The GOP Goes Pragmatic In 2014

Did Mitch McConnell keep his word and bury the tea party?

The overwhelming victory of McConnell himself — the embodiment of the Republican establishment — over tea party-aligned Matt Bevin in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary would suggest so. So, many would say, did the victory by Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s speaker of the House, in the Republican primary to take on incumbent Kay Hagan. Tea party Senate candidates in Georgia and Colorado have been vanquished as well.

But most expect Tillis will earn tea party support when the dust clears, and Georgians are expected to line up behind their eventual nominee as well. Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, a tea party challenger to Thad Cochran, who has been in the Senate since 1978, could well win. And David Dewhurst, an establishment Republican stalwart, could lose his job as lieutenant governor of Texas if present trends continue. 

This is disturbing not to Republicans but to Democratic operatives and their friends in the media. As Robert Costa and Phillip Rucker wrote in The Washington Post, “Democrats were left disappointed” with Tuesday’s primary results, as “GOP Senate candidates prone to making controversial statements lost to better-financed, more disciplined rivals with the potential to capi­tal­ize on Obama’s unpopularity and the troubles with his signature health-care law.”

That is, candidates who can win won, and candidates prone to blow it blew it.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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Secretary In ‘No-Win Situation’ As He’s Called To Testify On Consulate Scandal

Secretary of State John F. Kerry will be on the hot seat next month — slated to be grilled by GOP congressional pit bull Darrell Issa on the alleged White House cover-up of the Benghazi terrorist attacks — in a high-profile hearing that threatens to embroil him in the growing scandal and distract him from his international agenda, critics said yesterday.

“He’s in a no-win situation,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Boston. “If he doesn’t testify, it just gives the story more legs and they say, ‘He’s in a cover-up.’ When he does arrive, it heightens the attention to the story.”

Kerry yesterday agreed to testify on June 12 after Issa’s House Oversight Committee recently released so-called “smoking gun” emails showing the White House misleading the American public on the nature of the Sept. 11, 2012, al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.

“As the head of the State Department, you might have an inkling as to where the bodies are buried,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “It will continue to grow because this is also going parallel to the VA scandal. You’re seeing a pattern by this administration of holding the ball and giving a song and dance over and over.”

A 12-member House Oversight select committee on the Benghazi scandal is being set up by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will chair the hearings.

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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Is 'Ageism' At Heart Of Shocking Video Against Mississippi Senator?

In two hotly contested primaries, age is creeping into the narrative and raising the specter of “ageism” as voters prepare to go to the polls.

In Texas, the oldest member of Congress – Rep. Ralph Hall (R) – faces a primary challenger 43 years his junior in a runoff next Tuesday, and the issue is starting to bite. Former US attorney John Ratcliffe said Thursday that he thinks age is fair game in the campaign to unseat Congressman Hall, who is in his early 90s.

In Mississippi, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is in his mid-70s – a spring chicken, by the Senate’s historical standards – but he’s still fighting his primary opponent’s story line that it’s time for new (read: younger) blood. Senator Cochran is also facing allegations he’s avoiding public appearances back home.

What’s more, Cochran’s opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is embroiled in a controversy over the actions of a supporter who allegedly photographed Cochran’s bedridden wife in her nursing home and posted a video online (since removed). The supporter has been arrested and faces felony charges. Senator McDaniel says he and his campaign had nothing to do with the actions of the supporter, a blogger named Clayton Kelly. The Cochran campaign is raising questions about the McDaniel camp’s denials.

Though the photos were of Cochran’s wife, the intent of the video was “clearly to make Cochran look like an old man,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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New Jersey's Fiscal Woes Imperil An Already-Damaged Chris Christie

The scandal over a made-up study that badly disrupted traffic at the George Washington Bridge may not be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's biggest problem after all.

Less than a year after the charismatic governor was the toast of the Republican Party and a leading contender to run for the White House in 2016, the story was supposed to be about a New Jersey economy that he had managed to turn around and budget problems he had been able to solve. That narrative appears to be unraveling.

Almost six months into his second term as governor, Christie faces a more than $800 million budget gap. The state's credit rating - already downgraded twice by each of the three main rating agencies - could be hit again, while the state's public unions are suing over Christie's decision to slash mandatory payments to the pension fund by 60 percent.

At the same time, New Jersey's economy is less than buoyant - its jobless rate is 6.9 percent, higher than the national rate of 6.3 percent.

His failures on the fiscal front, though, could haunt him more than the investigations into the scandal, widely known as Bridgegate, political strategists said. Christie already faced an uphill struggle against conservative Republicans because he has not taken aggressive stances on some social issues, such as gun control and gay marriage. He can now also be attacked by Republican opponents over his ability to run New Jersey in a fiscally sound way.

"This has the potential to be a much bigger problem for Christie's 2016 prospects than Bridgegate," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist. "The best he can do to boost his chances in 2016 is to get New Jersey's fiscal state in order."

Read more from Edith Honan and Gabriel Debenedetti at Reuters

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Premium Hike Drumbeat Before Elections

States are nailing down dates to release 2015 premium costs under ObamaCare, and their decisions will guarantee a drumbeat of news about rate hikes all the way to the November midterm elections.

Democrats are bracing for grim headlines that could put the unpopular law back at the forefront of voters’ minds.

Premiums are expected to go up in a majority of states, as they do every year, but the size of the increases could go a long way toward determining how much political damage ObamaCare inflicts on vulnerable Democratic lawmakers. 

A survey by The Hill of state insurance commissioners found that news about ObamaCare premiums will hit nearly every week this summer (see list below), providing ample opportunity for Republicans to attack any significant premium hikes. 

A slew of states will publish proposed prices in June, including Colorado and Louisiana — where the GOP is targeting Democratic Senate incumbents. 

Others will wait until later in the season, including West Virginia and Arkansas. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, a fact that his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), has repeatedly raised.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), a top GOP target, will see her state publish rates on Aug. 15 or later. 

Health rates on the individual and small-group markets usually attract little to no attention from the political press. This year will be different.

Control of the Senate is within the GOP’s reach in 2014, and a resurgence of bad news about ObamaCare could boost Republican chances.

“That has the potential to be a very powerful weapon for the GOP in the midterms,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Democrats, meanwhile, point to signs that the GOP is backing away from healthcare as the party’s main campaign issue.

Read more from Elise Viebeck 
and Pierre de Dreuzy at The Hill

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Pennsylvania Just Legalized Same Sex Marriage And Rick Santorum Has Nothing To Say

On Tuesday afternoon, a conservative federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush struck down Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban, ruling that prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from marrying violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, concluded. A day later, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) — who is facing a tough re-election bid — announced he would not appeal the ruling, allowing Pennsylvania to become the 19th state, along with the District of Columbia, where same-sex couples can marry.

Any comment would prove undoubtedly awkward, since Judge Jones was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2002, at the urging of Santorum, who described him as “highly qualified to assume the important role of Judge and the duty of protecting the Constitution and ensuring the effective operation of our judicial system.” Still, politicians rarely allow consistency to get in the way of political expediency and Santorum had plenty of opportunities to express disappointment with his nominee.

But some Republican strategists suggest that Santorum’s choice to remain silent is indicative of the GOP’s decision to de-emphasize its rhetorical opposition to gay rights in an effort to attract younger and more moderate voters.

“The push for same-sex marriage nationally is moving much faster than many in the Republican Party, including Rick Santorum, ever thought it would,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told ThinkProgress. “And now the GOP is trying to internally rectify the changing landscape because their position hurts them primarily with voters under 40; those same voters they need in the tent if they want to win the White House in 2016.”

“Those running for President on the right side of the aisle recognize that until the Party is able to fully square itself with the changing times, it is best suited to at the minimum show respect for gay rights,” O’Connell said. By remaining silent, Santorum may be trying to do just that.

Read more from Igor Volsky at Think Progress

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GOP Strategist: VA Scandal Shows Obama Presidency A 'Farce'

The recent scandals that have plagued the Obama administration have shown President Barack Obama to be either "the most incompetent or the most detached president in the modern era," says GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

"And unfortunately, this should be worrying a lot of Americans," O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV. 

Obama has said about a variety of scandals taking place in his administration that he learned about them on television, including the most recent one in which secret wait lists were allegedly kept at several VA hospitals throughout the country to make it look like patients were not waiting more than the required 14-day period, while in some cases they were actually waiting for months. At the VA hospital in Phoenix, 40 patients allegedly died while waiting to see a doctor. 

O'Connell says that the problem stems from how Americans tend to vote because elections have become "a popularity contest, not a competency contest."

But the GOP strategist thinks Americans may be starting to see through the president. 

"It's sad and callous to say about this but in some ways, the VA scandal is a good thing," O'Connell said. "It's sad to see this coming off the back of veterans, but that's what it really takes for a lot of people to open their eyes to what has really been a farce as a presidency."

O'Connell said the VA scandal, like most issues relating to the military, is "a bipartisan issue, and it's really opening up the eyes of the mainstream media and independent fence-sitting voters to the fact that this is systematic failure on the part of the president. It may be time for new management."

Read more from Courtney Coren at Newsmax.com

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Christie’s Biggest Battle Isn’t Scandal

For Gov. Chris Christie, it’s his state’s budget — not “Bridgegate” — that could derail his 2016 ambitions.

The New Jersey Republican unveiled a plan on Tuesday to combat the state’s $807 million budget shortfall, as he’s required to do by state law. He says it wouldn’t raise taxes and would reduce pension payments for public workers.

But now the Christie administration must begin wrangling with a Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass the plan and overhaul the state’s finances. It’s his first major test since the fallout after senior officials in his administration were implicated in the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge as an apparent act of political payback. 

“This is a make-or-break moment for Chris Christie. As the Bridgegate scandal swirls around him, the best thing he can do is get Jersey’s fiscal house in order,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “If he can’t, that’s where they’ll tar and feather him if he gets up onstage in a GOP primary.”

Christie continued to blame former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat he defeated in 2009, for his budget woes during the unveiling of his proposal on Tuesday.

“We will not make the payment that apply to the sins of the past,” Christie said at a press conference on Tuesday in Trenton. “We’re still digging out of problems two decades in the making.”

Read more from Kevin Cirilli at The Hill

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GA, KY primaries Key To GOP Control Of Senate

Republicans on Tuesday will cast votes in the two states where they are most vulnerable heading into November’s elections — Georgia and Kentucky — where primaries could leave the GOP champions bruised as they prepare to face strong female Democrats.

“If the Democrats win in either Kentucky or Georgia, it will be next to impossible for Republicans to take the Senate in 2014,” said Ford O'Connell, a Republican Party strategist. “That is the bottom line.”

Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania also have primaries Tuesday that will set the lineups for a series of general election showdowns.

But it’s the two Republican-held Senate seats that are getting the most attention because of the stakes involved and the bitter turn the primaries have taken in the five-way Georgia contest, and the Kentucky battle, which pits top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell against tea party-backed Matt Bevin.

While the Kentucky primary is shaping up as formality, the Republican contest in Georgia is far less certain.

If no one wins 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, it will go to a two-candidate runoff in July.

As it stands, the battle for a spot in a runoff race has boiled down to a three-person contest of Rep. Jack Kingston, deep-pocketed businessman David Perdue and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.

That could be a bad omen for Democrats, as polls show likely Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn was performing better against Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul C. Broun, who were seen as the most conservative candidates in the race.

But Mrs. Kingston, Mr. Perdue and Mrs. Handel have engaged in an increasingly vicious campaign, which is likely to continue for another 90 days until the July 22 runoff.

“The question will be: Will the next nine weeks be a civil period or one of scorched earth?” Mr. O'Connell said. “If it is scorched earth, then too many open wounds on the eventually GOP victory could give Nunn an opening.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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John Kerry Suggests New Direction

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s remarks favoring U.S. interventionism in a commencement address at Yale University stand in stark contrast with the Obama administration’s gun-shy responses to strife in Syria and Ukraine — as well as his own historic opposition to U.S. actions overseas.

Instead, Kerry, alarmed by what is happening in the world, appears to be trying to carve out his own stance of America’s role in global affairs independent of his boss in the Oval Office, security and political analysts say.

Speaking from the same stage where he gave a fiery anti-Vietnam, anti-intervention speech upon graduating from Yale in 1966, Kerry told graduates yesterday that America has swung too far toward isolationism.

“We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade,” said Kerry, who initially voted for the Iraq War but later campaigned against it. “I can tell you for certain, most of the rest of the world doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence. They worry what would happen in 
our absence.”

GOP political consultant Ford O’Connell said Kerry’s remarks represent a counterpoint to Obama’s “idealistic” foreign policy philosophy, which he said counts on greater restraint and international cooperation to tamp down hostilities.

“For once in his life, John Kerry’s being a realist. He understands the world is a difficult place,” O’Connell said. “He knows he doesn’t want America to be the world’s policeman, but he knows if America doesn’t have a foothold in international affairs, America’s going to wind up on the losing end. He recognizes that Obama’s held sway over the current generation such that it becomes a problem, into isolationism.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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