Gruber's Misstep Worries Democrats Long-Term

Ford O'Connell and Joe Lestingi debate over Jonathan Gruber's role.

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CIA Report Another Attempt By Democrats To Attack Bush?

Ford O'Connell and Joe Lestingi on Senator Feinstein releasing report.

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Chris Christie: Water Under The Bridge?

Republicans are confident that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” problems are behind him, and they say he’s weathered a storm that would make him an even more formidable 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

An investigation by New Jersey lawmakers released on Monday didn’t turn up any evidence directly linking the GOP governor to a politically motivated scheme to close traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year. 

In addition, GOP observers say Democrats’ eagerness to sink Christie has helped him burnish a reputation among conservatives as the candidate whom liberals fear most against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“I have never seen a candidate that the Democrats wanted to sweep under the rug faster than Christie,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Now he can say, ‘I’m the one Democrats are trying to trash. Why do you think they’re so afraid of me?’ ” 

That doesn’t mean the political risks of the scandal are completely gone, though.

“Democrats are going to dig to China to turn up everything they can on this,” O’Connell said.

“If they’re just saying he couldn’t control his staff, that’s a far less sexy story,” O’Connell said.

“One of his biggest challenges will be to not allow this ‘bullying’ meme to catch hold,” O’Connell said. “Politics is about perception, not reality, so he can’t let this stick.”

Of course, all of this is moot if another bombshell drops.

“But assuming another shoe doesn’t fall … if this is all Democrats can come up with, then I like his chances,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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For 2016, Who Will Jump In First?

“I’m in.”

That’s the phrase the political world is waiting to hear from the dozens of Republicans and some Democrats who are considering a run for the White House in 2016.

The starting gun for what could be the most competitive presidential primary in recent memory will be fired once a big-name candidate announces, and political insiders are placing their bets on who will be first out of the gate.

On the Republican side, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are said to be looking at the calendar — and over their shoulders — in preparation for announcements this spring.

Other GOP contenders, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are circling the wagons. And a decision is expected soon from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, which would ripple across the Republican field whether he gets in or stays out of the race.

For Democrats, the spotlight is fixed squarely on former secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Ford O’Connell, an alumnus of McCain’s 2008 campaign, predicted the announcements might not start to come until the spring, after the April 15 quarterly filing deadline for fundraising.

That would be a major change from 2008, when the stampede of candidates began right after Christmas.

“It’s chaotic right now because these calculations are so complex, and there is no front-runner for the first time in 50 years,” O’Connell said. “Last time, everyone knew their target was Mitt Romney. It was Mitt Romney-or-blank. Now, it could be anyone.”

Read more from Elise Viebeck at The Hill

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Liberals Ramp Up For State-By-State Push In 2016

Progressives, frustrated at gridlock in Washington and at the state level, are planning a major ballot-initiative push across the country as they bank on a likely favorable electorate in 2016.

Groups supporting marijuana legalization, background checks on firearms and raising the minimum wage told POLITICO to expect a larger slate of ballot propositions in 2016 than during the past several election cycles.

In particular, organizations are confident that after achieving success on progressive ballot initiatives with an older and more conservative bloc of voters in 2014, the younger and more liberal electorate expected to turn out in the upcoming presidential contest will produce some major triumphs.

It’s widely expected that referendums on gun control, marijuana legalization and economic fairness issues, including paid sick leave and equal pay, will outnumber those in 2012, a sign that liberals are embracing a state-based model that allows them to circumvent legislatures and Congress.

Conservatives, though, are taking notice, and vowing to blunt the momentum, potentially with competing ballot propositions.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said conservatives are “keeping an eye on” progressive successes at the ballot and that they are “concerned” about a broader campaign encroaching upon conservative states.

“There is concern that it could move to more traditionally conservative states, and that’s where they’re going to try to stop it,” he said.

Read more from Jonathan Topaz at Politico

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RNC Cap On 2016 Debates Could Give Rise To ‘New Round Of Sideshows’

The Republican National Committee’s push to limit the number of debates in the 2016 presidential primary could end up creating an arms race of sorts, with groups denied the chance to hold “official” debates instead hosting candidate forums that would serve much the same purpose.

Even as groups ponder how to handle the RNC’s new dictate, which will be formalized in the coming weeks, potential candidates say they’re open to participating in forums outside of the officially sanctioned debates, saying they are crucial to giving voters the chance to test their would-be nominees.

Some Republicans, especially in the party’s senior ranks, though, felt there were too many debates — intraparty clashes that diluted the party’s message and weakened eventual nominee Mitt Romney’s hand as he headed into the general election against President Obama.

The RNC is pushing to limit the number of debates.

Some RNC members said the challenge now will be for the party to figure out what constitutes an unsanctioned debate.

“As much as the Republican Party, rightfully so, wants to control the debates, the reality is that the networks have the upper hand, because a lot of candidates will want to boost up their name ID and be in everybody’s living rooms,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “By trying to basically control the debate process, they could be giving rise to a new round of sideshows.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Romney 2016: Why It May Make Sense For Him To Run Again

The latest bit of intel from Wall Street suggests that Mitt Romney really is thinking of running for president again.

A piece in Business Insider, headlined “Romney’s inner circle is convinced he’s running,” describes the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee meeting with donors in New York earlier this week “to lay the groundwork for a 2016 White House bid.”

Romney representatives have been mum on the meetings. But a “senior Republican who has met with Romney” tells Politico’s Ben White that his pitch to Wall Street donors went like this: "He tells people not to commit to a candidate that is not their first choice and that they aren't excited about. He does not think much of the current field and does not think it is jelling. He still views himself as the leader of the establishment wing of the Republican Party.”

Now, after two terms of Mr. Obama, 2016 should – in theory – be the Republicans’ turn to capture the White House. There are no guarantees, but the playing field should be more hospitable to the GOP than it was in 2008 and 2012.

Romney is “keeping his options open,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“He’s positioning himself as the fallback guy,” Mr. O’Connell says.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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O Canada! Potential 2016ers Head North

Now is the time for ambitious pols to be looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election — nevermind that the midterms are barely in the rearview mirror. The desire to hold the nation’s top office has several would-be candidates flocking to an unlikely destination: Canada.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie flies to Calgary on Thursday before making stops in Toronto and Ottawa on Friday. The trip is being billed as a trade mission in which the Republican will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and it comes just three months after the Garden State governor urged that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline “be done today.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, announced earlier this week that she would be headlining  two events on Jan. 21 — one in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and another in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, sponsored by mega bank CIBC. Notably, Clinton has been skewered by both Democrats and Republicans alike for not taking a firm position on Keystone.

“For someone like Christie, foreign affairs isn’t in his wheelhouse, so it’s a winning issue for him,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, adding that Congress would want to bring up Keystone immediately early next year when it has a majority in the Senate. The pipeline is something “all Republicans can rally around. It’s not something that divides Republicans like immigration reform.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com

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Supporting Keystone XL Pipeline Is Safe For Christie

Pressed by reporters for his position on immigration reform, Governor Christie offered this instead: No discussions of any contentious, national issue unless he becomes a candidate for president.

But when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline — an issue that courses through a national debate over energy consumption, economic growth and homeland security — Christie is talking.

Christie begins a two-day business-and-trade foray to Canada on Thursday in Calgary, the epicenter of that country’s oil boom, and the starting point of a proposed pipeline that ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Here, Christie is expected to ardently advocate for the pipeline’s construction, much as he did on a similar trip to Mexico in September.

Immigration, Christie said during a visit to Iowa in July, was “too complicated.”

But there is nothing really complicated — politically speaking — about the pipeline project. While it will carry oil extracted from the clay and sands of northwest Canada, Christie’s advocacy places him on safe, firm Republican Party turf.

The issue also gives Christie a chance to remain in the spotlight, and to maintain the momentum after his stewardship of the Republican Governors Association, which expanded the roster of Republican governors from 29 to 31 and chalked up surprising victories in Democratic states like Maryland and Illinois.

“This is a way to keep a lot of that going so that those very relationships you made can still see you,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “So, it’s very important to keep those chits relevant. A lot of the states he went to are in favor of this.”

Read more from Charles Stile at NorthJersey.com

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Chris Christie Tries To Keep Up Momentum By Pumping For Keystone

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline project may have temporarily died in the Senate this week, butNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is eager to bring the issue back to life ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run.

He’ll visit Canada in early December — his second trip outside of the U.S. since September — where he’ll meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Garden State governor is expected to give an energy policy speech in which he’ll aggressively trumpet the pipeline, which would create an oil transport system from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. On a recent trip to Mexico, he also forcefully pushed the for construction of the pipeline and not-so-subtly dinged the Obama administration for blocking it.

For Christie, “this is all about keeping up the momentum” after a very successful stint in the midterm elections, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. After all, as head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie helped propel seven new GOP governors into office, leaving scandals like so-called “Bridgegate” seemingly in the dust. “For someone like Christie, foreign affairs isn’t in his wheelhouse, so it’s a winning issue for him … It’s also an issue [lawmakers] are going to want to bring up immediately when the new Congress is seated.”

Keystone, said O’Connell, is something “all Republicans can rally around. It’s not something that divides Republicans like immigration reform. The news lined up with Christie’s ambitions.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com

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