Dems Enlist Vets In 2016 Battle For U.S. Senate

Senate Democrats are turning to veterans in their battle to win back the majority in 2016.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) last week became the third Democrat with experience in the armed forces to jump into a Senate race, announcing a bid against incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

Duckworth, a double amputee who fought in Iraq, followed in the footsteps of Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander and former Rep. Joe Sestak, two other veterans who are seeking the Democratic nomination in crucial Senate races.

With the emphasis on military experience, Democrats seem to be taking a page out of the GOP playbook from the 2014 midterm elections.

Republicans say the 2016 election will be a referendum on President Obama’s national security policies, and their White House hopefuls are preparing for a vigorous primary debate over issues like the Iranian nuclear talks and fighting terrorism.

“Foreign policy and national security is going to be in the top three concerns on voter’s radar in 2016. Democrats recognize they need vocal people on this issue because they need to be taken seriously,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

But Democrats need a net gain of five seats to take back the majority, which is a tall order, even in a presidential election year when voter turnout is likely to be high.

It’s unlikely that the Senate will change hands, unless Democrats can win in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Missouri, which are more favorable terrain for their party.

“There are only so many permutations and combinations to wining the majority back,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said possessing a military background “looks good on the outside” but warned their Republican opponents “are going to play their cards wisely on the campaign trail.”

Democrats will have to “keep the car between the two white lines and not veer of into a ditch where the Republicans can pound them into the dirt,” he said.

Read more from Martin Matishak at The Hill

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Rand Paul In 2016: Embracing And Avoiding A Political Legacy

When Rand Paul  enters the Republican presidential race Tuesday, he’ll start with an advantage few of his rivals have: A dedicated legion of supporters, well-organized and battle-tested.

But for the Kentucky senator to have a chance to win the nomination, he’ll have to expand beyond the libertarian army he inherited from his father, and fast. 

So far, reviews are mixed, as he moves closer to the more hawkish Republican mainstream on defense and foreign policy, while still stressing his libertarian-leaning views against domestic security surveillance and drug sentencing laws.

Paul is regarded as a top contender, but usually is  third, fourth or fifth in Republican voter polls. He should have some star power, but he has been overshadowed by upstart Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Paul needs to show he can raise big money, or he risks being outspent by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, among others.

To have a decent chance at the nomination, Paul must change the minds of Republican voters and donors who think he’s not strong enough on defense and foreign policy, argued Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

O’Connell advised the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a defense hawk who has feuded with Paul over national security issues. Paul needs to present himself as a “reluctant warrior,” O’Connell said.

Read more from David Lightman and Sean Cockerham at McClatchyDC

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Ted Cruz Aims To Win The West

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is making a play for the West in the 2016 race by touting his opposition to the federal government’s expansive land holdings.

Cruz’s disdain for federal land control is resonating with Westerners whose lives are impacted by land managers, and could help him win over conservatives in Nevada, one of the early nominating states in the presidential contest.

“This is an issue he’s been focused on for quite some time, and it’s one that plays extremely well with the conservative base in the western part of the United States,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who advised the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Nationwide, the government owns nearly 630 million acres, a landmass bigger than Alaska and California combined. Most of that land, managed by agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, is located in states west of the Mississippi River.

O’Connell said Nevada is especially receptive to issues of land rights, and said opposing federal control could play “extremely well” there for Cruz.

“He really needs to get some traction, because he’s lingering in the polls, and he needs some elbow room in this potentially crowded field,” he said.

Nevada could be critical for the senator, as it traditionally follows Iowa and New Hampshire in the early stretch of nominating states. It was third on the GOP presidential calendar in 2012, and is tentatively scheduled to be fourth in 2016.

Early polling indicates Cruz has a real shot in the state.

Read more from Timothy Cama at The Hill

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For 2016, A Mix Of Big Names And Longshots

At this early stage of the campaign they seem the longest of longshots:  Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Martin O’Malley.  And the fact is they probably are.  But that doesn’t appear to be enough to deter them from their ultimate goal—becoming president of the United States—and they are already trying to lay the groundwork.

Trump told a crowd in New Hampshire recently that he is actively considering a 2016 bid.  “You know I do have a great television show.  I do have a great life.  I have a business that I love.  But the country is going to hell.”

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the only African American preparing to join the race, got a huge reception at a recent conservative conference and is fast emerging as a favorite of socially conservative activists.   “We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave but you cannot be free if you are not brave.”

For Republicans most concerned with foreign policy and national security, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton is casting about for support.   Bolton told my colleague, VOA Senior Correspondent Andre de Nesnera, that he is actively considering a White House bid for 2016. 

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker lead public opinion polls at the moment but not by much.  “Anything can happen and we are likely to see 10 or 12 potential candidates hop in this field and they are really going to have to elbow each other to get the spotlight.”

Democrat Jimmy Carter is perhaps the best modern example of a candidate who emerged from relative obscurity to win not only his party’s nomination but the presidency in 1976.  And it’s that kind of rags to riches story that still motivates longshots today, especially among Republicans, according to strategist Ford O’Connell.  “It could turn into a real ‘battle royal,’ if you will and there is going to be a lot of ups and downs regardless of what the polls say today.  The question is, can someone catch lightning in a bottle and then expand it to all major swaths of the party?”

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Jeb Bush Is An Early GOP Favorite As Companies Cut PAC Checks

The first signs of which companies are supporting Republican 2016 presidential candidates are in, and things are looking good for Jeb Bush.

Four companies’ political action committees and a union have reported that they cut checks this year to the former Florida governor’s Right to Rise leadership PAC, according to Federal Election Commission filings processed by CQ Political Moneyline.

The PACs reported the expenditures as part of their first quarter 2015 filings with the FEC. Bush can use his leadership PAC to contribute to other candidates or to pay his political staff and travel around the country.

Civic Forum PAC’s Chairman Ford O’Connell said that the group has not yet decided which presidential candidate it will endorse.

“We think Jeb Bush has a great deal to offer to the 2016 Republican presidential conversation at this time and the PAC’s contribution is indicative of that,” O'Connell said. “The tone and direction of dialogue as the nominating process goes forward is crucial as it has the potential to impact the perception of the party as a whole, and it is important that it is done so constructively.”

Read more from Anna Palmer and Darren Samuelsohn at Politico

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Bernie Kerik: Solitary Confinement Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says that he considers solitary confinement to be cruel and unusual punishment, and that it's important to consider the long-term effects of how prisoners are treated, especially those who will return to society. 

"There's a purpose and a use for solitary confinement," Kerik told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV on Wednesday, joined by Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

Watch the video and read more from Courtney Coren at Newmax.com

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Ford O'Connell: Backlash To Indiana Law 'Over The Top'

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says that the backlash to the Indiana religious freedom law has been "over the top" but that the proposed "fix" will help "the backlash go away." 

"It's a perfect storm of basically unfounded hysteria coupled with legal ignorance, turbo-charged basically by the left's social intolerance," O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV on Wednesday. 

"Perception is reality in politics, but there is a quick fix to the Indiana law, and the backlash will go away," he explained. 

Watch the video and read more from Courtney Coren at Newsmax.com

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Christie’s 2016 Timetable ‘Wont Be Affected’ By Cruz, Rubio, Paul

As Chris Christie’s potential 2016 rivals bask in the national spotlight as they make – or plan to make – their presidential bids official, the New Jersey governor finds himself amid fireworks back home.

Like several of his town hall meetings this year, there was no mention of 2016 at his 133rd such event in Kenilworth on Tuesday and topics were local in nature – from new standardized testing in schools, to the state’s beleaguered pension system, to historical restoration, to the scrapped tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.

There were, however, a few tense moments – from a group of protesters yelling “Arrest Christie!” and a woman who told the governor, “I’m not here to be bullied” when asking about pensions and a controversial state settlement with ExxonMobile.

Meanwhile, the picture is very different for several other Republicans who have garnered a lot of national attention — and money – by either officially jumping into the race like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, or making plans to within the next two weeks. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is expected to announce his 2016 intentions on April 7 with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida following suit on April 13.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised Sen. John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign, said Christie still “has to be getting antsy right now” with several other conservatives entering the 2016 fray, especially Rubio, who – like Christie –  is considered one of the more moderate Republicans. O’Connell suggested that while Christie’s ability to raise money could be hurt by waiting, there are still some advantages.

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC

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Republicans Expect Long, Expensive 2016 Presidential Battle

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas kicked off in recent days what is likely to be the longest, most expensive and perhaps most contentious Republican Party presidential battle in history

The Cruz announcement signals the beginning of an intense period of activity as other candidates prepare to jump into the race while others still pondering a run for the White House assess levels of support and their ability to raise funds.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is at or near the top of most polls among the Republican contenders. But Bush told voters in Georgia he’s aware he will have to overcome the doubts of conservative activists.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. He picked Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the top Republican contenders so far who will appeal to Republican primary voters.

“They are looking for three things," he said. "They want someone who can win the White House in 2016. They want a strong leader and they want someone who is going to do what they say they are going to do and not just sell campaign rhetoric to win the nomination.”

Bush is a favorite of the party’s establishment wing while Cruz wants to become the champion of Tea Party activists and social conservatives.

O’Connell said the various Republican contenders will be looking to appeal to various groups with the Republican Party who play key roles in the nominating process.

“It is a very complicated mosaic," he said. "We have four main types of voters. There are the moderate or establishment voters, which are about 40 to 45 percent of the party. We have what are known as grass roots conservatives or the media likes to call them Tea Party. They are about 20 to 25 percent of the party.

"We have social conservatives, which are about 18 to 20 percent of the party," O'Connell said. "They are strongly against abortion and they are strongly against gay marriage. And then we have this libertarian strain, which is about ten to 15 percent of the party and they just don’t like the government whatsoever.”

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America 

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The Hillary Clinton Backer Who Will Pose Problems For Her 2016 Bid

An unlikely critic of Hillary Clinton could pose significant problems for the Democratic front-runner for the White House.

Dan Metcalfe, who previously oversaw the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at the Department of Justice, has been publicly ripping Clinton for her exclusive use of a private email account during her time as secretary of State. 

But the soft-spoken academic who resembles Santa Claus maintains he’s not looking to derail Clinton’s anticipated 2016 bid. To the contrary, he says. Metcalfe notes he is a registered Democrat and will vote for the former first lady if she runs for the White House. That makes his criticism even more damaging.

While Democrats are largely rallying behind Clinton, Republicans have seized on the email uproar. And the matter isn’t going away anytime soon: The State Department has said it is reviewing the issue, congressional committees have launched probes and The Associated Press has filed a lawsuit.

Metcalfe isn’t a public figure, but he is a respected expert who has been asked to address legal groups, government agencies and Congress.  

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell predicted that Metcalfe’s comments would be used against Clinton in the general election.

When it comes to the email controversy, O’Connell said Republicans “want to create a narrative about Hillary that may not necessarily bring voters over to their side but could potentially keep some of her potential supporters at home.”

“That’s why they’re not just jamming this down the throat as much as they could because they recognize they’re going to have to reintroduce this in the general election and [say] that she’s inauthentic; she’s willing to cut corners and acts in her own self-interest,” he added.

Read more from Bob Cusack and Molly K. Hooper at The Hill

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