Why Tonight's GOP Debate Might Make Or Break Campaigns

What's at stake for all but one of the 16 candidates set to participate in the GOP's second televised debate Wednesday evening?

Money, and with it, the survival of any given candidacy.

A weak performance Wednesday night could cause a candidate's fundraising to dry up, and with it, his or her campaign. A strong performance, on the other hand, could energize fundraising before a deadline at the end of this month.

"This is psychological warfare," as Republican strategist Ford O'Connell put it. "[Candidates] need to do well to make sure others don't get the money.... No one wants to be the next Rick Perry."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush needs to do well enough "to pacify jittery donors," says Mr. O'Connell. "They're not sure he can come out on top. His supporters are looking at others like [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich and [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio. Bush needs to make sure others don't get the money."

Read more from Husna Haq at The Christian Science Monitor

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GOP Debate: What Donald Trump (And Everyone Else) Needs To Prove

If the first Republican presidential debate was any guide, Wednesday night’s sequel on CNN will be must-see TV. Once again, the top-polling Donald Trump will stand center stage at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California, and 10 others – now including the GOP field’s only woman, Carly Fiorina – will flank him. Mr. Trump will have a big bull’s-eye on his back.

But everyone has something to prove in the debate, which starts at 8 p.m. Eastern. Here’s the rundown:

Ben Carson. The renowned neurosurgeon is nipping at Trump’s heels in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, scoring 23 percent to Trump’s 27 percent. That sets up a potential showdown Wednesday between the field’s top two outsiders. Their styles couldn’t be more different – brash Trump vs. soft-spoken Carson – but they’re both effective. Unlike the self-funding Trump, Dr. Carson needs to raise money, and a strong debate performance will boost his already-surging fundraising.

Carson also needs more air time. In the Aug. 6 debate, he seemed to get lost in the crowd until the very end, when he memorably spoke of separating conjoined twins – and about Washington’s lack of brains.

This time, Carson “has to show that he is more than a ‘one hit wonder’ if he wants to continue his surge in the polls,” writes Republican strategist Ford O’Connell in an e-mail. “Ideally, Carson wants to portray himself as the ‘adult’ outsider in contrast to Trump’s three-ring circus.”

Marco Rubio. The junior senator from Florida has also gotten a bit lost amid Trump-mania, but he won strong reviews for his performance in the first debate and so he’s a “sleeper” – someone who could catch on if GOP voters’ love affair with outsiders fades or if Bush fails to catch on.

“He needs to show that he has the chops to be commander-in-chief,” says Mr. O’Connell. “Foreign policy questions could give Rubio that opportunity.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Republican Debate 2016: Marco Rubio Down In Polls, But CNN Presidential Event Could Be His Moment

When Marco Rubio announced his U.S. Senate campaign in 2009, nobody gave him much of a chance at winning the primary race against Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida and one of the most popular politicians in the state. But less than a year later, he took his party’s nomination from Crist in an major upset that launched him onto the national stage and made him a GOP darling.

Rubio will find himself in a familiar place Wednesday when he stands alongside his 10 competitors during the second Republican presidential debate. He's in fifth place in an average of national polls and down 24 points in the crowded field that includes a reality TV star who seems capable of captivating voter attention in a way that no one else can and a man whose last name has been associated with the White House since 1988. But while Rubio's odds seem long for 2016, trailing in the polls has helped keep him out of Donald Trump's cross hairs, allowed him to quietly raise money and introduce his ideas to voters without too much media scrutiny, meaning Rubio could once again be poised to turn his underdog status into a victory.

"He has that potential. Instead of worrying about everyone else he needs to make sure that he finds the windows where he can excel and shine," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington, D.C. who worked for the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket in 2008 but is unaffiliated with any of the 2016 presidential campaigns. "The big thing for him is that he needs to overcome this perception that he's young and not ready to be commander in chief."

Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times

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Republicans Reload For Simi Valley Showdown

Republican establishment candidates face a new challenge in Wednesday night’s second GOP presidential debate: how to capture the excitement of primary voters that is now squarely behind the outsiders.

Meanwhile, front-runner Donald Trump, second-place Ben Carson and rising star Carly Fiorina have to show they could lead the country.

Here’s a look at what Republicans say each candidate needs to do for a successful showing Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Donald Trump

Republicans say the billionaire businessman will need to conjure all of his skills as a supremely confident showman and entertainer to handle the increased scrutiny and attacks likely headed his way.

However, many Republicans say he also needs to display a strong grasp of policy while laying out a vision for the country that goes beyond the insistence that he’ll “make America great again” by “winning” at everything.

Of course, the normal rules don’t seem to apply to Trump, who led the RealClearPolitics average of polls on Tuesday with 30 percent support.

“I’m not sure he needs to do anything other than continue to be the dominant alpha male,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “It’s worked for him so far.”

Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and Rand Paul

Paul has been “completely marginalized,” O’Connell said. In a move that has doomed other desperate candidates, the Kentucky senator is committed to taking on Trump. Republicans say his bigger focus should be to re-energize a libertarian base that seems to have cooled on his candidacy.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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6 Things To Watch For In The Second Republican Debate

Fifteen Republicans enter Wednesday’s second Republican debate with at least one similar goal: Pull off a game-changing performance that will challenge Donald Trump’s front-runner status in the 2016 presidential race.

“I hear they’re all going after me,” Trump told his audience of 18,000-plus at a campaign rally in Dallas on Monday. “Whatever. Whatever!”

Eleven candidates will stand on the main stage Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., while four face off in an earlier undercard debate.

Here are six things to watch for:

2. THE 11TH PODIUM

The addition of Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP race, to the main stage could slow down any candidate on the Testosterone Express, conservative analysts said.

“Having ‘The Donald’ confront the female recipient of his recent insults on national television could be the most intriguing subplot of the second debate,” said Ford O’Connell, a Virginia-based GOP strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain/Palin presidential campaign.

“With Trump, nothing is out of bounds, but even Trump has to be slightly concerned about the optics of this potential spectacle,” O’Connell said.

Some conservative women, including the top two elected female GOP officials in first-in-the-nation Iowa, have chastised Trump for remarks they consider inappropriate or sexist – including the way he mocked Fiorina’s looks in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

Read more from Jennifer Jacobs at The Des Moines Register

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4 Republicans In Debate Try To Make It To Main Bout

The Republican 2016 hopefuls relegated to Wednesday’s preliminary GOPpresidential debate have a new sense of urgency after their ranks were culled last week with the withdrawal of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry from the race and the elevation of one of their own, Carly Fiorina, to the main stage.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York Gov. George Pataki are all hoping to score the kind of performance that will help them emulate Ms. Fiorina. But operating low-budget campaigns without the kind of attention reserved for the big-name candidates, they are in danger of following Mr. Perry, who flamed out last week.

Most of the attention will go to the 11 candidates in the main event at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The preliminary affair begins at 6 p.m. East Coast time, while the main debate begins after 8 p.m.

Debates can be crucial for cash-strapped candidates who are looking to gain some traction against some of their better-funded rivals. And being part of the preliminary debate could even be beneficial for the four lower-tier candidates, because they’ll get more airtime per person to make their pitch, compared to the 11-person free-for-all that will ensue later.

But Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said it will be tough for the candidates to make gains.

“I don’t know that any of them can get out of the losers’ table,” Mr. O’Connell said. “I mean, seriously, they might need an act of God.

“For Fiorina, she is a special case. She is the only female in the field, and she presented herself well. The others are careers politicians, and the voters are not up for a career politician being up there right now,” he said.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Ben Carson, Donald Trump Ready For Battle Of Outsiders

The second Republican presidential debate is shaping up as a battle of the outsiders, with Donald Trump and Ben Carson poised to take center stage.

Neither man has held, or even run for, elected office before — but that’s where the similarities end.

Carson’s team sees little merit in attacking Trump head-on, preferring to heighten the temperamental contrast between the self-effacing retired neurosurgeon and the exuberantly bombastic businessman.

In his disinclination to spoil for a fight, Carson may be learning lessons from others who have tangled with Trump and lost. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was among Trump’s most aggressive attackers — right up until last week, when he became the first of the 17 major GOP candidates to exit the race.

Such a combative approach would, in any event, go against part of Carson’s core appeal: his ability to champion conservative policies in an affable way.

Asked about the merits of the retired doctor taking on Trump, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell observed: “Carson pulled back on that, and he was right to pull back on it, because it’s not his M.O.” 

O’Connell was referring to the brief contretemps that erupted last week when, in seeking to describe the differences between himself and the billionaire, Carson said, “I’ve realized where my success has come from, and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God.”

Whether Trump will see things that way, however, remains to be seen.

Many observers note that, of late, Trump has turned his fire on Carson and another non-politician, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, after focusing much of his attention on establishment figures such as Bush.

Trump, some Republicans believe, is keen to undermine Carson and Fiorina as much as possible, in order to consolidate the anti-establishment vote.

“Trump wants to destroy Carson before he can get his legs under him. Trump sees Carson as a potential Trump-slayer because of his appeal to ‘outside’ voters,” said O’Connell.

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill 

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Ben Carson Resists 'Gladiator' Battle With Donald Trump, Dismisses Insults

As former pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson rises in the polls, he has taken a very different approach to dealing with 2016 Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump from many of his opponents.

After Carson made a comment last week appearing to question Trump's religious faith, he apologized in multiple interviews, suggesting the media misrepresented his comments to create a conflict between the leading Republican candidates.

New polls released Monday further solidified Trump and Carson's positions at the top of the Republican field. A Washington Post/ABC News national poll found Trump leading with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with 33%, Carson with 20%, and Jeb Bush a distant third with 8%.

With Carson now sharing the campaign spotlight as the second Republican debate approaches, media attention has focused on the matchup between him and Trump, but Carson has been cautious in taking on the front-runner. Political observers say that resistance to negative campaigning is part of his appeal.

Trump's attacks on Carson have not been as sharp or relentless as those he has launched against other candidates like Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul.

"Calling him an okay doctor is not going to be an effective line of attack," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

If Trump is going to criticize Carson, O'Connell said, "What he needs to be focusing on is, does Carson have the qualifications to run the country."

Carson's unique position in the Republican field may contribute to his strategy. He and Trump are both vying for the support of angry anti-establishment voters, so if he can sell himself as the more responsible, mature version of an outsider candidate, he could poach some of Trump's backers.

"What he's trying to do is show that he's the adult outsider," O'Connell said.

Carson has the highest favorability rating among Republicans of all the GOP hopefuls, and going negative on Trump could damage that.

"He has a likeability that's worth his weight in gold," O'Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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2nd Presidential Bust May End Rick Perry's Political Career

Rick Perry spent four years after his 2012 presidential collapse trying to ensure that "Oops" wouldn't be the final word on his political career.

It didn't work.

For the 2016 race, the longest-serving governor in Texas history swapped cowboy boots for eyeglasses, hit the road again, promoted his state's job-creating prowess, boned up with policy experts. This would be a humbler, better prepared candidate, ready for the national spotlight, he promised.

Now, barely three months after Perry announced presidential bid No. 2 in a broiling airplane hangar outside Dallas, the reboot is history.

So, too, seemingly is the political career he wanted to revive.

It was no surprise when Perry announced Friday in St. Louis that he was suspending a campaign that was nearly broke and polling at close to zero. Still, such a precipitous drop was once hard to imagine for a savvy politician who had presided for 14 years over Texas and its booming economy.

Perry, 65, hasn't announced his retirement, but so far there's been no repeat of the pledge, made after the 2012 debacle, not to ride off into the political sunset.

"You saw a different guy, but he was invalidated by that gaffe," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "He worked his tail off, he put a lot of effort in. But there was no way he could have recovered."

Read more from Will Weissert at The Associated Press

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Diagnosing Scott Walker's Freefall In Iowa

No Republican running for president may have suffered more from the rise of the "outsider" candidates than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Once considered among the party's top tier and its front-runner in Iowa, his poll numbers have begun to collapse. Walker, who holds the No. 6 spot in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings, has a record as a conservative governor of a blue state appealed to dueling factions of the GOP: conservatives and the moderate-minded establishment. But the rise of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina has neatly coincided with the governor's slide in the polls.

Walker's campaign placed a big bet on Iowa, and his downward spiral in the state could spell disaster for his campaign. Walker fell to tenth place in a Qunnipiac University survey of Iowan voters released on Friday. He led the field in Quinnipiac's July poll, but has since dropped 15 percentage points while Donald Trump and Ben Carson have skyrocketed into the first two slots.

Some analysts think the Walker campaign has found itself behind on the scoreboard because of how other candidates have dominated the airwaves.

During his 2007 presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani failed to recover from his decision to bypass the early states in favor of a longer-term strategy. Ford O'Connell, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said Walker's decline in the polls has begun to resemble Giuliani's precipitous drop eight years ago.

"What he's got going for him [that Giuliani did not] is he's a governor," O'Connell said, suggesting voters' may value Walker's record of accomplishment. "I have no idea [if he can comeback]. He's going to have to find a way to get into Trump's orbit."

Read more from Ryan Lovelace at The Washington Examiner

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