N.J. Gov. Christie ‘Outraged’ At Bridge Scandal, Says He Just Learned Of Aides’ Behavior

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that he was outraged after learning — he said for the first time — that his administration purposely caused a traffic jam that clogged streets in a town at the foot of a major bridge into New York City to punish a mayor who refused to endorse him for re-election.

Emails unearthed by NorthJersey.com contradicted Mr. Christie’s claims that his administration had nothing to do with the unfolding George Washington Bridge scandal, and sent the tough-talking Republican into damage control.

“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” he said in a late-afternoon statement after the scandal percolated for most of the day. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”

Mr. Christie previously insisted that the traffic jams in Fort Lee and the surrounding New Jersey communities should be blamed on a mishandled traffic study.

The 51-year-old, though, acknowledged Wednesday that he had been duped and said those responsible would be held accountable.

“This will be his first real 2016 test for Christie, and how he handles it could be a real indicator of whether he is ready to make a serious bid for the White House moving forward,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Allegations of bare-knuckle politics may be par for the course in New Jersey, but it’s not something that the American electorate can easily wrap its head around, particularly in this era of highly partisan, petty politics.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Step One For Gillespie: Unite Virginia’s GOP

Before he can take on Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will have to unite a fractious Virginia GOP.

Gillespie’s interest in a Senate campaign has excited national Republicans, who expect him to run. But the commonwealth’s nomination process, a June convention of GOP activists, has often boosted hard-line Tea Party and social conservatives over those preferred by national strategists, which has led to disastrous results for the party. 

That process helped former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) scare off then-Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), a more centrist candidate, from running for governor, and nominated controversial Rev. E.W. Jackson (R) as Cuccinelli’s running mate. Both lost in the fall as Democrats swept statewide offices for the first time in decades.

A closer-than-expected Cuccinelli loss left both sides pointing fingers. Tea Party activists said the national party had abandoned them by not spending enough, while establishment Republicans said Cuccinelli had disqualified himself and cost the party an otherwise winnable race.

While Gillespie would give Republicans a top-tier candidate to take on the popular senator and former governor, first the longtime GOP strategist will have to smooth over tensions between the camps.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Gillespie’s early moves — keeping a relatively low profile and meeting with activists before making an announcement — could help endear him to activists. 

“He has to go in there and really do a lot of groundwork with the people who are going to be in the convention,” he said.

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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2013 Sees Loss Of U.S. Credibility Amid Spy Scandals

While the United States has always touted itself as a "beacon of democracy," critics this year have blasted Washington for its massive domestic and global spying program, accusing President Barack Obama's administration of hypocrisy.

The story began earlier this year, when it was revealed that the U.S. Justice Department was snooping on the Associated Press (AP), obtaining months worth of phone records for 20 separate phone lines in what AP CEO Gary Pruitt called "unconstitutional."

Soon after, more news was uncovered, including reports that the government collected phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen and seized his personal emails.

Then came the biggest story of all, when Edward Snowden revealed a massive National Security Agency (NSA) program that allows analysts to sift through databases that contain emails from millions of Americans, according to documents made public by Snowden. Snowden also uncovered a secret program whereby the government has collected millions of phone records of Verizon customers.

The news grabbed headlines worldwide, and was followed by reports of the U.S. spying on its allies, including accusations of tapping the private cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which the White House denied.

"I think it's damaged the U.S. in terms of world opinion, but I don't know that it's damaged it with respect to doing business and defense (cooperation) with other nations," Republican Strategist Ford O' Connell told Xinhua.

Read more from Matthew Rustling at Xinhua

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How The Ryan-Murray Budget Deal Sets The GOP Up For 2014

The Republican faithful may be up in arms about a budget deal championed by Paul Ryan that passed the Senate yesterday, but they should be grateful. The deal is a political masterstroke that will set up the GOP for victory next November. It also shows that Mr. Ryan is smarter and more strategic than many of his fellow conservatives.

In an ideal world, conservatives would fight to the end to cut government regulations in half, shutter cabinet departments, and reduce taxes significantly. But they will not be able to make a dent in any of those priorities if they don’t have the numbers in Congress.

With the glacial legislative pace and divided Congress we now have in Washington, the only real option for Republicans to enact legislation or fulfill conservative ideals is to take control of the Senate (a net of six seats). Barring a major scandal or absolute catastrophe that backfires against the GOP — such as revisiting the suicide strategy championed by Ted Cruz and conservative nihilists to grind government to a halt — Republicans are poised to do just that next year, winning a potentially significant number of seats in the Senate, along with a majority in the House and a majority of governorships.  As the respected political analyst Charlie Cook notes, 2014 is a “do or die” moment for Republicans in the Senate. The GOP needs to build a strong Senate majority because in 2016, 24 Republicans will be up for re-election, many of them vulnerable to defeat.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Daily Caller

Also See at The Hill: "Budget Deal Will Lead To GOP Victory"

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Obama Has Major Stake In 2014 US Elections

U.S. voters head to the polls next November for congressional midterm elections with enormous political stakes for President Barack Obama.  All 435 seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be at stake along with 33 of the 100 seats in the Democratically-controlled Senate.  Obama has seen a major dip in his public approval rating of late and if that continues, it could be a major factor in the November elections. 

House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans hope to gain congressional seats in November by focusing on the troubled rollout of Obama’s health care law.

“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA [Affordable Care Act] smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they are running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin,” he said.

The president’s party often lost seats in the second term midterm election and the fate of the health care law would have a major impact on the elections, said analyst John Fortier.

Public attitudes toward Congress were dismal in the wake of the government shutdown in October, said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.

Lawmakers with Tea Party support got much of the blame for the shutdown, and that has sparked a new battle within the Republican Party, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“Many mainstream Republicans are now pointing the finger at the Tea Party as well, not just Democrats," he said. "The Tea Party is on to the right issues.  The question is: are they going to change their tactics and their messaging?”

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America 

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Is Paul Ryan Playing A Long Game?

Much to everyone’s surprise, the budget deal squeezed past both houses of Congress. But where does that leave Paul Ryan, the Republican who brokered the deal with Democrats?

Last summer, Ryan’s bona fides as a fiscal conservative landed him the vice-presidential spot on Mitt Romney’s ticket. Famous for his spending and entitlement-slashing budgets, Ryan was recruited to energize the conservative base of the GOP.

A year and a half later, with speculation already swirling about who the Republicans will field in the next presidential election, Ryan could find himself on the opposite side of the equation, having sacrificed his well earned reputation for fiscal conservatism on the altar of compromise.

The other top 2016 conservative contenders -- Senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz -- have spotted the chance to outflank Ryan on the inside. They have conspicuously refused to  back the bipartisan budget agreement Ryan crafted and are poised to vote against it, leaving the Wisconsin congressman all alone on the budget issue.

“For Rubio, Paul and Cruz, this vote is about keeping the powder dry, pure and simple,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “They are going to have a few more tough votes most likely between now and 2016 and they just want to keep the powder dry.”

This is particularly true in Rubio’s case, O’Connell noted, because Rubio angered the conservative base when earlier this year he worked with Democrats on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“He is looking to make himself a problem solver on Capitol Hill,” O’Connell said. “He’s one of the few people, at least in the House, that can really take up that mantle because he’s trusted by both conservatives and members of the establishment in the party.”

Read more from Pema Levy at Newsweek

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GOP Hopes Taking Shutdown Off The Table With Budget Deal Will Pay Dividends

By clearing the decks of the bipartisan budget deal, some political observers say, the GOP establishment is banking on the idea that giving up ground in the spending battle now will pay off over the long run by allowing Republicans to avoid getting punished for another government shutdown.

According to this scenario, if there’s no government shutdown, Republicans can focus on the 2014 congressional elections and bank on the growing opposition to Obamacare to strengthen their numbers on Capitol Hill. In the best case, they could add the Senate to their control of the House and be in a better position to pursue the spending reductions and limited-government policies that Democrats have thwarted in recent years.

“This was the establishment wing of the party telling the base that elections have consequences,” said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist. “Because Obamacare is the golden goose for 2014, they don’t want to have anything interfere with making as many gains as possible in Congress — particularly in the Senate.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Strategist O'Connell To GOP: Honor Reagan But Move On

Republican candidates must stop "kneecapping each other" over who is most like GOP icon Ronald Reagan and create a new agenda to win over voters, noted GOP strategist Ford O'Connell says.

"Over the past two presidential cycles . . . we wound up engaging in a 'battle royal' over who's the right player to Ronald Reagan," O'Connell told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"Ronald Reagan's the greatest president of the modern era, but essentially having this sort of a bloodbath . . . makes us really look out of touch," he said Tuesday.

Read more at Newsmax.com

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Conservatives Turn Heat On Red-State Democrats Over Judges

Conservative groups are looking to make the Capitol Hill battle over President Obama’s judicial nominees an issue in Senate elections in 2014 by arguing that red-state Democrats are “rubber-stamping” liberal judges.

The Judicial Crisis Network has already announced a round of ads attacking Sen. Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana for supporting all of Mr. Obama’s judicial picks, and said she and other Democrats will have to be careful going forward about which judges they approve.

“They are going to have to decide whether they are gong to stick with a president who is flagging in popularity or represent the more moderate voters in their home states who will turn out at the ballot box,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network.

The issue boiled over late last month when Senate Democrats used the so-called nuclear option to change the chamber’s long-standing filibuster rules, eliminating the GOP’s chance for partisan blockades and making it easier for Mr. Obama’s nominations to clear the chamber.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP consultant, said the fight is “too inside baseball” for most rank-and-file voters — though it is an issue that resonates with tea partyers and the Republican base.

“Southerners in particular — in Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina — hate what they perceive as judicial activism from progressives,” he said.

Democrats said they welcome an electoral fight about judges, saying they believe voters will want to punish Republicans for obstruction of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Republican Strategist, Ford O’Connell Advises The GOP To ‘End The Reagan Fetish’

A new book from former John McCain campaign worker, Ford O’Connell has ruffled some feathers in the Grand Old Party with the release of his new book, “Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."

In his book, O’Connell looks at the fall of the Republican Party and ten very specific pieces of advise for the revitalizing the party.

Read more from Robert Herriman at The Global Dispatch

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