Republicans Seek To Win Over Black Voters Once Obama’s Gone

Republicans believe they have an opportunity to nudge their support up among black voters in the 2016 presidential election with President Obama not on the ballot — and take a major stride toward winning the White House in the process. 

But they also acknowledge that it won’t be an easy task.

Republicans believe the 2016 Democratic nominee will not be able to produce the spike in black turnout nor the increase in already-overwhelming black support that Obama enjoyed in his two victories.

Even a modest rise in black backing for the GOP could be critical in swing states, independent experts acknowledge.

The last Republican presidential nominee to win 15 percent or more of black support was President Ford in 1976.

And experts warn that major shifts in voting behavior are a long time coming.

But even those who are supportive of Paul’s efforts believe that could be expecting far too much.

“I think what he is doing will eventually have a positive effect,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “But the fruits of Paul’s work won’t be realized for two or three election cycles.”

Still, while a sea change in the black vote might be too much for Republicans to hope for, party strategists believe that even the most basic considerations could help.

“Republicans need to pay attention to rhetoric and tone,” O’Connell said. “Don’t give people a reason to vote against you.”

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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On Iran, Scott Walker Turns To Former Hostage

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cites world leaders and foreign affairs experts as the source of his knowledge on several foreign policy issues. But on U.S. policy toward Iran, he frequently mentions his friend Kevin Hermening as crucial to his thinking. Hermening, a resident of Wausau, Wis., was a 20-year-old Marine taken prisoner in Iran in 1979 during the hostage crisis. He now operates a financial consulting firm.

Iran held 52 Americans, including Hermening, in captivity for 444 days. After he attempted to escape, Hermening spent 43 days in solitary confinement. He was the youngest American hostage, finally released after President Ronald Reagan took office.

Walker has been criticized for his lack of education on foreign policy. An article in Foreign Policy magazine recently said "misgivings about Walker's knowledge of the world go far beyond a few badly placed words" and that there is a "growing perception that when it comes to foreign policy, he's an empty chair."

Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist who worked for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008, said Walker has recently improved his message on foreign policy but has a long way to go.

"Unfortunately for Scott, what that means is this transformation does not occur overnight, it's really a time-intensive endeavor," O'Connell said. "And a lot of [presidential candidates] — not just Scott — are behind the clock, particularly the governors."

Walker runs the risk of becoming a "Johnny one-note," if he harps on his personal connection to Hermening too much, which could catch up to the governor in upcoming debates, said O'Connell.

O'Connell said Walker should follow Romney's example and study foreign policy for several hours each day to better prepare himself for the rigors of the campaign.

Read more from Ryan Lovelace at The Washington Examiner

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Lindsey Graham's Entry Into Race Could Help Marco Rubio, Hurt Rand Paul

Sen. Lindsey Graham will formally announce his candidacy for president in his hometown of Central, S.C., on Monday, entering the race with the strongest foreign policy resume of any candidate.

Republican strategists give him little chance of winning, but say he could play the role of kingmaker in South Carolina, a crucial early primary state that — with the exception of 2012 — historically picks the Republican nominee.

Graham’s bid is designed to push the muscular foreign policy approach that he and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his close ally, have advocated for years.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, said Graham could become a major player just by virtue of being in the race.

“He has a real chance to be kingmaker in South Carolina, given how crowded this field is. He could also wind up turning this into a Cabinet position, should the Republicans win the White House,” he said.

If Graham pulls out before the South Carolina primary, his endorsement could provide a significant boost to a rival.

O’Connell said South Carolina may wind up as the second-most important primary, given its position ahead of all-important Florida.

“Rubio is putting a lot into South Carolina,” O’Connell said, adding that Rubio wants to perform well in either New Hampshire or South Carolina before squaring off against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Sunshine State.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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GOP Governors Shift States Rightward, Bidding For Primary Support

Republican governors with White House ambitions are enacting conservative policies in their states as they seek to appeal to GOP primary voters in 2016.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are moving aggressively to deepen their state’s conservative imprint on everything from social issues to education.

The trio of governors already had conservative records to run on, particularly on fiscal issues.

But they are finding that’s not enough to earn the trust of interest groups closely watching the primaries. They also are looking to distinguish themselves in a crowded Republican field.

“They’re all looking for a niche, that edge to help them stand out in a field that nobody seems able to break away from,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Some of these issues could be winners, depending on how they’re framed, but they’re also walking a fine line in appealing to the GOP base without alienating the general public, should they win the nomination.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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Barbs Could Get Ugly In Crowded 2016 Republican Field

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal isn’t ready to declare he is running for president, but that hasn’t stopped him from declaring one of his likely rivals unfit for the job — launching the sort of stinging attack that’s usually reserved for the latter days of the campaign.

Expect it to be the norm as analysts say the 20 or so Republicans planning presidential bids are going to resort to those kinds of attacks as they try to carve out space within the crowded field, and try to win attention from primary voters by trying to knock front-running candidates off the top of the hill.

Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” — will be put to the test as the clawing commences and the field continues to grow.

Part of the incentive is that sharp barbs win free media coverage, which is an easy way for candidates without much money to try to compete for attention.

This go-round the competition could get uglier early than usual thanks to the size of the field and the announcements from Fox News and CNN that the first two GOP sanctioned debates will be cut off at the top ten candidates based on an average of polls.

On Wednesday, Mr. Jindal blasted Mr. Paul for accusing “hawks” within the GOP for pushing an adventurous foreign policies that helped the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, expand its terrorist reach.

“This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander in chief,” Mr. Jindal said. “We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position.”

Analysts said Mr. Jindal was trying to gain attention by being outspoken.

“Jindal needs to win traction in the polls and this is a beyond safe way to do it,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “He is a wonk that no one seems to want to listen to and this is the best way for him to grab attention — particularly on an issue that Republican primary voters care strongly about.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Here’s What It Sounds Like When Generation X Runs For President

Declaring Tupac Shakur superior to The Notorious B.I.G. Listing off favorite Clinton-era episodes of The Simpsons. A romantic epiphany that involved a foam party and a pay phone.

It could all be late-night chatter in a mid-1990s dorm room – or the recent musings of Republican men vying to be the leader of the free world.

Generation X has hit the campaign trail.

For the first time, multiple members of Gen X are running for president – candidates who came of age during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the fall of Communism, the first Gulf War and the 24-hour news cycle. They expertly quote from ‘80s and 90s movies and music. They admit to being hooked on video games and binge-watching "mind candy" television.

Politically, they are painting themselves as young, fresh alternatives to lead the country in a new direction, away from candidates named Bush and Clinton. Their politics largely lie in the same narrow band as most of the rest of the GOP field. What’s different – often around the margins, sometimes front and center – are the stories they use to relay those views and the experiences that shaped them.

“We live in an HBO, ESPN, TMZ society,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Most people do not follow politics that closely. Sometimes, talking about something other than politics can be smarter than talking about politics.”

Read more from Katie Zezima and Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post

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Rick Santorum: Presidential Candidate Again, But So Much Has Changed

Rick Santorum had quite a ride in 2012.

The former senator from Pennsylvania won the Republican caucuses in Iowa by just 34 votes – a big victory for an upstart presidential candidate with little organization or money – and became the conservative alternative to eventual nominee Mitt Romney. All told, Mr. Santorum won 11 nominating contests and accumulated the second-highest vote total after Mr. Romney.

On Wednesday, Santorum is expected to announce his second run for the presidency from his hometown of Butler, Pa.  

In short, it’s highly unlikely Santorum can catch fire the way he did four years ago. But what’s the downside in running again?

“I don’t see one at all, particularly since Santorum can say he had a strong showing in 2012,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. But the counterargument is that “they weren’t voting for him, they were voting against Mitt Romney. This time around, it’s 31 flavors.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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2016 GOP Field Grows More Crowded

The Republican presidential field will swell to nine official candidates in the next week as three new contenders enter the race.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who, in 2012, won the Iowa caucuses and finished second overall to eventual nominee Mitt Romney, is expected to announce his second consecutive presidential bid from Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

On Thursday, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), a long shot, will most likely hit the launch button from New Hampshire.  

And Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will enter the race from his hometown of Central, S.C., becoming the fourth senator to throw his hat into the ring.

The trio faces an uphill climb in the fight for money, media, and top-level political staffers and advisers.

Santorum and Graham currently hang on the precipice of the top 10, while Pataki doesn’t register in polls at all.

Of the three, Santorum starts in the best position based on the strength of his 2012 campaign, when he emerged as the most formidable challenger to Romney.

But Republican strategists say the political terrain he faces in 2016 is much more difficult. They are doubtful he’ll be able to recapture the magic from 2012.

“This field is exponentially stronger, and a lot of his momentum from 2012 was based on the anti-Romney vote. It wasn’t necessarily pro-Santorum,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Graham also appears to have been spurred to run to thwart the presidential ambitions of his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose foreign policy views he believes are dangerous.

“I still feel the main reason he’s running for president is as a protest vote to Rand Paul, but he could wind up turning this into a Cabinet position,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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Jeb Bush Is All Over The Place On Climate Change

Jeb Bush is hard to pin down on climate change.

The former Florida governor, who has taken more moderate stances on controversial issues such as immigration and education than many of his Republican White House rivals, is attempting to thread the needle on climate change, energy and the environment.

In recent months, Bush has suggested that the U.S. should adapt to climate change and work with other countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions while also outlining a moral case for protecting the planet. The green group funded by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer even applauded Bush for saying he was "concerned" about the changing climate.

That set Bush apart from Republican presidential contenders such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who questions whether global temperatures are rising and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who has thrown cold water on the idea that the U.S. can convince countries like China and India to rein in emissions.

But Bush is a far cry from being climate champion. He has does not acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity drives climate change and attacks the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency enforcing President Obama's ambitious effort to tackle global warming.

And apart from suggesting that increased reliance on natural gas would lower American emissions, Bush has given little indication that he would put forward any overarching plan of his own to confront climate change.

Bush's record so far is evidence of an attempt to walk a fine line, strategists say.

"He's leaving some wiggle room," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and former campaign advisor to John McCain. "I don't think Jeb Bush will stick his neck out too far heading into the primary. But he also won't want to have his hands tied one way or the other on climate change if he reaches the general."

Read more from Clare Foran at NationalJournal

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Rand Paul Hopes His Opposition To Patriot Act Boosts Campaign Support

As his fellow Republican Kentucky senator, Mitch McConnell, pushes this week to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Rand Paul took his presidential campaign to Independence Mall on Monday and said he’d do whatever he could to kill the law and the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

“One senator came up to me and said, ‘If you defeat the Patriot Act, what will happen? How could we possibly survive?’ ” Paul said on a muggy afternoon, outside the Philadelphia hall where the Constitution was adopted. “And I said maybe, just maybe, we could rely on the Constitution for a few hours.”

Paul’s vow to fight the Patriot Act sets up a showdown with McConnell, and it’s an important moment for his campaign. Polls show Paul mired in the middle of a crowded field of Republican contenders, and he’s hoping his threat to filibuster over the mass collection of phone records will bring back the excitement of the 13-hour anti-drone talkathon on the Senate floor two years ago that launched him into national prominence.

Paul won supporters two years ago when he launched a filibuster in protest of what he deemed a risk of drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil. But Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said in an interview that Paul now had a fine line to walk as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination between firing up libertarian-minded backers and not appearing weak on national security and foreign policy.

“Foreign policy is driving him down in the polls, but it’s stances like this on the Patriot Act that are still sparking interest in him,” said O’Connell, who advised the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “He has to be able to use the Patriot Act debate to leverage it into a wider foreign-policy debate.”

Paul, who’s feuded with the hawkish McCain on foreign policy issues, said Monday that American intervention had backfired in Iraq and Libya.

Read more from Sean Cockerham at McClatchyDC

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