Ben Carson Resists 'Gladiator' Battle With Donald Trump, Dismisses Insults

As former pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson rises in the polls, he has taken a very different approach to dealing with 2016 Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump from many of his opponents.

After Carson made a comment last week appearing to question Trump's religious faith, he apologized in multiple interviews, suggesting the media misrepresented his comments to create a conflict between the leading Republican candidates.

New polls released Monday further solidified Trump and Carson's positions at the top of the Republican field. A Washington Post/ABC News national poll found Trump leading with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with 33%, Carson with 20%, and Jeb Bush a distant third with 8%.

With Carson now sharing the campaign spotlight as the second Republican debate approaches, media attention has focused on the matchup between him and Trump, but Carson has been cautious in taking on the front-runner. Political observers say that resistance to negative campaigning is part of his appeal.

Trump's attacks on Carson have not been as sharp or relentless as those he has launched against other candidates like Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul.

"Calling him an okay doctor is not going to be an effective line of attack," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

If Trump is going to criticize Carson, O'Connell said, "What he needs to be focusing on is, does Carson have the qualifications to run the country."

Carson's unique position in the Republican field may contribute to his strategy. He and Trump are both vying for the support of angry anti-establishment voters, so if he can sell himself as the more responsible, mature version of an outsider candidate, he could poach some of Trump's backers.

"What he's trying to do is show that he's the adult outsider," O'Connell said.

Carson has the highest favorability rating among Republicans of all the GOP hopefuls, and going negative on Trump could damage that.

"He has a likeability that's worth his weight in gold," O'Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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2nd Presidential Bust May End Rick Perry's Political Career

Rick Perry spent four years after his 2012 presidential collapse trying to ensure that "Oops" wouldn't be the final word on his political career.

It didn't work.

For the 2016 race, the longest-serving governor in Texas history swapped cowboy boots for eyeglasses, hit the road again, promoted his state's job-creating prowess, boned up with policy experts. This would be a humbler, better prepared candidate, ready for the national spotlight, he promised.

Now, barely three months after Perry announced presidential bid No. 2 in a broiling airplane hangar outside Dallas, the reboot is history.

So, too, seemingly is the political career he wanted to revive.

It was no surprise when Perry announced Friday in St. Louis that he was suspending a campaign that was nearly broke and polling at close to zero. Still, such a precipitous drop was once hard to imagine for a savvy politician who had presided for 14 years over Texas and its booming economy.

Perry, 65, hasn't announced his retirement, but so far there's been no repeat of the pledge, made after the 2012 debacle, not to ride off into the political sunset.

"You saw a different guy, but he was invalidated by that gaffe," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "He worked his tail off, he put a lot of effort in. But there was no way he could have recovered."

Read more from Will Weissert at The Associated Press

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Diagnosing Scott Walker's Freefall In Iowa

No Republican running for president may have suffered more from the rise of the "outsider" candidates than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Once considered among the party's top tier and its front-runner in Iowa, his poll numbers have begun to collapse. Walker, who holds the No. 6 spot in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings, has a record as a conservative governor of a blue state appealed to dueling factions of the GOP: conservatives and the moderate-minded establishment. But the rise of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina has neatly coincided with the governor's slide in the polls.

Walker's campaign placed a big bet on Iowa, and his downward spiral in the state could spell disaster for his campaign. Walker fell to tenth place in a Qunnipiac University survey of Iowan voters released on Friday. He led the field in Quinnipiac's July poll, but has since dropped 15 percentage points while Donald Trump and Ben Carson have skyrocketed into the first two slots.

Some analysts think the Walker campaign has found itself behind on the scoreboard because of how other candidates have dominated the airwaves.

During his 2007 presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani failed to recover from his decision to bypass the early states in favor of a longer-term strategy. Ford O'Connell, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said Walker's decline in the polls has begun to resemble Giuliani's precipitous drop eight years ago.

"What he's got going for him [that Giuliani did not] is he's a governor," O'Connell said, suggesting voters' may value Walker's record of accomplishment. "I have no idea [if he can comeback]. He's going to have to find a way to get into Trump's orbit."

Read more from Ryan Lovelace at The Washington Examiner

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Small-Dollar Donor Mindset Helps Long-Shot Candidates Cash In

Daniel Moughon, an insurance salesman from Fort Worth, Texas, said he knew long shot Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was special after listening to one of her early Iowa speeches. He's donated to her 10 times since then. 

Moughon is not giving millions, though. He's not even giving thousands. 

In fact, he has added just $273 to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO's campaign coffers through small donations ranging from $7 up to $100. 

Why Fiorina? "Well, one, you can't trust elected Republicans, they've let us down time after time," Moughon said. "Carly Fiorina has a clear message. She's a true outsider and a true proven leader."

It's not a lot of money, but he and others like him account for 45 percent of the $1.7 million Fiorina's campaign has raised so far, according to the Federal Election Commission. And Fiorina is not the only presidential long shot who is doing well with small-dollar donors this campaign season.

By end of the last filing period, June 30, Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont had raised $13.6 million, over 80 percent of which came from donations of $200 or less. Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson's campaign had raised $10.6 million, three quarters of which came from similarly small donations, according to the Federal Election Commission.

While dollars flowed into Fiorina's and Carson's campaigns amid low polling earlier this summer and continue to do so, an array of GOP strategists and political scientists say the two outsider candidates don't stand much of a shot at actually being the Republican presidential nominee.

"Let's put it this way-- the last time someone who's never held public office won the presidency, let alone the nomination, was [Dwight] Eisenhower," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican commentator and adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. 

O'Connell said that while Fiorina and Carson tap into a group of conservatives who are fed up with Washington, some political experience is necessary. 

"Republicans are more about ideology than a lot of other things, but they also like to see someone have a track record," O'Connell said.

Read more from Emily Hoerner and Phoebe Tollefson at U.S. News & World Report 

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Jeb Bush, John Kasich Clash Looms In New Hampshire

Jeb Bush's New Hampshire strategy is working out fine -- just not for him.

But for John Kasich, it's a different story. The Ohio governor is on the rise, adopting elements of the Bush playbook and threatening to elbow his rival out of the role of establishment conservative with genuine general election appeal.

Should he build on a fast start in the Granite State and improve his so far limited appeal elsewhere, it's becoming clear that Kasich could emerge as a viable rival to Bush for the affections of the GOP elites.

For all his struggles to deal with the volcanic outsider Donald Trump, it could be the biggest threat to Bush winning the GOP nomination will be the chipper career politician from the Buckeye State.

Even if he fails to make it big nationwide, Kasich could still wound Bush with a big night in New Hampshire in February. That's because the former Florida governor's tough road in other early voting states makes a strong Granite State showing imperative.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell agrees on the importance of New Hampshire for Bush, arguing that history shows the state favors an establishment GOP candidate who is fairly moderate on many issues but is hawkish on national security.

"That would favor someone like Jeb Bush, but when it comes to corralling those establishment voters, I do think that John Kasich is the biggest threat to Jeb Bush becoming the nominee," he said.

And Bush needs a victory, or least a robust performance in New Hampshire, to set him up as a formidable candidate in later contests.

"Bush has to win New Hampshire and Florida. To get that momentum he has to have a strong showing in New Hampshire. If John Kasich wins New Hampshire or places second, the game board dramatically changes for Jeb Bush in a lot of ways," said O'Connell.

Read more from Stephen Collinson at CNN

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How This Man Is Reshaping The 2016 Presidential Election

No other Republican can match the role Trey Gowdy is playing in shaping the Democratic presidential race.

As the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, his investigation is altering the public's perception of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state just as voters prepare to cast their ballots in next year's primaries. The House formed Gowdy's committee in 2014 to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The revelation of Clinton's exclusive use of a personal email address and private server(s) as secretary of state originated from Gowdy's investigation. Now the FBI and inspectors general of multiple executive branch agencies have launched their own inquiries.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Gowdy eschewed recognition for anything other than his own investigation.

Republican strategists hope his committee's cross-examination of Clinton will produce a moment that helps define Clinton's campaign.

"Depending on what Trey Gowdy and company do when she appears in October, one thing that might be a powerful image here is a spectacle of her becoming a witness in a House hearing," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, a veteran of the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign. "And that will continue to likely cast a cloud over her campaign and as such you will continue to hear [Vice President Joe] Biden chatter."

Read more from Ryan Lovelace at The Washington Examiner

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Poll: Republicans Think Newly Loyal Trump Will Be Nominee

Donald Trump's decision to rule out a third party run has led a record percentage of Republican voters into thinking he will be the GOP nominee, according to the latest installment of Rasmussen Report's "Trump Change."

Friday's report shows a slight majority of American voters believe the outspoken billionaire will continue to prevail all the way through the Republican National Convention next July, where the GOP nominee will be selected. Among Republican voters, 66 percent think Trump will be their party's nominee and 26 percent consider it "very likely."

Previous results indicate that the number of Republicans anticipating a Trump nomination has grown rapidly in recent weeks: up 7 percentage points since last Friday, 10 points since the week before that, and nearly 40 points since Rasmussen first asked voters about the billionaire's chances when he announced his candidacy in mid-June.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says the impressive jump between last week's results and Friday's report is likely due to Trump's long-awaited commitment to the Republican Party.

"Signing the pledge in a manner befitting only of Trump can only help him and right now he is standing on top of the world," O'Connell told the Washington Examiner, adding that the real estate mogul "is no longer just a shiny object for the media."

"Trump has shown far more durability as a candidate than anyone could have imagined, including the Donald himself, [and] he is, in fact, a credible threat to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination," O'Connell said.

Read more from Gabby Morrongiello at The Washington Examiner

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Hollywood Conservative Buzz Builds For Ben Carson As GOP Contender Surges In Polls

“You’re talking about a guy who grew up in blue-collar Michigan and who wound up going to Yale,” a Republican insider tells TheWrap. “This is like a Hallmark special”

Hollywood conservatives are watching with intrigue and skepticism as Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson rises in the polls to challenge frontrunner Donald Trump.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Carson, a neurosurgeon who’s never held office before, in second place in the wide GOP field after Trump. A Monmouth University survey of Iowa Republicans on Monday show Carson tied with the real-estate mogul, while a Des Moines Register and Bloomberg poll had both candidates running neck and neck within the poll’s margin of error.

As of now, two Hollywood A-listers have publicly thrown their support behind Carson. Roger McGuinn, former lead singer and guitarist for The Byrds, gave $1,000 to the Carson campaign. And Kid Rock announced earlier this year that he supports Carson, but did not donate in the second quarter.

“Hollywood folks want to make sure that they back the right horse,” Ford O’Connell, Republican strategist and adviser to John McCain in 2008, told TheWrap. “Ben Carson is someone who would be a formidable opponent against Hillary Clinton just because of his story.”

But it’s his medical background that could be his biggest asset when it comes to potential donors in the entertainment industry.

“Healthcare is such an important issue among folks in Hollywood,” O’Connell said. “Carson is seen as someone who could right the ship of Obamacare. He’s been the head of John Hopkins and has spent his whole life in medicine he knows best how to fix it.”

The fact that he’s the only African-American in the GOP primary race is also a plus for showbiz bigwigs. “There’s an undercurrent in among Hollywood conservatives who are sick and tired of the Republican Party being seen as being anti-minority,” O’Connell said. “Carson is someone that they love who also happens to be black.”

Read more from Itay Hod at The Wrap

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Rick Santorum Visits All 99 Counties In Iowa, But Will It Pay Off?

Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is celebrating a campaign milestone on Tuesday with his completion of the “full Grassley” – or tour of all 99 counties in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation nominating state. It’s the second election in a row that Santorum has pulled off such a feat. Though it’s unlikely to bear as much fruit for the man who finished second to Mitt Romney in the Republican primary race four years ago.

For months, Santorum has struggled to gain traction in the polls despite maintaining a near-constant presence in Iowa – a state he carried in the 2012 primary contest. A new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, for example, found Santorum pulling just 1% support among likely GOP caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State, far below the 23% support GOP frontrunner Donald Trump raked in. A recent Monmouth University poll, meanwhile, showed Santorum with 2% of the vote in Iowa – again way behind Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, both of whom garnered 23% support among likely GOP caucusgoers.

At least publicly, Santorum tends to shrug off such results. “Four years ago, I was sitting pretty much where I am today – at the robust 1% level,” he said last week during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” A few weeks earlier, Santorum’s spokesperson similarly dismissed the polls, telling msnbc the campaign was actually “in a growing mode.”

But while Santorum was able to turn that 1% support into 11 primary victories in 2012, GOP strategists say it’s a long shot for history to repeat itself.

“He is where he was four years ago; the difference is the competition four years ago was far weaker than it is now,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“Before, [Santorum] was competing against the Yale football team,” O’Connell said. “Now he’s competing against the New York Giants.”

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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New Emails, New Poll May Signal Trouble For Hillary Clinton Campaign

The biggest stack yet of emails from Hillary Clinton's term as Secretary of State is expected to be released Monday night, but new poll results indicate the ongoing email controversy is not Clinton's only problem in the race for 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

About 7,000 pages of emails are scheduled to be posted online by the State Department on Monday night, giving fresh momentum to questions surrounding Clinton's behavior as head of the agency. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday that about 150 of the emails have been censored because of information that has been retroactively deemed classified.

Clinton conducted government business using a personal email address on a private server housed in her home, an arrangement that a federal judge has said was a violation of department policy and that Clinton's critics have suggested could open her up to felony prosecution.

Investigators have not accused Clinton of any criminal activity, but they have suggested that some emails did contain classified at the time they were sent. At the very least, the issue threatens to reinforce a feeling among many voters that Clinton is untrustworthy.

"It's hurting her, but it isn't quite a death knell, if you will," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. He noted that Clinton continues to lead in head-to-head match-ups with top Republican candidates in polls.

She is also set to testify under oath before the House committee investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks on October 22.

"The spectacle of her being a witness at a House committee hearing is not going to be one that's going to help her," O'Connell said, adding that it will only keep the email issue "churning" in front of voters.

Read more from Stephen at Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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