Strategists: Hill-Trump A Battle For Ages

Polls predict big victories in tonight’s crucial state primaries for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, making a general election battle between the two increasingly likely and handing the former secretary of state the biggest challenge of her political career, political watchdogs say.

In order for Clinton to beat Trump, she must throw out old playbooks and find a new way to command the political discourse and expand the electoral map to her advantage, experts said.

“People have been far underestimating (Trump’s) electability,” sad GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “He is a unique political animal who has the ability to change his tone and his rhetoric.”

But the campaign that has propelled Trump to the lead in the Republican race won’t easily translate to the general election.

“[Trump] has to hold on to white, working-class voters,” O’Connell said. “Hillary lost the working-class voter in Michigan to Bernie Sanders — who, by the way has a same position on trade as Trump.”

Read more from Kimberley Atkins at the Boston Herald

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Did Ted Cruz Make The Right Play In Florida?

Marco Rubio has always been a long shot to win his home state of Florida. Not a single poll there since last July has shown the Florida senator overtaking GOP front runner Donald Trump. However, while Trump appears certain to win Tuesday’s primary, it seems to be Sen. Ted Cruz who is serving up the deathblow.

Going into the Florida primary, Cruz, the number two candidate in the GOP campaign, could have approached the race in two very different ways. He could have sat back, stayed out of the state and perhaps let Rubio pull off a win by leveraging Cruz's leftover voter base. Then the two could have gone on and duked it out over the next few weeks with Trump holding far fewer delegates.

Or, Cruz could continue to campaign in Florida, denying Rubio potential access to a new crop of followers, and instead help hand the state directly to Trump.

So far it’s clear that he has chosen the latter.

“Ted Cruz is not trying to win Florida, he’s trying to knee-cap Rubio so he can get it down to a three-person race. Ideally he wants to get it down to a two-person race,” said Ford O’Connell, former adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “Asking politicians to put the team ahead of their own personal self-interest is like asking a thief to stop stealing—he’s looking at it as protecting Ted Cruz—because he’s thinking that, ‘If we go to a contested convention, I won’t come out on top.’”

While Rubio has a long history in the state, having started there as a member of the Florida House and moved up the ranks to senator, Cruz has more of a defined voter base that comes out to support him in every state.

“Rubio has no base to fall back on,” O’Connell said. “Trump has wiped every base of voters. Cruz has a mixture of the tea party constitutionalists and hardcore conservatives. Who does Rubio have? Establishments? Establishment is the big word of 2016, but no one can define it.”

Read more from Miranda Green at Scripps Media

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Inside Kasich's Long-Shot Strategy To Beat Trump To The GOP Nomination

Microphone in hand, Republican John Kasich promised the crowd inside a high-tech Ohio factory Saturday that he’ll never be beholden to Washington insiders if he wins the White House in November.

But as he zigzags across the state before Ohio’s GOP primary on Tuesday - emboldened by polls showing him edging ahead of rival Donald Trump - Kasich may soon need all the Washington insiders he can get.

Behind the scenes, strategists for Kasich, the Ohio governor, are studying arcane party rules that they believe could offer a path to the Republican nomination if he wins his home state, his aides said.

It is a long-shot strategy, both for Kasich and the anti-Trump forces inside the party. But if fellow GOP candidate Marco Rubio loses his own state of Florida on Tuesday - as polls predict - a surge by Kasich may be the only viable strategy for Republicans looking to stop Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

A loss by Rubio, a senator, will almost certainly end his struggling candidacy. If Trump wins both Ohio and Florida, the New York real estate mogul’s march to the nomination will be all but assured.

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist not affiliated with any presidential candidate, expects Kasich to face a tough battle even if he wins Ohio. 

“But for some of these anti-Trump voters, if they can get Kasich to a contested convention, they see that as their best hope of blocking Trump."

Read more from Tim Reid at Reuters

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Fla. Loss Would Be ‘Devastating Blow’ For Rubio

The sputtering presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio faces its last stand tomorrow in his home state of Florida — where an upset victory could offer him one final hope of political redemption at a brokered Republican convention.

Polls indicate Trump could be on track to capture four to five of the delegate-heavy states that hold primaries tomorrow — Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois. Rubio is only competitive in Florida; Ohio Gov. John Kasich is neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in the Buckeye State.

Rubio has given his supporters dispensation to vote for Kasich in Ohio as a way to keep delegates from Trump, who needs 1,237 total delegates to seal the nomination and avoid a floor fight at the GOP convention in July.

“He recognizes that he can’t win the nomination,” D.C. Republican operative Ford O’Connell said of Rubio. “The only thing he can do is stop Trump from getting 1,237, conceivably.”

O’Connell noted Rubio — once regarded as the party’s most promising young conservative — suffered from not having a “natural base,” unlike Trump and Ted Cruz, and is likely to see donor funds dry up if he falters in Florida.

Rubio, who picked up 10 delegates in Washington, D.C., Saturday night, spent yesterday firing passionate salvos at the front-runner, warning that Trump is inciting violence against protesters at his rallies.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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Florida Could Be Last Stand For Both Rubio And Anti-Trump Campaign

Florida is the final frontier for GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who must squeeze out a win in his home state Tuesday if he hopes to have even a remote chance of getting the nomination. But just as supporters shift from boasting about Rubio’s momentum to whispering and accepting his likely defeat, a last-ditch effort has emerged in the Sunshine State of another kind. Anti-Trump PACs are mounting a media blitz to thwart a Donald Trump win in Florida.

“There are only two people who can win Florida: Trump or Rubio, and right now it looks like Trump is going to win,” said Ford O’Connell, former adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “Rubio would have to clean up everything in South Florida, all 11.5 percent of the state’s voters there.… There’s only so much you can do, and Trump is literally running away with this.”

The most recent poll in Florida shows Rubio trailing Trump by 23 percentage points.  While Rubio has made gains in the past few days, political scientists and strategists in the state remain skeptical that it will be enough to eke out a win.

Read more from Miranda Green at Scripps Media

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Is a Cruz-Fiorina Ticket On The Horizon?

Former Republican rival and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina officially endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Wednesday at a rally in Miami, Florida. Fiorina, who suspended her own presidential campaign last month, told Cruz supporters she checked his name at the ballot box in the Virginia primary last week.

Fiorina, who promoted herself as an ‘outsider candidate’ with business experience, told the audience Cruz is the candidate that stands for conservative principles and “will never settle for the status quo.” 

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and advisor to the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, says with Fiorina’s support people are beginning to see the GOP field as a two-person race between Cruz and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.

“All the bigger name Republicans are starting to pick sides. Clearly with Carly Fiorina, I’m sure there would be place in the cabinet if Cruz wins the nomination, but overall Carly Fiorina is looking to stop Trump and legitimize Cruz’s case,” said O’Connell.

Fiorina, who was the only female GOP candidate in the 2016 race, tried to position herself to be the conservative alternative to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Throughout her campaign she took shots from GOP frontrunner Donald Trump about her business record and her looks. Those comments backfired on Trump, turning off some Republican female voters, which O’Connell says Cruz is poised to gain.

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business

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Donald Trump May Need A Lot Of Rich Backers After All

Even if Donald Trump is “really rich”—as he reminds the world frequently—he doesn’t have nearly enough money to fund a general-election campaign, if he ends up being the Republican nominee for president.

Trump has made it this far mostly by self-funding his campaign, with help from donors who have sent in around $7.5 million in contributions of $2,700 or less. But that model won’t work in the fall if it’s Trump v. the Democratic nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton. “We’ll see an end to the self-funding if he becomes the nominee,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. “He’ll have to raise in excess of $1 billion.”

Republican donors have plenty of money to give, but Trump is in a tricky spot because he has sworn off super PACs, the groups able to raise unlimited amounts from wealthy contributors. Trump says donors writing six-, seven- or eight-figure checks “have corrupted our politics and politicians for far too long,” and has vowed not to accept big donations.

Read more form Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance

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Governors Whiff In Endorsement Game

Sitting governors in both parties seeking to influence the presidential race in their home states are failing miserably so far in 2016.

Republican governors are batting 1-9 with their endorsements. Only Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) got it right by supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who benefitted from home field advantage.

In the Democratic contests to date, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has won in four of the five states where the governor endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All told, the governors have ended up on the wrong side of voters in 12 of 14 elections. More often than not, the candidates they’ve backed were defeated in a rout.

Political analysts say the phenomenon is further evidence of the fierce anti-establishment mood of the electorate, which has buoyed outsider or insurgent candidates like Cruz, Sanders and Donald Trump.

“Voters this year don’t want to be told what to do. They want to make their choice free of anything,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “I don’t know why any of these governors would risk their coattails in a cycle this unpredictable.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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GOP 2016 Race Tightens

The Republican race for the White House is tightening ahead of pivotal clashes next week in Florida and Ohio.

Donald Trump remains the front-runner and is poised for a good night on Tuesday, with polls showing him favored to win three of the four GOP contests on tap, in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho.

Trump has seen his leads narrow over rivals in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, however, making it clear the race for the GOP nomination isn’t over after a weekend in which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gained on Trump in total delegates.

Trump maintains a lead of nearly 100 delegates over Cruz but has been the target of millions of dollars in attack ads amid an accelerating last-ditch campaign by the Republican donor class to destroy him before he can win Ohio and Florida.

Those sharpening attacks, coupled with a trend of late-deciding voters breaking against the billionaire — late-deciders in Louisiana over the weekend almost handed Cruz an upset victory — suggests Trump’s path to the nomination is narrower than it once was.

“I think Trump is hitting a little bit of a speed bump,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said in a telephone interview with The Hill on Monday.

“It’s not devastating, and it can be fixed, but he’s got to go out there and put up some W’s in Florida, Michigan and Ohio.”

“He’s losing steam, but he’s still the person who as of today is most likely to go to Cleveland with the most delegates” but not necessarily 1,237, added O’Connell, who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign but remains neutral in the current race.

Read more from Jonathan Swan and Rebecca Savransky at The Hill

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Florida Looms After Second Win For Marco Rubio

Third-place GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio racked up his second primary win in Puerto Rico yesterday but faces a do-or-die primary in Florida next week, with second-place contender Ted Cruz trying to muscle him out to become the uncontested establishment-favored rival to rogue front-runner Donald Trump.

“Obviously he has to win Florida if he’s going to have a legitimate shot at the nomination, but you’re also assuming his goal is to win the nomination, not stop Trump,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “If his goal is to stop Trump, then no, I do not see him getting out anytime in the near future.”

Rubio, who was born in Miami to Cuban immigrant parents, will face stiff competition for his home state’s winner-take-all 99 delegates from Cruz — also of Cuban descent — who has been beefing up his network of campaign offices in the Sunshine State in recent days.

O’Connell said it smacks of an attempt by Cruz “to end Marco Rubio before Marco Rubio can actually catch up to him in delegates” in the less evangelical states that lie ahead.

A loss in the Florida’s March 15 primary could lead to Rubio’s campaign contributions drying up, money Cruz likely has his eye on.

“People don’t get out of presidential elections because they don’t see a path forward, they get out of presidential elections because the money dries up,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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