Republican Nomination Is Anybody's Game In Lead Up To 2016 White House Race

The Republican ticket is anybody's game at this early stage in the lead up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, though the 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney has announced not to run again.

After Romney's announcement of his decision on Friday, the Republican stage is still full with candidates who could face off in a tight competition to clinch the party's nomination for the 2016 race and then fight to take back the White House.

There is no clear front runner so far in the Republican camp, and new candidates could emerge to the surprise of analysts, Washington watchers and pundits.

Certainly, Republicans need a candidate with real star power to match the international celebrity of former first lady and Obama administration's former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is Democrats' likely nominee and is considered a formidable opponent.

While much could change before election season comes into full swing, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that right now there are three candidates who could stand up to Clinton's international fame: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, also younger brother of former President George W. Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

According to O'Connell, Rubio will be helped by the fact that he has made his own way in the world and will not be viewed as an elitist. He had attended community college, before graduating from a law school and racking up a hefty amount of student loans in the process, which he worked to pay off later.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua 

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Countdown To Iowa: Ranking The Republican Presidential Field One Year Out

Mitt Romney’s exit on Friday from the 2016 GOP presidential field could be several other possible candidates’ gain. 

The 2012 nominee’s decision spares Republicans a heavyweight fight between Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for donors and operatives. 

But Romney’s departure also resonates further down the ladder, giving new life to candidates that had been stuck in the shadows. 

Based on interviews with several GOP strategists, these are candidates ranked in the strongest positions to win the nomination with just a year to go until the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, 2016. 

Jeb Bush

 “The next key date for Bush will be July when his fundraising numbers come out,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “We’ll see how close he gets to his goal of raising $100 million.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill 

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Is Pot The New Gay Marriage For The GOP?

Marijuana is shaping up to be the new gay marriage of GOP politics — most Republicans would rather not talk about it, except to punt to the states.

But when it comes to the 2016 presidential race, a series of legalization ballot initiatives — and a certain outspoken Kentucky senator — could make it harder for the Republican field to avoid the conversation.

When asked to articulate their positions on recreational marijuana, several potential GOP 2016 candidates have tried to strike a tricky balance: stress the downsides of pot use and the upsides of states’ rights. Some have indicated their openness to decriminalizing pot, at least in their state, but none favors outright legalization.

Strategists argue that Paul’s reluctance to embrace full legalization and insistence on warning about the dangers of marijuana use indicate he doesn’t want to anger a key segment of the GOP base.

“Part of the reason why Paul finds himself in this conundrum is the amount of older voters we have in the Republican primary,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, noting that Paul’s libertarian-leaning foreign policy stances already have Republican voters over 50 eying him warily.

Read more from Jonathan Topaz at Politico

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Mike Huckabee To Test Florida Waters

Mike Huckabee, perhaps better than any other presidential contender, demonstrates the difficulties Florida presents for White House candidates.

When the former Arkansas governor returns to Sarasota on Saturday, he will be revisiting the site where his presidential aspirations were dashed in 2008 because of Florida’s complexities.

While the candidates spend months in the early, smaller primary states engaging in the retail politics of pancake breakfasts and county fairs, Florida presents distinct problems requiring a vast, developed campaign network and huge sums to advertise on the air.

“It’s a state where you just can’t succeed doing that same retail politicking,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign.

In other words, the folksy charm and sense of humor Huckabee flashed in Iowa and New Hampshire never had an avenue in Florida.

Veteran Florida political consultant Jamie Miller said that at minimum, a primary challenger needs 15 to 20 professional staffers and more than $5 million to compete in this state’s critical election, expected to be in early March in 2016.

Read more from Jeremy Wallace at The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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Romney’s Move Eases Christie’s Path A Bit, But GWB Probe Remains Potential Handicap

Mitt Romney is no longer an obstacle in Governor Christie’s pursuit of the Republican nomination for president.

But Paul Fishman, New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor, still remains in his path.

By most accounts, Romney’s announcement on Friday that he will not seek the GOP nomination in 2016 could be a help to Christie if he decides to take the plunge. Those mainstream donors loyal to Romney are now up for grabs for New Jersey’s governor — as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — to court and collect.

But Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey, could tip the balance as he winds up his yearlong criminal investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.

But Christie allies expect Republicans who are supportive of the governor to shrug off the bridge issue, even with indictments. Christie’s aggressive offensive over the past year has fostered the impression outside of New Jersey that he has already been exonerated or that Democrats have been conducting a political witch hunt.

“As long as it doesn’t pin the tail on him, he’s going to be fine,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Obviously everyone else is going to take issue, ‘Well, you can’t control your staff.’ He can respond, ‘Are you electing them or are you electing me?’"

Read more from Charles Stile at NorthJersey.com

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Mitt Romney Exit Jolts 2016 GOP Field

Mitt Romney shook up the 2016 GOP field on Friday with his announcement that he won’t be seeking the presidency for a third time. 

In a call with supporters early on Friday, the 2012 nominee said it’s time to “give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

Potential GOP candidates were respectful in their responses to the former Massachusetts governor’s decision, which came after a surprising three week flirtation with another run. 

But the contenders also know that the early exit of a formidable fundraiser with a deep political network bolsters their chances of winning the party’s nomination.

Republican strategists say Bush is the biggest beneficiary — the two appeared to be gearing up for a heavyweight fight for donors, top-level political operatives and the right to claim the party’s establishment mantle.

GOP strategists say that after Bush, Romney’s exit buoys the potential candidacies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Sen. Marco Rubio the most.

GOP strategists say Walker falls into the party’s sweet spot – they believe he can pull support from both the establishment and the Tea Party wing as a candidate that can “drive in both lanes,” as Republican consultant Ford O’Connell put it. 

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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CAMPAIGN 2016: Rand Paul Steers Middle Course On Climate Change Amid White House Buzz

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appears to be preparing for a likely White House run by embracing issues that are not traditional conservative priorities -- including man-made climate change.

The libertarian joined 14 other GOP senators last week in voting for an amendment by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) offered to the Keystone XL oil pipeline bill that declared that man-made emissions contribute to warming. But while many of the other Republicans who backed the language were either climate moderates or up for re-election in swing states in 2016 -- or both -- Paul is neither. He is defending his seat next year in deep-red Kentucky, where he can point to a solid history of anti-regulatory rhetoric and bids he led to kill U.S. EPA rules.

Paul declined requests to explain his vote on Hoeven's amendment, but political observers say he seems to be aiming beyond Kentucky.

Political analyst and Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said Republicans would stand firm on policy while trying not to let Democrats nail them down on climate science.

"What Republicans all agree on is that they don't want to see so many job-killing regulations and taxes, and they want to maintain flexibility so that they can come to a consensus [on science] behind the scenes without handcuffing the 2016 nominee," he said.

Read more from Jean Chemnick at E&E

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Mitt Romney Says No To 2016. Who Wins?

Mitt Romney isn’t running for president in 2016 after all, and Republican strategists are heaving a sigh of relief.

With a large Republican field forming, it had become clear that Mr. Romney wouldn’t sail to the nomination, after winning it in 2012. Donors from the GOP’s establishment wing were in a bind. And a key operative, David Kochel of Iowa, just signed on with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Kochel was with Romney in both of his past presidential runs.  

Romney’s decision to step aside, three weeks after a surprise announcement that he might run again, helps to clarify the GOP contest and makes the choices clearer for donors and strategists on whom to back.

So who benefits most from Romney’s decision?

“Obviously, Bush is a no-brainer,” because of the big-money donors both he and Romney were competing for, says Ford O’Connell, chairman of CivicForumPAC.

Romney’s decision benefits “Walker, Bush, Rubio, and Christie, with an emphasis, I would argue, on Rubio and Walker,” says Mr. O’Connell. “Walker and Rubio can run in both lanes.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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How Jeb Bush's Wife Could Help Win Him The White House

Jeb Bush’s secret weapon in his potential White House bid is his wife of 40 years, Columba Bush, supporters of the former Florida governor say.

Columba, who would be the nation’s first Hispanic first lady if her husband wins the presidency, largely eschewed the public spotlight in Florida and is known for having a shy public demeanor.

Before Bush (R) announced in December that he was exploring a bid for the White House, it was thought that Columba could even put the brakes on his national candidacy. 

Yet friends of the Bush family, and those who have worked closely with Jeb and Columba for decades, say that beneath her private persona lies a rock-solid interior. They argue she’s fully prepared to step into the pressure cooker that awaits if Jeb runs for president in 2016.

The Mexican-born immigrant has steeped Jeb in Hispanic culture. They speak Spanish at home, and Bush allies credit her with helping shape Jeb’s “act of love” message on immigration reform.

But some Republicans believe Jeb’s moderate tones on immigration reform are a conservative apostasy that will doom him, particularly in early-voting caucus and primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

“In the primaries, the idea of a candidate talking immigration reform with a biracial family on the stump is going to be a big moment,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “She’s going to have to navigate it as well as Jeb does.”

“These moments, you never know when they’ll come, but they’ve come for all of the first ladies,” O’Connell added.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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On Climate Change, 'Not A Scientist' Not Enough For Some U.S. Republicans

Rick Perry's farewell speech to the Texas legislature listed the accomplishments expected from an outgoing Republican governor of the country's largest oil-producing state. But his Jan. 15 speech also did something less predictable: touting his environmental record, from lowering Texas' carbon emissions to turning the state into a global leader in wind energy production.

"We have expanded our economy while protecting our environment," said Perry, who is openly exploring a second White House run in 2016.

It was a greener message than the one he delivered ahead of his last presidential campaign, when he called climate change a "contrived phony mess," and it reflects an expectation among some in the party that voters in 2016 will want Republican candidates to develop a more sophisticated climate change message.

"'I'm not a scientist' won't be a winner in the presidential field," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of the now common response Republican lawmakers and candidates offer when asked about climate change.

Read more from Valerie Volcovici and Amanda Becker at Reuters

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