GA, KY primaries Key To GOP Control Of Senate

Republicans on Tuesday will cast votes in the two states where they are most vulnerable heading into November’s elections — Georgia and Kentucky — where primaries could leave the GOP champions bruised as they prepare to face strong female Democrats.

“If the Democrats win in either Kentucky or Georgia, it will be next to impossible for Republicans to take the Senate in 2014,” said Ford O'Connell, a Republican Party strategist. “That is the bottom line.”

Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania also have primaries Tuesday that will set the lineups for a series of general election showdowns.

But it’s the two Republican-held Senate seats that are getting the most attention because of the stakes involved and the bitter turn the primaries have taken in the five-way Georgia contest, and the Kentucky battle, which pits top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell against tea party-backed Matt Bevin.

While the Kentucky primary is shaping up as formality, the Republican contest in Georgia is far less certain.

If no one wins 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, it will go to a two-candidate runoff in July.

As it stands, the battle for a spot in a runoff race has boiled down to a three-person contest of Rep. Jack Kingston, deep-pocketed businessman David Perdue and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.

That could be a bad omen for Democrats, as polls show likely Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn was performing better against Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul C. Broun, who were seen as the most conservative candidates in the race.

But Mrs. Kingston, Mr. Perdue and Mrs. Handel have engaged in an increasingly vicious campaign, which is likely to continue for another 90 days until the July 22 runoff.

“The question will be: Will the next nine weeks be a civil period or one of scorched earth?” Mr. O'Connell said. “If it is scorched earth, then too many open wounds on the eventually GOP victory could give Nunn an opening.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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John Kerry Suggests New Direction

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s remarks favoring U.S. interventionism in a commencement address at Yale University stand in stark contrast with the Obama administration’s gun-shy responses to strife in Syria and Ukraine — as well as his own historic opposition to U.S. actions overseas.

Instead, Kerry, alarmed by what is happening in the world, appears to be trying to carve out his own stance of America’s role in global affairs independent of his boss in the Oval Office, security and political analysts say.

Speaking from the same stage where he gave a fiery anti-Vietnam, anti-intervention speech upon graduating from Yale in 1966, Kerry told graduates yesterday that America has swung too far toward isolationism.

“We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade,” said Kerry, who initially voted for the Iraq War but later campaigned against it. “I can tell you for certain, most of the rest of the world doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence. They worry what would happen in 
our absence.”

GOP political consultant Ford O’Connell said Kerry’s remarks represent a counterpoint to Obama’s “idealistic” foreign policy philosophy, which he said counts on greater restraint and international cooperation to tamp down hostilities.

“For once in his life, John Kerry’s being a realist. He understands the world is a difficult place,” O’Connell said. “He knows he doesn’t want America to be the world’s policeman, but he knows if America doesn’t have a foothold in international affairs, America’s going to wind up on the losing end. He recognizes that Obama’s held sway over the current generation such that it becomes a problem, into isolationism.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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GOP Strategist O'Connell: It's Not Tea Party Versus Establishment

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says that GOP success is really about "electable candidates," not whether he or she is from the tea party or establishment wing of the party. 

"I just don't focus on tea party versus establishment. I focus on the candidate and the environment they're running in," O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth and John Bachman on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV.

O'Connell argues that the reason why tea party-backed Ben Sasse won the Republican primary in Nebraska Tuesday night is because he's a great candidate. 

"I think the Republican Party might have gotten itself a gem [in Sasse]. A serious conservative who wants to be a problem solver," the Republican strategist said, adding that "they might have actually landed themselves a great future senator."

On the flip side, the reason why tea party candidate Matt Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Republican primary, is struggling is "because basically, he was a flop." 

O'Connell contends that the "political trade winds merit" that the GOP unite together once the primary season is over.

"There is so much in the Republicans' favor and really the issues that all of the candidates are touting are really ones of unity with respect to growth, jobs, Obamacare, energy of security, etc.," he said.

Read more from Courtney Coren at Newsmax.com

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Nebraska Senate primary: Tea Party Gets Its Win, But Not A Flame-Thrower

Ben Sasse, poised to become the next senator from Nebraska, boasted a long list of national tea party supporters in his Republican primary win Tuesday.

For starters, the young university president and former Bush administration official had Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Patriots working on his behalf. But already, Mr. Sasse is sounding more like a uniter than a divider within the fractious Republican Party.

At the end of a nasty primary battle, in which Sasse had run afoul of the most powerful Republican in the Senate – Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, avatar of the Republican establishment – the Nebraskan pledged to work with him.

But to the national tea party groups, that may not matter. They have avoided the possibility of a primary season without a major victory – important, if nothing else, to future fundraising. Sasse won 49 percent of the vote.

Banker Sid Dinsdale, who surged late, fell far short with just 22 percent. Former state treasurer, Shane Osborn, whose campaign was hobbled by mistakes, got 21 percent. Sasse is expected to breeze to victory in November, succeeding retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R).

“On Wednesday, the tea party groups will jump up and down,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “They got their guy. But the good thing for Republicans is that Sasse wants to be a serious conservative and a problem-solver.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor 

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GOP Goes Quiet On ObamaCare

House Republicans have no scheduled votes or hearings on ObamaCare, signaling a shift in the party’s strategy as the White House rides a wave of good news on the law.  

Not a single House committee has announced plans to attack the healthcare law in the coming weeks, and only one panel of jurisdiction commented to The Hill despite repeated inquiries. 

GOP campaign committees also declined to say whether they will launch any new efforts on the law.
 
The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down. Insurers also report that 80 to 90 percent of new policyholders are paying their premiums, contradicting a frequent criticism from the GOP. 

This dynamic was laid bare last week as Republicans failed to land punches against the healthcare law in a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. In a rare display, Democrats began to control the message as witnesses from health insurance companies rebuffed several lines of GOP questioning. 

Republicans are conscious of the need to keep a drumbeat going against the law.The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a memo on Friday that said the law remained deeply unpopular and that “liberal media elites” touting the idea it was a success were beginning to influence beat reporters desperate for a new story.

The memo noted that Democratic candidates aren’t touting their support for the law, a sign of their uneasiness.

Republicans remain confident the reform won’t work, and that the party’s opposition to it will be rewarded in elections to come.

Hitting a new record, 55 percent disapproved of ObamaCare in the latest Pew poll, a finding that bolsters GOP confidence that the law’s unpopularity will help them in this year’s elections.

At the same time, Republican aides and strategists said the party is taking the opportunity to broaden its portfolio of issues ahead of November amid a changing landscape on healthcare

“They are now recognizing that they need to be more than a one-trick pony,” said Ford O'Connell, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign and chairman of CivicForumPAC. 

Read more from Elise Viebeck at The Hill

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Potential 2016 GOP Contenders Address Shortcomings

Several Republicans eyeing a 2016 presidential run have raised eyebrows recently with surprising comments on lightning rod issues like voter identification laws, minimum wage and climate change. The comments reflect both the fractured Republican coalition and the efforts by at least some of the hopefuls to grow the party base.

Take former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is insisting that his party’s stance against raising the minimum wage “makes no sense.” Santorum, who ran unsuccessfully for the party’s nomination in 2012, points to polls that show the vast majority of Americans strongly support a hike from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. The party’s stance of not even considering an increase runs counter to its claims that the GOP is fighting for working class Americans, Santorum says. 

“Let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue collar guy but we’re against any minimum wage hike ever,” Santorum told msnbc. 

Then there’s Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who last week came out against his party’s push for strict voter identification laws. The Tea Party favorite told The New York Times that such initiatives are “offending” minorities and that his party shouldn’t go “too crazy” on the issue. Conservative proponents of voter ID laws argue that such rules are necessary to cut down on voter fraud, while critics say such laws serve to exclude the poor and minorities, who are more likely to not have a government-issue ID (and are more likely to vote Democratic).

And finally Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who this weekend pushed back on overwhelming scientific evidence to announce that he doesn’t believe human activity causes climate change. His remarks came just days after a White House report insisting climate change is a potentially catastrophic reality being hastened by human behavior.  

But Rubio insisted Sunday on ABC’s This Week: “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate.” He added: “Our climate is always changing.”  

Paul is “trying to prove to donors that he can have general election appeal,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. Appell added that Paul may be trying to assure Americans he’s trustworthy on issues of race given his past controversial remarks.

Rubio’s comments reflect a move to re-impress the GOP base. As msnbc has noted, most Republicans who want to be taken seriously in a general election tend to avoid making such controversial statements about climate change, as polls indicate that Americans believe human-included global warming is a very real thing. But because of his push for immigration reform in the Senate, support for Rubio –once seen as the golden boy of the GOP – has been on the decline, something the Sunshine State lawmaker shrugged off over the weekend, insisting he doesn’t pay attention to surveys.

“He needs to improve his conservative bonafides.  As far as the base is concerned, he tripped and fell on immigration,” said O’Connell. 

“Should they run, they recognize there’s a lot of people running,” said O’Connell. “They’re all trying to expand their appeal to voters, albeit in different ways.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com

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GOP Candidates Stumble On Wage Hike

GOP Senate candidates are struggling to find the right message on the minimum wage. 

In competitive fights across the country, Republican candidates are opposing the wage hike, or have sought to dodge the question entirely. 

Opposition puts Republicans on the wrong side of polls that show majorities of voters favor a higher minimum wage. 

It also increasingly highlights a divide within the party, as GOP figures like 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney have publicly endorsed raising the wage.

The result: Republican candidates are stuck in a tough position for fear of upsetting a base that thinks the wage hike would cost jobs.

“They're having a hard time messaging this,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The issue of the minimum wage has dogged Republicans for years ... the hard thing is convincing voters that [raising the minimum wage] is going to cost jobs.”

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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Why Rand Paul Can't Stop, Won't Stop Talking About Hillary Clinton

But when Paul makes comments like he did Friday at the Republican National Committee's spring meeting, arguing that Hillary's handling of Benghazi during her time at the State Department had "precluded" her from being president, it becomes impossible not to see it as 2016 maneuvering.

"The thing is, this is about judgment. And we're talking about, should we as a country have a commander-in-chief who didn't provide adequate security in Libya, didn't send reinforcements and then gave us nothing but spin?," Paul said.

"My opinion is that Hillary Clinton has precluded herself from ever being considered for that position," he told the RNC crowd, to the "loudest applause" of the meeting, according to one observer.

Everybody agrees that it can be only upside for a Republican would-be standard-bearer, especially one who is currently a little outside the mainstream, to spend time assaulting one of the figures most hated by the right. It's good for him, and if does anything to hinder Clinton's expected eventual candidacy, even better.

"Paul gets points for punching hard against Hillary. The base loves it," John Feehery, a Republican strategist based in Washington, D.C., told TPM. "And it won't hurt him to slow her down if he gets the nomination."

Other GOP operatives see Paul trying to shore up his credentials with the Republican establishment, many of whom have openly declared war on his 2016 ambitions. Focusing a favored foreign policy topic, like Benghazi, could help him solidify his standing in an issue area where he has some differences with the mainstream GOP crowd. "By delving into Benghazi, he opens the door to making them more comfortable about his foreign policy," Ford O'Connell, another Republican strategist, told TPM.

"Paul wants Clinton out of the race because GOP mega-donors are not sold on his general election appeal," O'Connell said. "With her out of the way, Paul can make a much more plausible case to donors as to his general election appeal."

Read more Dylan Thomas at Talking Points Memo

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Recovering From Immigration Setback, Rubio Builds Conservative Ties

A year after falling out of favor with fellow conservatives over his push to reform the U.S. immigration system, one-time Tea Party golden boy Marco Rubio is rebuilding bridges with activists on the Republican right who could smooth his way toward a possible White House run in 2016.

Rubio's office is working on economic policies with the influential Heritage Action for America group, which fiercely criticized a bipartisan bill last year partly written by Rubio that would have relaxed immigration laws.

And the first-term U.S. senator from Florida appears to have made up with Tea Party patriarch Jim DeMint, a one-time mentor whose criticism also helped sink the immigration bill.

DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina, leads the Heritage Foundation think tank, which often helps shape the right-wing policy agenda and is affiliated with Heritage Action.

Rubio's warmer ties with high-profile Tea Partiers do not mean he has regained his position as a star with the Republican Party's right wing. But they do appear to be part of an attempt to move on from his setback on immigration and shore up some conservative support in a crowded field of possible right-wing Republican candidates.

Although they have received more attention recently, Rubio's potential conservative rivals in the presidential race, like senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, have yet to really break out as candidates, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Republican strategist O'Connell said Rubio's chances as a presidential hopeful are under-rated.

"The rest of the field both on the establishment side and the conservative side is faltering. Cruz hasn't demonstrated the ability to get beyond the base and Rand Paul's foreign policy has him crosswise with the establishment. So right now Rubio is undervalued as a 2016 candidate," he said.

Read more from Gabriel Debenedetti at Reuters

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Is Monica A Problem For Clinton?

Can Monica Lewinsky still harm the Clintons? 

That was the immediate question in politics after Lewinsky came out of semi-seclusion to write a lengthy article for Vanity Fair magazine. 

Lewinsky’s hesitant steps back into the spotlight were an instant reminder of the unseemly side of the Clinton presidency, something that could complicate a potential 2016 White House bid for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Of course, that’s if voters are really paying attention to Lewinsky, and if they care.

It’s probably too soon to tell for sure, but even some Republican operatives admit it’s possible Lewinsky’s return will be greeted with a shrug.

“The Monica Lewinsky episode was a minefield for Republicans in 1998, and it is going to be a minefield for Republicans who raise it now,” agreed another GOP operative, Ford O’Connell, who recalled the widespread sense that President Clinton’s opponents overplayed their hand on the scandal.

O’Connell cautioned his fellow Republicans that strong attacks on the matter could harm the party among a demographic with which it already struggles.

Read more Niall Stanage at The Hill

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