Republican Debate 2016: Why Is It In Cleveland? Ohio Could Decide Who Wins White House Race

Ohio voters held the nation in suspense in 2004 as voting officials tallied the state's close results in the contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry that November. Once the count was over, Ohio had decided for the country to give Bush a second term in the White House.

Ohio's key role in determining presidential contests is back in the spotlight Thursday as Republican 2016 contenders gathered in Cleveland for the first primary debate of this election season. Meanwhile, the GOP announced earlier this year that its national Republican convention, where one of the 17 candidates debating this week will likely be named the nominee, will also be held in Cleveland. Ohio is a crucial win for any White House hopeful because of its diverse mix of elderly, black, white, Hispanic, rural and urban voters who have combined in recent elections to create a key battleground for any campaign. Even without going into the numbers associated with the Electoral College system that determines who wins the election, there’s a clear historical precedent: No Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency.

Ohio is a key swing state largely because in most states presidential elections aren't very competitive. Across the nation, the Electoral College voting structure gives Democrats a clear advantage. There are 242 votes almost certain to end up in the hands of Democrats and just 206 for Republicans, according to Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. To win an absolute majority, 270 votes are needed. There are only about seven states that don't lean strongly toward one political party, and Ohio is the second biggest after Florida.

“If you’re a Republican, you have to win Florida and Ohio,” O’Connell said. “If you’re a Democrat, you only have to win Ohio.”

So, what do Ohio voters care about?

“You can bet that one is the economy,” O’Connell said. They are also focused on foreign policy and terrorism. “In a lot of ways, they’re a lot more like the national Republican voter,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times 

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Could An All-Male Debate Hurt The GOP?

Some Republican strategists are wondering whether the all-male cast of candidates set to take the debate stage on Thursday will spoil the party's efforts to appeal to women voters.

Carly Fiorina has hosted dozens of townhall forums and meet-and-greets in early primary states since launching her presidential campaign in May. She has garnered attention in the media for her steadfast criticism of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her status as the only female GOP candidate has given her a unique opportunity to stand out in the male-dominated field.

Nevertheless, Fiorina's inability to make headway in national polls precluded her from securing a spot in the first GOP primary debate to be held Thursday. Instead, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO will participate in a forum hours before the debate alongside other candidates who failed to make the cut.

"In an ideal world, a lot of Republicans would like to have [Fiorina] on stage," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell told the Washington Examiner."Not just because of what she represents, but because of how she talks about the issues and about Hillary Clinton."

With Fiorina absent from the debate stage, O'Connell predicts that Democrats will "try to make hay about it." He says Republicans should be prepared to respond by pointing out that the Democratic field currently has "only one female, two less Latinos and one less black candidate running."

"I don't think the book is open or closed on Fiorina just yet, but it would be more helpful to have her on that stage," O'Connell said.

"It is important to show the many different flavors of the Republican Party and she's obviously a vital wing of that," O'Connell said. "If she does well in the Thursday night [forum] and she's going to make headlines."

Read more from Gabby Morrongiello at The Washington Examiner

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How Lower-Tier GOP Candidates Can Make The Most Of The 'Happy Hour' Debate

Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal won't step onto the main stage of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first major 2016 Republican presidential debate on Thursday evening.

But left-out 2016 contenders relegated to an earlier debate—an event that Lindsey Graham has dubbed "the Happy Hour Debate"—want the world to know: That doesn't mean they can't win the White House.

After finding out that their candidates failed to qualify for the headlining GOP debate hosted by Fox News, Fiorina's and Jindal's campaigns were quick to downplay its importance and to deliver a message that the White House hopefuls are keeping an eye on the ultimate prize.

But Republican strategists warn that missing the first prime-time debate could do serious damage.

"Does it sort of put your campaign on life support? Yes, it does," Ford O'Connell, GOP consultant and former campaign adviser to John McCain, said. "You want to be in the top-tier debate."

Strategists say that there's still a chance that a breakout performance at the early event could help a candidate like Fiorina climb high enough in the polls to make it to CNN's prime-time debate next month.

"If you do well, you could be in the top tier in the next go around, because chances are someone on the main stage will trip and fall, too," O'Connell said. "It's still on Fox. It's still on national television. It's still a big deal."

The challenge for candidates who miss the prime-time event but still show up for the earlier debate will be to make a splash without going overboard.

Read more from Clare Foran at NationalJournal

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Pressure Grows On GOP, Planned Parenthood

The topic set to dominate this year’s August recess is increasingly looking like abortion — and funding for Planned Parenthood.

A fifth undercover video circulated on Tuesday, showing a Planned Parenthood official discussing revenue from fetal tissue and the cost of “intact” fetuses.

Separately, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump said he’d support a government shutdown to block funding for Planned Parenthood, almost ensuring the hot-button topic will come up at Thursday’s first GOP debate.

Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers are likely to face new pressures over their recess to cut off funding for the group when they return to Washington in September.

The threat to defund Planned Parenthood has already drawn a presidential veto threat and would almost certainly culminate in a showdown with Democrats eager to return to the politics of government shutdowns.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Republicans don’t want to get blamed for a shutdown, but that presidential candidates have “got to demonstrate to the base of the Republican Party that you’re willing to go to the wall” against Planned Parenthood.

Read more from Rebecca Shabad and Peter Sullivan at The Hill

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Fact File: Can Donald Trump Make It To The White House?

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has surged to the top of opinion polls as the preferred Republican presidential nominee in 2016, taking many pundits by surprise.

Mr Trump has also grabbed headlines with a series of attacks on illegal immigrants and other politicians.

But despite his frontrunner status and personal wealth, is a Trump presidency likely? 

Here are some points to consider.

If Donald Trump were to become president, he would be the first non-politician elected to the White Housesince Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.

However Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who is a former advisor to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, told Fact Check that while the odds of a non-politician being elected president aren't great, they are probably higher than at any time since General Eisenhower.

"The reason is that Americans are tired of politicians and Washington politics-as-usual, and a non-politician candidate could leverage that to his or her advantage," he said.

Strategist Ford O'Connell says while Mr Trump could take votes away from the Republicans if he runs a third party campaign, he says it isn't likely to happen because even for the billionaire businessman, the cost would be prohibitive.

Read more from Fact Check at Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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Who's In, Who's Out: Selection Day For The GOP Presidential Debate

The final polls are in and the stage is set for Thursday night's first Republican presidential debate.

Those who made the cut, according to Fox News: businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Relegated to an earlier debate Thursday evening: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The choice on who to include was a tough one for Fox, which had to decide exactly how to fit so many candidates on stage amid a ballooning field.

Fox's ultimate decision was to base who made the main debate stage in Cleveland on Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on five of the most recent national polls that met their standards. Surveys from Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University were averaged.

"It's 'must-see TV,' but the 'must-see' starts with Trump," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "Is he going to be a statesman or is he going to be an outspoken bomb thrower? Who knows."

Both O'Connell and Bonjean said the other top candidates, like Bush and Walker, would be wise to avoid taking on Trump directly, since they have nothing to gain and more to lose by doing so. But other candidates who need a surge of momentum might benefit from some direct attacks.

"He's got to be just livid," O'Connell said. "It's unfortunate for Rick because this time around, it's hard to make a first impression the second time."

Read more from Jessica Taylor at NPR

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Ford O'Connell To Donald Trump: Come Clean On Allegiance To The GOP

Veteran GOP strategist Ford O'Connell says it's time for Donald Trump to reveal whether he's a fair-weather Republican and is still serious in his threats to run as a third-party candidate.

"The question for Donald Trump is whether or not he's interested in the Republican Party or just interested in Trump," O'Connell said Tuesday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"If he does run as a third party candidate, even if he only gets 4 or 5 percent of the general election, he's going to can the Republican's chances of winning the White House in 2016.

"Once you enter the Republican fray, regardless of whether Donald Trump ran as a candidate, you should declare that you're never going to run as a third party because that's how close the White House is going to be in 2016."

Trump, viewed as somewhat of a political freak by Republicans, has warned he will run as an independent if the GOP doesn't treat him as a serious candidate. 

Watch the video and read more from Bill Hoffmann at Newsmax

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Can The Other GOP Candidates Trump Donald Trump In The First Big Debate?

With just two days until the first Republican presidential debate, all eyes are fixed on Donald Trump, the unpredictable, brash, billionaire real estate mogul who has found himself at the top of the polls – and sucking up nearly all of the 2016 oxygen in the process.

The never-shy, always-controversial Trump will almost certainly score the coveted center-stage slot on the Cleveland debate stage. And that puts his fellow candidates in a tough position: How do they deal with this boastful birther? Do they engage with him? Do they try to talk with him seriously and substantively? Do they shrug him off as some kind of carnival barker? Do they attack him? Do they avoid him altogether?

It’s a tricky balancing act; after all, he does have a quarter of the GOP electorate behind him, and the more serious candidates lagging in the polls will surely be wary of alienating Trump backers by dissing The Donald.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and another former McCain adviser, didn’t buy Trump’s talk. “He’s going to come and debate,” said O’Connell, adding that his M.O. is “undersell and overdeliver.”

Which strategy will pay off? O’Connell said it depends on the candidate. If you’re doing well in the polls – like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – “engaging Trump is not the smartest option. Stick to the issues and stay above the fray no matter what Trump does. No need to roll in the mud just yet.”

But if you’re a lower-tiered candidate, like Christie, Paul, or Huckabee, “Tussling with Trump could get you headlines, it could give you momentum. But Trump punches pretty mightily, so you have to be careful.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at

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Will Donald Trump's Relationship With This Man Hurt His Campaign?

Donald Trump's business dealings with a white-collar criminal allegedly tied to organized crime are beginning to percolate up into the 2016 presidential campaign.

The real estate magnate's blunt demeanor, suggesting an executive who ruthlessly gets his way, is part of his appeal to some voters. But his past business dealings are also darkened by ties to a convicted criminal and by the shadow of the Mafia.

Felix Sater, a fraudster with alleged connections to Cosa Nostra, worked closely with Trump on numerous occasions. His ties to the mob have been documented by the New York TimesBBC, and othernews organizations, and largely revolve around his involvement in a money-laundering scheme dating to the 1990s.

Some political insiders think Trump can turn his ties to the mob into better poll numbers, as he has with past controversies. Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist and veteran of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said he thinks Trump will try to leverage his mob connections as a reason why he should win the GOP nomination.

"As accusations grow about ties to organized crime, et cetera, it would not shock me if he turned this into a foreign policy credential," O'Connell said. "He literally says 'I've had success in dealing with unsavory people and sometimes you have to deal with these types of people if you want to get things done.' I can literally see him moving his little Tyrannosaurus rex arms saying that."

Read more from Ryan Lovelace at The Washington Examiner

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Donald Trump Tries To Appear Presidential With Firing Of Aide

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s firing of a campaign aide over racist Facebook posts was received by GOP pundits as an attempt to show himself as presidential and capable of making expeditious judgments in the face of controversy.

“He’s trying to show himself to be a statesman and strong leader,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell, who advised John McCain’s presidential campaign. “And one way to do that is, when you’re presented with a problem, make a swift, quick decision.”

Trump’s campaign said yesterday that longtime aide Sam Nunberg was fired after racially charged Facebook posts made years ago surfaced. The website Business Insider reported the posts Friday.

They included a racist slur to describe the Rev. Al Sharpton’s daughter and references to President Obama as a “Socialist Marxist Islamo Fascist Nazi Appeaser” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as “Huckahick.” Nunberg told the website he was shocked and didn’t recall writing the messages.

Nunberg has spent years working for Trump’s organization and has been fired before, in 2014 when Buzzfeed published an unflattering profile of Trump.

The dumping comes as other GOP candidates privately strategize on how best to attack Trump during Thursday’s national prime-time debate on Fox News.

O’Connell said people who are enamored with Trump feel that way “not because of his issues or who he surrounds himself with, but with what he represents, which is anti-Washington, anti-political and willing to speak his mind.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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