot of mainstream Republicans have confidence in.”
Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s exit from the race for the Republican presidential nomination may sound like a “so what?” moment for anybody who only focuses on national polls to formulate political predictions, but his departure frees up at least one supporter who could play an important role in the nation’s first primary state: John McCain. The Arizona senator who had closely aligned himself to Graham's White House bid can now lend his support to any other candidate he pleases, and that vote of confidence could be a powerful message to voters in New Hampshire, a state that has been good to McCain in the past.
“Even though the John McCain style is out of vogue in this election cycle, the one place he has a big impact is in New Hampshire,” Ford O’Connell, a political strategist who worked for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said, referring to McCain's general reputation as a traditional and respectful politician (the 2008 general contest not withstanding). O’Connell said that Graham and McCain have a long history together, and that the South Carolinian also spent a lot of time on the 2008 campaign trail to help boost his Southwest colleague's odds.
With that said, it is still unclear who might win McCain’s favor now that Graham has called it quits. The 2008 nominee may not throw his weight behind anyone else before the New Hampshire primary occurs, O’Connell. Instead, he’ll likely wait it out while commenting on their specific policy proposals. If there’s anyone who McCain seems most likely to agree with – and it is definitely possible he could still make a last minute decision in the week between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire to tip the scales against Donald Trump – it would likely be one of two candidates who have been rising recently in polls.
“I promise you that, whoever he backs, it will not be Donald Trump,” he said. “I see McCain weighing in on issues, but, you know, if you had to look: I think [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie and [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio are likely.”
Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times
The immigration debate between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas has touched off a full-blown war of words on the campaign trail.
"Immigration is an issue which is near and dear to the heart of most of the Republican electorate and what Cruz and Rubio realize is they've got to knock each other off for the potential to face Trump," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, who is not affiliated with any of the 2016 candidates.
The battle lines have been drawn.
"What Cruz wants to do is to slime Rubio as an establishment RINO before Rubio can gain any momentum in New Hampshire." ("RINO" stands for "Republican in name only, a contemptuous term the most conservative Republicans use to describe their more moderate counterparts.)
Cruz's weapon of choice is what conservatives refer to as "amnesty," a path to citizenship.
"What Rubio's doing...by going after Cruz on this issue is to say, 'Wait a minute, you've portrayed yourself as a straight talker and you're lying through your teeth,'" O'Connell told CBS News.
Read more from Rebecca Kaplan at CBS News
Nearly half of New Hampshire Republicans rank terrorism among the top issues driving their choice for president, while just 17 percent of Democrats feel the same way, according to a new Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll.
“The point is that voters want to feel safe,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told the Herald. “Right now it’s a bigger issue for the Republicans, but it could turn into a much bigger thing for Democrats depending on how world events unfold leading up to the election.”
In a clear sign that the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have Republicans looking to elect a president that will be tough on jihadis, 46 percent of those polled had terrorism in their top three issues, and 24 percent said it was their top deciding issue.
Less than 6 percent of Democrats had terror at the top of their list.
The disparity, O’Connell said, shows the increasing focus on terrorism by Republican presidential candidates is having an impact on voters. The constant use of the word “safe” during Tuesday night’s final Republican primary debate, O’Connell said, was no accident.
“One example of that is Chris Christie shifting from being a New Jersey governor to being a federal prosecutor with a history of prosecuting terrorists,” O’Connell said.
“Candidates want to talk about issues and policies, but at the end of the day there are certain buzzwords that will make voters feel better about them.”
Read more from Owen Boss at The Boston Herald
But at CNN's Republican debate Tuesday, the former Florida governor tore into the GOP front-runner, solidifying himself as the establishment's primary attack dog against Trump.
While Bush has been willing to bash Trump for months -- firing off one of his biggest shots last week when he called his rival "unhinged" for proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country -- Bush's Tuesday debate performance showcased a new turbocharged offensive against the billionaire businessman.
Bush now rests in the mid-to low single digits in national polls, while Trump has expanded his lead, coming in at 38% in an ABC News/Washington Post survey earlier this week. All other candidates came in at 15% or below. Bush had 5%.
While some of Bush's donors have been pressing for an aggressive take-down of Trump -- who also won praise for his debate performance -- it's unclear whether that strategy will pay dividends for Bush.
Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said Bush's pushback was strong, but appeared to be a last-resort tactic.
"He sees the writing on the wall, so now he's throwing caution to the wind even with respect to Trump mania and is trying to pull every rabbit out of the hat," he said. "The question is will it resonate with GOP primary voters? One thing is for sure: if this were a general election, Jeb would be in far greater shape."
Read more from Ashley Killough at CNN
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were the big winners of the latest Republican presidential debate — so say political thinkers I interviewed following the battle.
While Donald Trump’s statement that he would support the eventual GOP nominee was certainly newsworthy, it was the clash of sons of Cuban immigrants and the scenario of a nomination fight coming down to Rubio and Cruz that captivated almost everyone.
“A new defining dynamic in Rubio-Cruz” is what emerged from the CNN-sponsored forum in Las Vegas, according to veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell. “Daily Caller” blogger Matt Lewis, author of “Too Dumb to Fail,” concluded that “the real action was between Rubio and Cruz.” (Neither Lewis nor O’Connell, nor anyone else on our panel, has a favorite in the presidential contest.)
Consultant O’Connell told me there was “no clear winner, yet three candidates excelled in the debate: Cruz, Rubio, and Trump. That said, we have a new defining dynamic in Rubio-Cruz.
"They canceled each other out on the stage — Rubio bested Cruz on foreign policy and national security, but Cruz outflanked Rubio on immigration. Trump-mania will keep rolling along because a significant portion of the Republican electorate is fed up with ‘politics as usual.’”
In forecasting a protracted clash between first-term Sens. Rubio and Cruz, O’Connell noted that Rubio has mastered presentation and substance, and Cruz, already strong on substance, has perfected the art of using conservative talk-radio buzzwords. Both are effective, depending on your base of support.
Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax.com
While many viewers were fixed on the ongoing political spectacle that is Donald Trump during Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio only had eyes for each other.
The two first-term senators - one from Texas and the other from Florida, both the 44-year-old sons of Cuban fathers and both rising conservative stars in the party - made it evidently clear that they see the other as the primary obstacle to securing the nomination if Trump, the current front-runner, falters.
As such, they engaged in an arm-wrestling contest for most of the evening, sparring on Middle Eastern policy, national security and immigration.
“The Cruz-Rubio battle is now a defining dynamic in this race,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.
Both largely left Trump alone - and in fact, when Cruz was invited by debate moderators to attack the real estate mogul, he demurred.
But Cruz had no such restraint when it came to Rubio. Among other criticisms, he accused him of being soft on immigration policy because he helped craft a comprehensive reform measure in the Senate.
A win by Cruz in Iowa could severely damage Trump’s bid, as the real estate mogul’s political message is largely grounded in his current dominance of opinion polls. It could also hand Cruz the kind of momentum that could derail Rubio’s bid to be the candidate around whom anti-Trump voters rally.
“They’re (both) trying to reach as wide a swath of non-Trump voters as possible,” O’Connell said.
Read more from James Oliphant and Emily Stephenson at Reuters
Donald Trump is a distant second in campaign for the first 2016 presidential nominating contest in Iowa. But if the views of some of the nation's most hard-core Republicans are any indication, the billionaire has enough support to remain a factor in the race for quite some time.
Among those planning to attend the state's Feb. 1 Republican caucuses, 50 percent told the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll that Trump says "things that need to be said" and they hope hope he continues to do so.
The poll bolsters concerns on the part of Republican Party leaders who are gradually coming to terms with the fact that Trump has a large enough and committed enough base of supporters to continue to be a major factor in the race, even if he fails to score wins in Iowa and other early contests.
"His supporters are going to stay with him, come hell or high water," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who served on Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. "No one knows how to stop it."
Read more from John McCormick at BloombergPolitics
By now, it’s pretty well established that Ted Cruz is not the most popular guy on Capitol Hill. When reporters write articles describing his colleagues’ feelings about the Texas senator, the words “hate” and loathe” make frequent appearances. And now that Cruz is surging in the Republican presidential primary, his chief rival appears to be making Cruz’s pariah status in D.C. a campaign issue.
“When you look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac,” Donald Trump said in a Fox News interview on Sunday. “You can’t walk into the Senate and scream and call people liars and not be able to cajole and get along with people. He’ll never get anything done, and that’s the problem with Ted.”
It sounds like a pretty reasonable knock against a guy who wants to run the country. If the members of legislative branch can’t stand him, how could it possibly make sense to put him in the White House?
But consider this: In the recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of voters in the key early voting state of Iowa, Republican voters were asked who, among the top GOP candidates, would work most effectively with Congress. At the top of the heap, with 31 percent of the vote, was Cruz.
How is this possible? Sure, members of Congress don’t like Cruz. But it’s important to remember, the general public loathes Congress. What we’ve got here is a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation.
“The fact that Cruz is disliked by Washington is seen as a positive,” agreed Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “There’s also this idea that if he’s in Congress, he knows how to change Congress.”
Trump, he said, might decide that helping Cruz paint himself as the anti-Washington candidate is actually a poor choice.
“Part of the reason why Trump said that this weekend is that he likes to send up trial balloons. He likes to see what sticks when another candidate starts nipping at his heels.… He just hasn’t figured out what’s going to take down Cruz yet.”
Painting him as unpopular in Washington might not be the way to do it.
Read more from Rob Garver at The Fiscal Times
The GOP establishment’s mounting attacks on bombastic front-runner Donald Trump’s ability to lead the free world might be letting a little air out of his run, political operatives said — but they could backfire on the moderates.
GOP leaders and top donors have been huddling in recent weeks, strategizing on how to cut Trump out. Ad campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire by PACs for Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are hinting at disaster if Trump ends up in the Oval Office.
But the more moderate candidates show little sign of benefitting. Instead, it was ultraconservative Ted Cruz who pulled ahead of Trump in Iowa last week with 28 percent to Trump’s 26 percent in a Fox News poll. In New Hampshire, Cruz has jumped from sixth place in October to second place last week.
And operatives said the GOP has to be careful about fielding someone like Mitt Romney to counter Trump — a party standard-bearer who’s involvement could be seen by Trump supporters as a badge of honor.
Trump has to emerge unscathed from tomorrow night’s CNN debate and the holiday break to secure a good showing in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, Griffin said. But GOP insider Ford O’Connell said Trump remains a force to be reckoned with.
“This guy’s defied political gravity at least 17 times thus far,” O’Connell said. “If anyone is going to stop Donald Trump, it’s going to be Donald Trump.”
Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald