Chris Christie Trailing Behind, But Still Has Shot At 2016 GOP Nomination

While U.S. State of New Jersey' s Governor Chris Christie is behind in the polls, he still has a shot at clinching the Republican Party's nomination to face the Democratic candidate in the 2016 race for the White House.

Known for his bombastic and in-your-face style, the governor is now five spots behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, toward whom many donors are flocking. While recent weeks have not been good to Christie, he has not yet been counted out in this early stage in the election season.

"Recent campaign stumbles plus Jeb's early fundraising prowess have really squeezed Christie. That said, Christie's retail campaign skills and raw ambition in addition to Jeb being untested on the campaign trail mean Christie is still alive," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

"Christie always has a shot and here's why: he's the best retail politician of the group. When he's on the stump, he's just flat out better than the rest of the group," O'Connell said.

"And something else Christie has going for him while Jeb is out building a billion dollar balloon, what people don't realize is that Jeb is untested on the campaign trail," he added.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker set to woo CPAC 2015

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker enters the unofficial start of the GOP presidential primary season at today’s Conservative Political Action Conference kickoff on a wave of momentum, leading polls and building support among the party’s establishment.

“The best way to understand CPAC is to think of it as the Super Bowl of conservative activism,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. Walker, he said, is “the flavor of the moment.”

The annual meeting of conservative and libertarian activists is seen as the crucial coming-out party for Republican presidential candidates, where they introduce themselves to activists and commentators from the mainstream to the Tea Party wings of the GOP, and it is drawing nearly every potential candidate in the GOP’s still wide-open presidential field.

O’Connell said that while Walker is in a moment of popularity, he still has to show CPAC attendees gathering today and tomorrow just outside the nation’s capital that he can survive the scrutiny that comes with a full-blown presidential campaign. At CPAC, his goal should be to do no harm.

“I expect him to play it safe,” O’Connell said about Walker’s speech. “He’s better off basking in the cheers and not saying too much.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins at the Boston Herald

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CPAC 2015: Can Jeb Bush Win Over Conservatives?

Jeb Bush has set up a killer fundraising operation, likely to dwarf anything the rest of the prospective Republican presidential field can do.

But that won’t guarantee him the 2016 GOP nomination. Mr. Bush, scion of the party’s most powerful family, needs to win over conservative activists – or at least enough of them to beat the competition when primaries and caucuses begin in a year.

Enter the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, the Super Bowl of "movement conservative" activism. The confab begins Wednesday at a conference center just outside the Beltway and is the first big cattle call of the 2016 presidential race. Bush’s appearance at CPAC on Friday – a question-and-answer session with Fox News host Sean Hannity – may be the most consequential event of the entire four-day conference. 

“He is trying to overcome the talk radio meme that he’s a squishy RINO who won’t fight,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, using the acronym for “Republican In Name Only.” On Bush’s unorthodox-for-the-GOP views on immigration and education, “he’s going to have to start to get buy-in.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor 

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KEYSTONE XL: Why Republicans Still Bet On Pipeline While Most Dems Roll Their Eyes

Republicans seem to be obsessed with Keystone XL.

Approving the oil pipeline from Canada became their first order of business in Congress this year and has been central to the party's messaging.

Republicans and their loyalists are campaigning for Obama to sign the bill, which passed more than a week ago but is just now formally heading to the White House.

If Republicans are obsessed with KXL, most Democrats are increasingly treating the debate like an annoyance, downplaying any benefits the pipeline could bring.

Public opinion has generally been on the Republicans' side in support of KXL. But analysts aren't sure the GOP will see significant benefits or Democrats any fallout from the positions they've staked out on KXL.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, a veteran of the McCain-Palin campaign, said the pipeline debate is "always a good go-to for the GOP, and it's not one that's going to go away."

O'Connell, frequent commentator on energy issues, said redundancy is often key to political messaging. "Keystone is not just a pipeline," he said, "it represents a larger discussion Republicans want to have on energy security and jobs."

Still, the problem for Democrats, O'Connell said, is that arguments in favor of KXL appeal to "white, working class voters." It's a section of the population that is trending to the GOP and turned to Republicans in a big way during the midterm elections.

Read more from Manuel Quiñones at E&E Publishing

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Boehner, McConnell to skip CPAC, Underscoring Tensions Between GOP Leadership, Grass Roots

The Conservative Political Action Conference is the biggest annual gathering of Republican leaders and conservative activists, but neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker John A. Boehner is scheduled to make the 10-mile drive from Capitol Hill to speak to CPAC this year, underscoring the lingering tensions between Republican Washington leadership and the party’s grass roots.

It marks the first time in years that Mr. McConnell will skip the CPAC gathering, a year after the Kentucky Republican made headlines by holding aloft a gun during his speech. Mr. Boehner last spoke at CPAC in 2010, months before the tea party helped fuel Republicans’ takeover of the House and made the Ohio Republican the speaker.

Both have tussled with their right flank over how best to advance a conservative agenda at the Capitol.

“CPAC 2015 is all about the 2016 Republican presidential field, and Boehner and McConnell don’t figure into that equation,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist. “While they are not exactly crowd favorites at CPAC, their time is better served at the Capitol working to prevent a government shutdown.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Mike Huckabee A Republican Front-Runner In Race To White House, But Unlikely To Stay There

Although former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is an early Republican front-runner for the 2016 presidential elections, he is unlikely to remain there, experts said.

A recent CNN poll has Huckabee, the darling of social conservatives, in the lead over nearly a dozen other candidates, while the Real Clear Politics average of all polls shows him trailing former Florida Governor Jeb Bush by just an inch.

"Huckabee is a long shot," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

There are essentially four types of Republican voters -- social conservatives, Tea Party supporters, libertarians and establishment Republicans, with the last group being the largest. While popular among social conservatives, Huckabee is not the choice of establishment voters.

"So if you are not the establishment choice, that means you have to win the Tea Party and the social conservatives, and the likelihood of that happening is not very good for Huckabee," O'Connell said.

Still, other Republicans can learn much from Huckabee, who appeals to blue-collar voters, a group needed to clinch the White House, he said.

"Some of the things he's hitting on, like wage stagnation, are things that a lot of the other candidates should pick up on, but he's still a long shot," he added.

"You've got to get all the blue-collar voters in the tent. If you get them in the tent, it's pretty hard to lose," O'Connell said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost.com

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Nancy Pelosi Puts Pressure On GOP Over DHS Shutdown Threat

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made sure that every single Democrat has co-sponsored legislation to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security, hoping to eliminate any confusion over whom to blame if the agency partially shuts down at the end of this week over an immigration brawl between congressional Republicans and President Obama.

Every Senate Democrat, including California’s Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, has signed a similar letter expressing the same position. They backed it up with their fourth vote Monday night blocking House legislation that would defund Obama’s executive action last fall that lifted the threat of deportation and authorized work permits for 4 million immigrants who are in the U.S. without legal documentation.

Democrats see themselves in a win-win position, said Republican political analyst Ford O’Connell.

“They feel that if we have this partial shutdown, voters are going to blame Republicans and therefore undergird the argument that they’re not serious about governing,” O’Connell said. If Republicans back down and fully fund Homeland Security, he said, Democrats “know that what will happen is eventually the conservatives will turn on the establishment Republicans.”

For GOP leaders, O’Connell said, “there’s a certain portion of the conservative base they’re going to have a hard time satisfying on this issue.”

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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Republicans Pounce On Obamacare Customer Tax Reporting Blunder

The Obama administration admitted yesterday it sent the wrong tax information to some 800,000 Healthcare.gov customers — yet another embarrassing setback for Obamacare that could give the GOP more ammo to derail the controversial health-care law.

This latest snafu could delay tax refunds and cause agonizing headaches for enrollees and their accountants.

Expect this latest blunder to catch plenty of flak in election hot spots New Hampshire and Iowa ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“This is more ammo for Republicans on the campaign trail in particular,” O’Connell said. “Republicans are smart to pounce on this and continue to keep problems with Obamacare in the spotlight.”

Read more from Chris Cassidy at the Boston Herald

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Giuliani Puts Potential 2016 GOPers In A Tough Spot

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani created a firestorm this week when he argued that President Obama doesn’t love his country and then later doubled down, insisting his remarks weren’t racist because the commander-in-chief was “brought up by a white mother.” And, now, those remarks are putting potential 2016 Republican candidates in an awfully tough spot.

White House hopefuls have a fine line to walk – they need to hammer the country’s Democratic president to appeal to a conservative base that is sick and tired of Obama, but going too far risks alienating mainstream voters who find the over-the-top rhetoric off-putting, if not downright vile.

There’s a rule for all 2016 candidates, said Republican strategist and former John McCain campaign adviser, Ford O’Connell: “Never take aim at the president personally, only his or her policies.” O’Connell says that potential candidates need to distance themselves from personal rhetoric as much as possible. “This type of thing fires up Democrats and continues to perpetuate the myth that Republicans are mean and nasty.”

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com

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Giuliani's Obama Critique Puts 2016ers In A Bind

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's comments that he doesn't think President Barack Obama "loves America" have put potential Republican presidential contenders in a bind, caught between a desire to criticize the President and the need to respect the office of the presidency.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is contemplating a presidential run, tried to strike that balance in his comments to The Associated Press that while he had "no doubt" Obama loves America, "I just think his policies are bad for our nation."

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said the difficulty for Republican presidential candidates lies in the attraction of taking aim at the President's policies, which Americans are widely unhappy with, but avoiding taking aim at the President himself.

"Regardless of political party, no one wants to criticize the sitting President in that way because it can be taken the wrong way by a lot of people," he said.

"But there is a concern and an alarm out there about the nature of this threat we're facing in the Middle East," O'Connell added, referencing a CNN/ORC poll out this week that showed a majority of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of ISIS and foreign policy.

O'Connell warned other Republicans to take an approach similar to Jindal's, and be cautious of how they frame their attacks on the President.

"It's not what you say, it's what [the voters] hear," he said.

Read more from Alexandra Jaffe at CNN

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