For Ted Cruz, Iowa Victory Proves More Than Evangelical Support

After a month of bruising attacks and sliding poll numbers, Ted Cruz is back on track.

The Texas senator pulled off a major victory in Iowa Monday night, winning the Republican caucuses with 28 percent support, four points ahead of billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump, who had been needling Cruz for weeks over his Canadian birthplace and Wall Street loans, and five points ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom no Iowa poll nor frontrunner perceived as a real threat in the Hawkeye State.

Cruz’s win was owed in large part to evangelical voters, who consistently play an outsize role in the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. More than 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers identified as evangelical Christians, according to entrance poll data, and Cruz won over about a third of them.

A loss in Iowa, while not fatal, would have been disastrous for Cruz.

“It was almost a must-win for Cruz,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Part of it is the outsize evangelical population of Iowa, but also the caucus format – he was tailor-made for Iowa. If he couldn’t win there, it might of been a damaging blow to his chances.”

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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After Iowa Caucuses, Republican Party Now Running Three-Man Race

The U.S. Republican Party (GOP) is now running a three-man race for the nomination to run for president in 2016, as Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio emerged as the top three in Iowa caucuses Monday. But who will clinch final victory is still anybody's game.

Cruz, the conservative senator from Texas, won Iowa with 27.6 percent of the Republican vote, followed by Trump's 24.3 percent and Rubio's 23.1 percent.

It was a surprise defeat for Trump, the controversial real estate mogul who had been shown in the lead in most polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses. A confident Trump even skipped the crucial GOP presidential debate on Thursday hosted by the Fox News.

Some blamed Trump's boycott of the debate for his loss in Iowa as Fox News has been very popular among conservatives, who also love the debate moderator Megan Kelley whose feuding with Trump led to his decision to opt out of the debate. But being liberal on some issues might have also played a role in Trump's defeat in this very religious state.

Iowa was tailor-made for Cruz's candidacy as it has an outsized evangelical population and it elects the candidate in a caucus format, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

On Rubio, O'Connell said his performance "absolutely exceeded expectations."

"The key for Rubio here is to be able to parlay that momentum into at least a second place finish in New Hampshire," O'Connell said.

Read more from Xinhua

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Election 2016: How Marco Rubio Could Consolidate GOP Establishment Support

While Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seemed ready to claim the mainstream lane of the Republican presidential race Monday night, the GOP establishment vote likely won’t be locked down until at least one more state holds its nominating contest.

The Florida senator has seen an increase in support from mainstream donors and elected officials in recent weeks, but GOP strategists and early state party members said they expect the establishment wing of the Republican Party to hold off on choosing a candidate until the New Hampshire primary, which is likely to force several moderate candidates to drop out naturally. If the Granite State contest does not winnow the field as expected, then the Republican establishment will likely resort to behind-the-scenes discussions and financial pressure to help unite around a candidate soon after.

But Rubio likely needs the continued momentum of another top primary finish for party elites to anoint him as their choice. After all, the establishment has been hoping he will do well for months, and it needs something to build on.

“A lot of this is going to fall on the shoulders on Marco Rubio,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. “What will happen is if Rubio does well in New Hampshire, in terms of folks like Bush, Kasich, they will feel a pressure to drop out.”

“There will be whispers in the party, in the media,” O’Connell said, referring to pressure for candidates to suspend their campaigns. “That may well occur after New Hampshire, particularly if some candidates don’t do as well.”

That kind of pressure must be handled delicately, though. “Trying to tell the candidate straight up is not the best option. It has to come from someone who you respect or a group of people who you respect,” O’Connell added.

Even for someone like Bush with cash to burn, donors will not stick around forever. O’Connell, the Republican strategist, said big donors are often the ones pushing their candidate to suspend the campaign. These pushes can come from the donor’s own self-interest, or as pressure from friends who are donors to succeeding candidates.

Read more from Abigail Abrams at International Business Times

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Cruz, Rubio Shock The Competition

No sooner was Ted Cruz declared the winner in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, and after much excitement over Marco Rubio's strong third place finish, speculation began that both senators would quickly gain ground in round two of the primaries — New Hampshire.
According to a just-completed American Research poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary, Trump leads with 34 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 16 percent, Rubio at 11 percent, and Cruz 10 percent. (All other Republican hopefuls, American Research found, are in single digits in New Hampshire).
Given the surprising results from Iowa Tuesday, Cruz is likely to gain fresh momentum on the right in New Hampshire and Rubio is very likely to get support from more center-right Republicans — very possibly at the expense of Kasich, who has consistently run second to Trump in the most recent polls of New Hampshire primary voters.

“Rubio outperformed and Cruz had to win,” said veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell, who has no horse in the presidential race, “and Trump underperformed.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Would An Iowa Win Make Trump Unstoppable? Not Necessarily

Ted Cruz recently warned a group of Iowa pastors that a Donald Trump victory in the Iowa caucus could make the billionaire "unstoppable" in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Other observers, including Trump himself, have reached similar conclusions. At campaign appearances, Trump has predicted that if he wins Iowa, "we can run the table."

Donors and campaign operatives may still be waiting to see what happens on Monday night and assuming that Trump's support will plateau at some point. Republican strategist Ford O'Connell cautioned that could be a dangerous game to play.

"It's the perception game versus the delegate game," he said. Winning Iowa does not remotely make Trump unbeatable from a delegate perspective, but it does reinforce the narrative in the minds of many voters that he cannot be stopped.

"As long as he continues to rack up wins, that perception is going to hold."

O'Connell argued that candidates are just going about attacking Trump in the wrong way.

"He's a unique political animal where the traditional attacks just don't work," he said. Bush has questioned his lack of government experience and Cruz has gone after his conservative credentials, but his supporters do not care about those issues.

"What you have to do is, you have to poke a hole in the balloon that is Trump's big selling point besides his bravado, which is that he's going to fight for the little guy."

Cruz's attacks on Trump's positions on issues like eminent domain and H1B visas touch on that theme, but he uses language that the average voter will not understand. To be effective, O'Connell said, the criticisms need to be clearer and simpler: "Trump believes that the government can take your property, no questions asked."

O'Connell noted that Trump's mastery of the media might enable him to transform into an appealing general election candidate, though.

"It would not surprise me at all if he were able to completely change his pitch," he said, presenting himself as a more electable candidate than Clinton.

"Nothing's gone according to script, so I don't see any reason why the general election wouldn't either."

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Dems Hope To Seize On Presidential Ground Game To Knock Off Comstock

Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock’s North­ern Vir­gin­ia-based seat is home to a rare breed: swing voters in a swing dis­trict in a swing state.

And by Novem­ber, they’ll be among the most tar­geted in the pres­id­en­tial race.

The di­vided polit­ics of the 10th Dis­trict make it a true bell­weth­er battle­ground, in­vit­ing out­size at­ten­tion and re­sources from both parties. As the first-term Re­pub­lic­an faces a chal­lenge from Demo­crat Lu­Ann Ben­nett, those top-of-the-tick­et dy­nam­ics could have sub­stan­tial bear­ing on her reelec­tion.

“Com­stock is not just bat­tling Ben­nett here,” said Ford O’Con­nell, a GOP strategist who’s been act­ive in Vir­gin­ia polit­ics. “Com­stock is bat­tling the Demo­crat­ic plan to win the state of Vir­gin­ia.”

Com­stock’s dis­trict in­cludes Loudoun and Prince Wil­li­am counties, two jur­is­dic­tions whose elec­tion res­ults tend to mir­ror the out­come of statewide races. Em­boldened by re­cent demo­graph­ic trends that have turned North­ern Vir­gin­ia more Demo­crat­ic, the party sees this pres­id­en­tial cycle as its best shot to un­seat the first-term Com­stock.

The fresh­man Re­pub­lic­an won the open seat in 2014 by a wide mar­gin, even as Demo­crats pre­dicted a com­pet­it­ive race at the out­set. This cycle, the party ex­pects to be buoyed by heav­ier turnout in the area, known for its in­de­pend­ent vot­ing streak and pricey D.C. me­dia mar­ket.

Re­pub­lic­ans, O’Con­nell said, “have a large prob­lem in North­ern Vir­gin­ia. But if they have any­thing to hang their hat on, it’s Com­stock.”

Read more from Kimberly Railey at National Journal

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Trump's Chance Of Winning Republican Nomination Or Presidential Race Increases With Iowa Victory

Many people have since last summer dismissed the idea that Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination, not to mention the 2016 U.S. presidential race, but some are rethinking that assumption as the billionaire is poised to win Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday.

Trump leads his major Republican rival and Texas Senator Ted Cruz by 28 percent to 23 percent in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Saturday.

A win in Iowa, which has a 50 percent success rate at predicting the candidate's becoming a party presidential nominee, will greatly boost Trump's chance of winning the Republican Party's (GOP's) nomination.

Indeed, some U.S. experts now say the bombastic businessman could actually win not only the GOP nomination, but also the White House -- if everything falls perfectly into place.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell spelled out how Trump could win.

If Trump runs a strong campaign and gets a strong turnout of rank-and-file GOP voters, and at the same time if Clinton runs a weak campaign, then Trump could well win the White House in 2016, he said.

"Anything is possible. He is always exceeding expectations. And there is a real chance that he could win a general election if the right things fall into place," O'Connell told Xinhua.

Read more from Xinhua

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Will Trump and Sanders Win Iowa? Pundits Weigh In

The Hill asked pundits from both parties, and one independent, to predict the winners in today's Iowa caucuses. Here's what they had to say.

Ford O'Connell

Winner: Trump (by a full head of hair)

On paper, any political junkie would think Cruz's candidacy is tailor-made to win the 2016 Iowa caucuses (ethanol aside). The state has an outsized evangelical population and Cruz's campaign has been focused on the ground game needed to win in a caucus format from the beginning. But nothing in this cycle has gone according to the traditional script. While Trump might not meet the checklist of an ideological conservative whom Iowans tend to lust after, his bravado will win the day in the Hawkeye State precisely because many Iowa Republicans believe he will fight for them. When faced with that proposition, any good political strategist knows emotion trumps logic nearly every time in a tightly contested battle.

O'Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and is author of the book "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."

Read more at The Hill

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Iowa Looms As Last Chance For Some Candidates

The Iowa caucuses could spell the end of the line for several presidential candidates.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are the likeliest to pack up if the former Iowa caucus winners have a disappointing finish on Monday.

Iowa could also deal Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina a crucial blow if they fail to outperform their spot at the polls. But most experts believe they’ll hang on with enough financial resources to pray for a backup plan. 

For Huckabee and Santorum, it’s a matter of money and poor polling.

Both candidates pegged their entire campaign strategy on Iowa, holding the top two spots for number of campaign events there, according to the Des Moines Register. But Huckabee hasn’t hit more than 4 percent in an Iowa poll since November, while Santorum hasn’t done so since July.

The Iowa results could be detrimental to their already lagging fundraising, hastening the need for a departure.

But some Republican strategists say that all of the candidates will wait it out regardless of their Iowa finishes and will continue at least until the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, or even through the so-called SEC primary on March 1 to see if their messages resonate in the swing of Southern states.

“I think just about everyone will stay in through New Hampshire because everyone wants to knows how you play with evangelicals in Iowa and how you play with more moderate, mainstream voters in New Hampshire,” Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Read more from Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen at The Hill

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Will 'Top Secret' Clinton Emails Impact Iowa Caucus Results?

To say the revelation from the State Department that 22 of Hillary Clinton's emails from her term as secretary of state contained top secret information is not good news for her presidential campaign is probably an understatement, but experts and Republican strategists doubt it will be a significant roadblock in her path to the Democratic nomination.

The State Department announced Friday that 37 pages of emails from the private server Clinton used to conduct her government business include information so sensitive that they cannot even be released in redacted form. This is the first official confirmation from the Obama administration that Clinton's emails did contain top secret material, which letters from the intelligence community inspector general had alleged.

18 emails between Clinton and President Barack Obama are also not being released "to protect the president's ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel." State Department spokesman John Kirby said those emails have not been determined to be classified.

More than 1,300 other emails released so far have been partially redacted due to classified information, but the State Department and Clinton's campaign have claimed that material was retroactively classified.

If she wins the nomination, it will certainly be an issue that her Republican opponent raises in the general election, but its effect on her in the Democratic primaries is blunted in part by the fact that Sanders has generally refused to attack her over it.

"I'm not so sure it really affects her in the primary because it doesn't seem that Bernie Sanders is going to go after her," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

If Sanders tops Clinton in both of the first two voting states and he sees a legitimate chance of winning the nomination, though, Skelley and O'Connell suggested Sanders may rethink his approach.

"You can run attack ads all day long with this information," O'Connell said, adding that the Clinton campaign's handling of the scandal indicates she has "been playing legal hopscotch from the beginning."

"It's clear even if you're a Clinton fan that she's been fudging the truth," he said.

"She hangs her hat on her experience and years of service. How did she not know?" O'Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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