Is Possible 2016 Run Behind Christie’s Tighter Grip On N.J. Financial Info?

Governor Christie won the 2009 gubernatorial election against incumbent Jon Corzine by promising to right New Jersey’s economy, fix a state budget riddled with debt and take on record-high property tax bills.

Christie would accomplish those goals while ushering in “a new era of transparency and accountability,” he said during his inauguration.

But since delivering those remarks in January 2010, Christie has been forced to face several stark facts: Tax collections fell below what he promised; credit ratings were downgraded; property tax bills grew; and the state unemployment rate continued to trail the national average and those of most neighboring states.

Now, Christie has turned his attention to 2016 and a decision about joining the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, in which each candidate’s economic record will be a critical issue. But in the past eight months, his administration has made several moves that ultimately keep sensitive details about state finances from public view.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist based in Washington, D.C., said what Christie has been doing is “par for the course” for a potential presidential candidate.

Christie’s top concern heading into the 2016 GOP primary and caucus season is his record on fiscal issues and the state economy, said O’Connell, who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. And, he added, that record will be more important to primary voters than any lingering concerns about the bridge controversy or Christie’s positions on social issues, which some conservatives have labeled as too moderate.

“The key to how far he goes comes down to how he can package and sell his fiscal management and the economic performance of the Garden State,” O’Connell said. “That’s his No. 1 concern right now.”

Read more from John Reitmeyer at

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Mitch McConnell’s Next Job: 2016 Traffic Cop

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) should be prepared to play role of traffic cop ahead of 2016. 

As colleagues with White House hopes jockey for their legislative priorities, it could create tension in the GOP caucus if there’s any whiff of favoritism.

Within McConnell’s conference, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are weighing presidential runs most aggressively, followed by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who both represent pivotal presidential battleground states.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who’s slated to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, isn’t ruling out a bid either. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who has $9.4 million in his campaign account, is another potential White House contender. 

“The real lesson here is jockeying for position in 2016 doesn’t mesh with governing in the here and now, which McConnell is trying to project,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. 

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Liberals Buoyed By Elizabeth Warren’s Senate Promotion

Liberals have high hopes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) promotion to Democratic leadership will give them more sway in the next Congress.

Under pressure to shake things up after a disastrous midterm election cycle, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this week named Warren to an advisory role where she’ll serve as a liaison to groups on the left.

While Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will still have the reins on political strategy, Warren's appointment has been seen a sign that Democrats might move in a more populist direction.

Progressive groups say Democrats were too centrist during the disastrous midterm election cycle, and argue Warren’s fiery persona — the same one that has many liberals pleading for her to run for president in 2016 — is exactly the stance that Democrats should take when Republicans are in the majority.

Republicans are pleased with Warren’s promotion as well — but for a different reason.

They noted that the promotion comes just a week after voters demoted Democrats at the polls, rejecting a “fair shot” agenda that already emulated many of Warren’s ideas.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell dismissed Warren’s new job as a "participation trophy" and questioned how Democrats would react if Republican leadership promoted a political firebrand on the right: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

"Democrats should fear that they could be playing with fire and giving rise to the Ted Cruz of the left," O'Connell said. 

Read more from Kevin Cirilli at The Hill

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2016 Candidates Use Different Methods To Decide When To Announce

In what’s expected to be a large 2016 GOP presidential field, the first decision is over when to decide.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he’ll pray about what to do during the upcoming holidays and will announce his decision after that. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he has until the spring to decide, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the 2012 contest relatively late, says he has until May or June to make an announcement about 2016.

The timing decision, political strategists say, hinges on a variety of things, including a candidate’s name ID, fundraising prowess and the strength of potential rivals. Longer shots, like Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 cycle, tend to jump in as soon as possible.

With the 2014 midterm election in the rearview, much of the political world is already shifting its focus to the next presidential cycle and the question of when White House hopefuls will take the plunge.

GOP strategists believe the race will start earlier this time around.

“When we had about a dozen candidates running in that clown-car primary in 2012, you knew only a couple of them were actually viable candidates who could raise the money [and] convince the donors and activists to get on their side,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “This time around, you have a plausibility [of] between five and eight of them actually being able to make a credible case.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times


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Republican-Controlled U.S. Senate Could Put New Pressure On White House Over Foreign Policy

 U.S. Republican Party (GOP) took the Senate Tuesday in a landslide victory, and while the shift may not spark a foreign policy overhaul, the now GOP-led Congress will pressure the White House over Iran, military cuts and terrorism, experts said.

The GOP win will spark a reshuffling of a number of Senate committees, with Republican Senator Bob Corker widely expected to take the helm of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. At the same time, GOP Senator and 2008 White House contender John McCain will step up to head the Senate Arms Services Committee and pressure the White House over Iran's nuclear program.

While Tehran says its program is peaceful, Washington says the program is aimed at generating nuclear weapons, and Republicans have blasted President Barack Obama for his administration's desire to ease sanctions on Iran during negotiations.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said the Senate could delay or try to reverse some of the military cuts scheduled to take place."Obviously this crew wants to pummel IS," he said of the GOP Senate leaders' stance toward the terrorists that are ravaging Iraq.

"What you are going to hear out of McCain and to some extent Corker is making sure the military is doing what it needs to do to contain or push back IS," he said.

Read more from Mathew Rusling at Xinhua

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GOP State Election Victories Dim Chances For Medicaid Expansion

Republicans' big election gains Tuesday in governorships and legislatures around the country diminish but do not eliminate the prospects that more states will expand Medicaid to low-income adults as allowed by the healthcare reform law, political analysts say.

Republicans picked up governorships in at least three additional states, giving them at least 31 governorships and full party control of state government in at least 23 states. They even snared the governor's mansion in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. GOP incumbents held their seats in all strongly contested races except in Pennsylvania. The fate of Alaska's gubernatorial race remains up in the air as absentee votes are counted, but for now an independent candidate who favors Medicaid expansion leads the race.

The GOP takeover of Congress may not dissuade Republican governors who already were considering expansion but it could slow them down, said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. That's because they know congressional Republicans may try to repeal Obamacare taxes that help fund Medicaid expansion, such as the medical-device tax. Such revenue losses could make conservative warnings come true that the federal government will not be able to live up to its promise of paying 100% for the Medicaid expansion through 2016 and paying 90% thereafter, he added.

Read more from Virgil Dickson at Modern Healthcare

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Don't Get Cocky, Republicans

Today's question, of course, is twofold: Do Tuesday night's results give Republicans a mandate? And, if so, to do what?

If this is not a mandate election, the word has lost all meaning. This went so far beyond the "map election" Charlie Cook posited that it's still difficult to believe. The Republicans not only won decisively — they flipped the Senate before midnight Eastern Time, increased their hold on the House to levels not seen since the 1920s and even scored a net gain on governorships — they also ran up surprisingly big margins in the process.

The Super Bowl of this political season won't be played for two years. All the Republicans have done is gotten off to a good start in the regular season. If they want to make the playoffs, survive the big tests along the way and prevail in November 2016, they will have to show they can govern.

And even if Republicans govern like adults for two years and truly work to make the country better through the legislative process, it may not be enough. Hillary Clinton will be one of the best-known, most elaborately financed, most formidable candidates the Republicans have ever faced. She has been a bit gaffe-prone of late, but it will take a whopper — maybe even a series of whoppers — to bring her down.

Remember, the Democrats start with a 242-vote lead in the Electoral College. They have 18 states behind the "Big Blue Wall" — meaning those states are unlikely to go Republican under almost any imaginable circumstances.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Hill

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CAMPAIGN 2016: Clinton Not A Shoo-In For Green Groups

While licking their wounds from this week's losses, environmental groups are now looking at making a difference in future campaigns. "We're all in for 2016," said League of Conservation Voters chief Gene Karpinski yesterday.

Environmental groups spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle and opened the door to an even beefier war chest in the future, which would come in handy in competitive races.

But potential candidates, not even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered the favorite Democrat to run for president, should take the environmental movement's support for granted, some green groups say.

Clinton has praised the Obama administration's efforts to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, another top issue for environmental groups, she hasn't elaborated much since 2010, when she said she was "inclined" to approve it.

That desire by environmentalists to vet Clinton runs contrary to her strategy of sidestepping the issue, analysts say. "She doesn't want to have to state [a position] until the Democratic primary is over," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, a veteran of the McCain-Palin campaign.

But if Clinton draws a primary opponent, especially a strong contender, it would likely force her to reveal her views on a number of issues like KXL and coal.

But others countered that the midterm elections won't hurt Clinton. "That's more of a media spin," said O'Connell, the GOP strategist, noting that many candidates this year have for months been considered vulnerable.

Read more from Manuel Quiñones and Daniel Bush at E&E

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Elizabeth Warren Still Has Plenty Of ‘Fight,’ Despite Midterm Losses

Despite delivering stirring speeches for Democratic midterm candidates — and raising her own national profile — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren couldn’t deliver enough voters to the polls. But, as she said repeatedly yesterday, she has only just begun to “fight” for what she believes in.

Warren was one of the most visible Democrats on the stump, traveling thousands of miles to back more than a dozen congressional and gubernatorial candidates at rallies and fundraisers, and through ads. But only a handful emerged as winners.

Reports and records show Warren either raised money or campaigned in 13 Senate races. Eight of those candidates lost, four won, and in Louisiana, the election is heading to a runoff because neither candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote. Pollsters place GOP challenger Bill Cassidy ahead of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in a head-to-head competition, meaning Warren’s losing streak could grow.

“It was a bad night for Elizabeth Warren,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. But as bad as the Democrats’ returns were on election night, O’Connell said Warren “is still viable in 2016.” Stumping even for losing candidates can develop goodwill and build a national reputation.

Read more from Matt Stout and Kimberly Atkins at The Boston Herald

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For Pelosi, Feinstein and Boxer, D.C. Is Now A Bleak Landscape

California’s top three Democrats in Washington — all of them older than 70 and all with outsized influence on national policy that took decades to achieve — woke up Wednesday to crippled prospects and questions about their future in politics.

But the stakes may be highest for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 74, of San Francisco, the city where she retains deep roots and where she began her ascent more than 25 years ago to become the highest-ranking female politician in U.S. history.

Pelosi’s record in the last three elections, however, has not been good. Republicans now have their biggest House majority since 1929. Tuesday’s devastation followed a historic loss of 63 Democratic seats in 2010 that toppled Pelosi from the speakership. In 2012, President Obama won re-election but Democrats netted just eight seats, far short of what Pelosi needed to reclaim the speaker’s gavel.

Gerrymandering to protect incumbents has left only about 50 of 435 House seats in play in any election. Democrats would have to win practically all of them in 2016 to retake control, GOP analysts said.

“Not only does this election put 2016 out of reach — the next conceivable time that Democrats can retake the House is 2020,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, arguing that Democrats will have to wait for the next census to redraw district maps.

“I don’t think that a Hillary presidency could flip this back,” O’Connell said. If Clinton is the next president, he said, then history indicates the 2018 midterms will only cost Democrats more seats.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle

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