Chris Christie Archives - Page 7 of 29 - Florida Politics

Chris Christie says Sam Alito would be go-to analyst for Supreme Court hires

Chris Christie has been on a verbal tear against Marco Rubio this week, but the New Jersey governor was relatively restrained when talking about the Florida senator during his 90-minute town hall meeting held in Keene, New Hampshire, Thursday morning.

Christie said he was watching “Morning Joe” earlier in the day when he saw Rick Santorum discuss why he was endorsing Rubio for president, a day after the former Pennsylvania senator dropped out of the race.

Santorum was at a loss to to mention any significant accomplishments that Rubio has achieved in his political career, other than becoming Speaker of the House in the Florida Legislature and winning his seat to the Senate in 2010.

“That’s not the basis to becoming president of the United States,” Christie said. “A winning smile and a good read of a teleprompter with a set of notes is good, but what will that do for you in a crisis? The choice is too big and too important for us to back away.”

A few months ago Christie was reportedly making his move in the Granite State, where he has essentially lived in recent months, trying to break through in the Republican presidential sweepstakes. He’s been so attached to campaigning here that he apologized to his constituents last month, after he declined an immediate return to New Jersey after the region was beset by a major snowstorm.

Christie is in serious jeopardy of his all-in New Hampshire strategy. He’s mired in sixth place in the first-in-the nation-primary, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

“Shopping time is running out. Just a few days left for your primary shopping season, so now it’s time for a choice,” he said early on, before he fielded over a dozen questions from the intimate crowd of no more than 120 people at the Keene Elks Lodge.

There was plenty of Obama-bashing, as per usual (save for John Kasich) at a GOP presidential town hall. One such criticism came after  woman asked him what he would to restore the reputation of law enforcement officers she said have been disparaged by President Obama.

“I think it is simply one of the two or three most disgraceful parts of this administration, is that every time there’s a benefit of the doubt to be given, this president never gives it to police officers,” he said. “He always takes the opposite side.”

These New Hampshire town halls are definitely unscripted. An elderly woman asked Christie whether he’d be healthy enough to be president. He gave an elaborate response about getting lap band surgery to reduce his weight three years ago. He said he did it not because of his run for the presidency, but because he wanted to be healthy enough to be able to walk his daughters down the aisle when they eventually get married.

With an aging complement of U.S. Supreme Court justices, the next president could likely select several replacements. When asked he’d look for in nominees, Christie said essentially he’d outsource the vetting process to Justice Samuel Alito, like Christie a former U.S. Attorney in New Jersey.

“I’d call my friend, Justice Alito to the White House and I’d say to him, ‘okay, who are the very best circuit court judges whose opinions you read all the time, who are just like you: quiet, smart, consistent conservatives,” he said.”Give me four or five names. I’ll interview those folks, and those are the folks I’ll pick from.”

Christie boasted he hasn’t been ambivalent in acknowledging that climate change is real and human beings are contributing to it. He criticized the recent U.N. accord on global warming, saying it lets China off the hook for the next 15 years.

Christie said New Jersey is reducing carbon emissions, boasting the state gets 53 percent of its energy portfolio from nuclear power. “Three Mile Island was a long time ago. We need to get over it,” he said dismissively of nuclear critics.

He also said the Garden State is the third largest producer of solar power in the nation, behind Arizona and California. “Bring that to a bar in Keene, tonight,” he said as the crowd laughed. He said that because solar has gone down so much in price that in recent years that the New Jersey government has reduced the tax incentives it had been offering, and that by 2020, fully 22 percent of all the energy in the state will come from solar.

On health care, Christie said he didn’t have a perfect solution, but getting rid of the Affordable Care Act would be a good start. He said he’d let states decide.

He was less decisive, however, after Vermont resident said his state had tried that with Green Mountain Care, a single-payer health care plan ultimately tabled by the current governor because of rising costs.

Christie said he didn’t think it worked out because it wasn’t operating in a system being done elsewhere in the country.

Before the speech a Keene resident named Bob (who insisted on keeping his last name out of the story) said that he has seen Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Kasich and now Christie in New Hampshire recently. He said he thought Christie once had something special, but said he had become too much like every other Republican running in the race. He left before the meeting ended, so we couldn’t get his take on what he thought of Christie’s response on climate change.

Chris Christie says Marco Rubio isn’t “qualified and ready and prepared” to be president

Marco Rubio is “simply not ready to be president of the United States.”

That’s the message GOP hopeful Chris Christie sent in a video released by his campaign Wednesday. In the video, Christie took a swipe at Rubio, comparing his legislative experience to that of President Barack Obama’s when he was elected.

“We elected a first-term United States senator seven years ago and Republicans have watched this. He has made our government a train wreck,” he said in the 3-minute video. “Why would anyone think that Sen. Rubio would be any different? Because of his experience in the United States Senate, where he’s been for five years, and two of those years he’s been running for the president of the United States?”

Christie has spent a considerable amount of time in New Hampshire. The New Jersey Republican received a key boost in November, when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed him.

According to averages of New Hampshire polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, Christie is in sixth place, behind Rubio and the other members of the governors’ club: Jeb Bush and John Kasich. However, Rubio was confident Wednesday he would leave New Hampshire as “the top governor.”

“We have the organization of governors across this country, and I believe that when I emerge as the top governor from New Hampshire that those governors will come in line and begin to support the idea of having a governor,” he said. “They know that a first-term United States senator is not qualified and ready and prepared to be the president of the United States.”

Christie pointed to his experience in the governor’s mansion as a reason why he is better prepared for the presidency. Christie said the only thing Rubio has done in office is sponsor “an amnesty bill that he promised when he ran he never would do, and then when it got hot he ran away from it and hid and he’s been hiding ever since on that issue.”

“So the fact is, for the folks in Florida it’s going to be refreshing when I get there in March, they recognize me. They know who I am. They knew I was down there a dozen times last year for Governor Rick Scott to help his re-election,” he said. “And they will actually be refreshed to see someone, who actually is accomplishing something, offering themselves for president of the United States and not just the same speech that’s been given for the last six years.”

Carly Fiorina calls debate process “broken” after she’s shut out of Saturday night forum

With Rand Paul dropping out of the GOP presidential race, the field is winnowing out.

That doesn’t mean that the rest of the 10-person field gets to stand on one debate stage this Saturday night.

Although ABC, the debate sponsor, hasn’t yet announced the lineup, Carly Fiorina said she’s learned she won’t be invited, and she’s not pleased.

“Our debate process is broken,” the only female Republican candidate wrote to party Chairman  Reince Priebus and other members of the Republican National Committee. “Networks are making up these debate rules as they go along – not to be able to fit candidates on the stage – but arbitrarily to decide which candidates make for the best TV in their opinion. Now it is time for the RNC to act in the best interest of the Party that it represents.”

Fiorina said she will be the only candidate still in the race not invited on to the stage  at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Fiorina said it’s ridiculous that although she fared better in the Iowa caucuses than some other candidates, they’ve been invited to the debate while she has been shunned.

“To review, we beat Governors Christie and Kasich in Iowa this week when voters actually had their say. This campaign has the same number of delegates as Governors Bush and Kasich while Governor Christie has zero. We’re ahead of Dr. Carson in New Hampshire polling. We are 6th in hard dollars raised and have twice the cash on hand as either Governors Christie or Kasich. We are already on the ballot in 32 states, and there is a ground game with paid staff in 12 states.

“Yet, all of these candidates will be invited to the ABC debate. I will not.”

No word yet from the RNC on her statement.

Iowa caucuses: Tight races for both parties

Iowa kicked off voting in the 2016 presidential race Monday night, with the Republican contest shaping up as a three-way fight among Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were also locked in a tight battle as the caucuses began.

The indicators were based on interviews with voters who arrived early to caucus sites across the state, conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and the television networks.

At stake in Iowa was crucial early momentum in the presidential campaign, and for some candidates, the future of their White House hopes altogether.

Candidates faced an electorate deeply frustrated with Washington. While the economy has improved under President Barack Obama’s watch, the recovery has eluded many Americans. New terror threats at home and abroad have also ratcheted up national security concerns.

In Iowa, which has for decades launched the presidential nominating contest, candidates also faced an electorate that’s whiter, more rural and more evangelical than many states. But, given its prime leadoff spot in the primary season, the state gets extra attention from presidential campaigns.

Even so, Iowa has decidedly mixed results in picking eventual nominees. The past two Republican caucus winners — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — faded as the race stretched on. But Barack Obama‘s unexpected 2008 victory was instrumental in his path to the Democratic nomination, easing the anxieties of those who worried the young black senator would struggle to win white voters.

Clinton was seeking to overcome the ghosts of her loss to Obama in 2008. Her campaign spent nearly a year building a massive get-out-the-vote operation in Iowa.

Yet she faced an unexpected challenge from Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist from Vermont. Sanders has drawn big, youthful crowds across the state and his campaign was hoping for high turnout.

“We will struggle tonight if the voter turnout is low. That’s a fact,” Sanders told volunteers and supporters in Des Moines.

Monday’s contest will offer the first hard evidence of whether Trump can turn the legion of fans drawn to his plainspoken populism into voters. He has intensified his campaign schedule during the final sprint, including a pair of rallies Monday where he predicted “a tremendous victory.”

Cruz has modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, visiting all of the state’s 99 counties and courting influential evangelical and conservative leaders. With the state seemingly tailor-made for his brand of uncompromising conservatism, a loss to Trump would likely be viewed as a failure to meet expectations.

Seeking to tamp down expectations, Cruz said Sunday, “If you had told me a year ago that two days out from the Iowa caucuses we would be neck and neck, effectively tied for first place in the state of Iowa, I would have been thrilled.”

Cruz has spent the closing days of the Iowa campaign focused intensely on Marco Rubio, trying to ensure the Florida senator doesn’t inch into second place. Rubio is viewed by many Republicans as a more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz, though he’ll need to stay competitive in Iowa in order to maintain his viability.

Rubio, who previously lashed back at criticism, adopted the same reflective tone as many of his rivals on Monday, telling NBC that Cruz “has a very strong ground game.” He dismissed attacks against him as “politics as usual.”

The campaigns were anxiously keeping an eye on the weather. A snowfall forecast to start Monday night appeared more likely to hinder the hopefuls in their rush out of Iowa than the voters.

Republicans John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush were all spending Monday night in New Hampshire — not only to get a jump on the weather but also on their competitors in a state with voters who are expected to be friendlier to more traditional GOP candidates.

Speaking in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, Christie urged voters to back a candidate they believe “symbolizes what this country stands for.”

Turnout was expected to be strong.

While both parties caucus on the same night, they do so with different rules.

Republicans vote by private ballot. The state’s 30 Republican delegates are awarded proportionally based on the vote.

Democrats form groups at caucus sites, publicly declaring their support for a candidate. If the number in any group is less than 15 percent of the total, they can either bow out or join another viable candidate’s group.

Those final numbers are awarded proportionately, based on statewide and congressional district voting, determining Iowa’s 44 delegates to the national convention.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Among GOP rivals to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio has most cash

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, the four Republican candidates in a showdown for their party’s traditional supporters, closed last year with about as much money in the bank combined as Ted Cruz, the conservative insurgent they hope to topple.

Then there’s Donald Trump, the celebrity businessman who has just begun to flex his billion-dollar bank account, lending his campaign $10.8 million from his personal wealth late last year.

The Republican candidates seeking to challenge Trump and Cruz at the top of the field were in varying degrees of financial distress at the end of 2015, fundraising reports filed Sunday night show, with Rubio in the best position to move forward. Together, as the calendar flipped to 2016, the foursome had $21.6 million left in the bank, while Cruz had almost $18.7 million at his disposal.

With voting beginning Monday in Iowa, and continuing next week in New Hampshire, Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie were running low on time — as well as money — in their efforts to rise. Should one or more of them continue on after New Hampshire, they’ll face a cost-intensive primary calendar that demands travel among some two dozen states and advertising in some of the country’s priciest media markets before March 15.
Of the four, Rubio, a Florida senator, led the money chase in the final three months of the year, collecting $14.2 million and ending with $10.4 million in the bank. What’s more, he was on the upswing, having more than doubled his fundraising pace from earlier in the year. In total, he collected $39.5 million in 2015.

That’s more than Bush’s annual total. And the former Florida governor’s fundraising fortunes appear to be moving in the opposite direction as Rubio’s.

He raised just $7.1 million between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, about what his haul had been in the preceding fundraising quarter. He closed the year with about $7.6 million in the bank. He had detected a cash crisis in the fall and retrenched his national plan to focus almost exclusively on New Hampshire.

Yet in that state, where voters weigh in Feb. 9, there are two others who also have gone all-in: Kasich, the Ohio governor, and Christie, the New Jersey governor. Those candidates have struggled to gain traction among donors, their fundraising reports show.

Kasich and Christie each raised about $3 million in between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. Kasich closed out the year with about $2.5 million in cash, and Christie with just over $1 million.

Kasich’s allies were eager to portray his financial prospects as improving. Outside groups supporting his bid said they’ve landed $4 million in checks from six donors in the past few weeks, a period of time not covered by the reports filed Sunday.

Cruz, by contrast, has proved an adept fundraiser. For the year, he raised about $47 million. His most recent report showed 42 percent of that came from contributors giving $200 or less, people who can continue to replenish his treasury. Donors are limited to $2,700 apiece for the primary contest.

That small-donor rate is far better than those of Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie.

On the opposite end of giving, the outside groups known as super political action committees also are displaying the effects of a crowded Republican primary. Super PACs can accept unlimited donations but cannot take directions from the candidates they’re helping.

Some of these big donors are spreading their largess — splitting much-needed funding among some of the candidates’ super PACs.

Chicago investment manager David Herro is a prime example.

Herro gave $50,000 in July to America Leads, the super PAC supporting Christie. But in November, he gave $150,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC, which supports Rubio. His support swung back to Christie in December, though, when he gave Christie’s super PAC another $250,000.

Hedge fund manager Seth Klarman also split his money between super PACs for Christie and Rubio. Klarman gave $250,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC in early December. Later that month, he wrote a $100,000 check to America Leads.

New York investment banker Herbert Allen had perhaps the quickest turnaround in support. He gave $50,000 on Dec. 17 to America Leads, then the next day gave $50,000 to New Day for America, the super PAC boosting Kasich.

Julian Robertson, a hedge-fund billionaire, gave $1 million to Bush’s super PAC in June and $25,000 to a pro-Kasich group in August. Chris Cline, a coal executive, gave $500,000 to Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC in September, four months after he gave Bush’s Right to Rise $1 million through a limited liability company.

Another multiplayer, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, and his wife, Marlene, have cut checks to groups helping Bush, Christie, Rubio and Cruz — as well as several who are no longer in the race.

Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota broadcast executive who doesn’t want to see Trump or Cruz at the top of the ticket, said he would spend major money backing any of the four mainstream candidates — if only one would rise to the top.

“If we get someone who really has a chance of doing something, I’m ready,” Hubbard told The Associated Press.

There are another six Republicans also vying for the nomination, and most of them saw depleted campaign coffers as of Dec. 31.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, closed out the year with just $43,000 cash on hand and more than $16,000 in debts to pay. The 2008 GOP Iowa winner, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, had less than $134,000 at the end of December — and $50,000 in debts.

Cash flow could be issue for 4 GOP contenders seeking boost from New Hampshire

Money may be growing tight for four Republican presidential hopefuls clustered under Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,  just when they’re about to need it the most.

Financial reports coming out Sunday will show who began the year with enough cash to put their long-range campaign plans into motion. For Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich, the aim is a strong showing in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 that power-boosts them deep into primary season. Marco Rubio‘s imperative is to do well enough in the first four states’ votes that he can make a sustained climb in the following weeks.

That sort of long slog would be costly because it involves travel across the two dozen states that hold contests on or before March 15. And some of those states, including Virginia, Florida and Ohio, have expensive advertising markets.

“If you’re going to proceed after New Hampshire, you’re absolutely going to need considerable funds,” said Fred Malek, who has helped four decades of Republican presidential candidates raise money. “The pace of the primaries builds up rapidly. It’s far better to already have the cash on hand rather than have to ramp up.”

The financial health of the campaigns of Christie, Kasich, Bush and Rubio is critically important because they’re competing not only with each other, but with Trump, a billionaire who has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win, and Cruz, who began the year with $19 million in the bank, an amount that probably exceeds most of his rivals. The foursome is considered to be competing for mainstream Republicans in a campaign that has seen Trump and Cruz most effectively tap populist anger and disdain for the establishment.

In addition to the candidates, the outside political groups known as super PACs helping them must turn in progress reports on their fundraising and spending Sunday.

Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota broadcast executive, said he’s poised to write a large check to a super PAC backing any one of his preferred candidates, Rubio, Christie and Bush, among others.

“If we get someone who really has a chance of doing something, I’m ready,” he said. “Someone just needs to rise to the top.”

Asked whether he’s confident anyone will have enough money to compete with Trump or Cruz, he said: “No, I do not feel confident. But I’m hopeful.”

There are signs that Rubio could be facing a cash crisis.

After his campaign began leasing corporate jets and hiring dozens of additional employees at the end of the year, it recently downsized its advertising plans in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG. His campaign said it would air a 30-minute Rubio town hall over the weekend on several Iowa TV stations. Federal broadcast filings show that sets him back at least $12,000.

On Friday, Rubio acknowledged the obvious, telling reporters he’s not going to be the candidate with the most campaign cash. He also said he thinks his campaign has spent money wisely, building up staffing slowly, and trimming the ad buy to save money.

For Bush, the budget crunch arrived in October, when a fundraising shortfall — combined with the realization that the primary could last well into 2016 — prompted him to narrow what had been a large national campaign to focus squarely on New Hampshire.

“It’s super hard to raise money,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York-based top fundraiser for Bush. “We’ve knuckled down to the new reality.” But he said the Bush finance team is working furiously and “generating cash every day for the campaign.”

Judging by their ad buys, Christie and Kasich haven’t been reaping much contributor cash, either.

Even as they barnstorm New Hampshire, they’ve each spent only about $500,000 on commercials there, CMAG shows. That’s less than retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has paid little mind to New Hampshire.

Christie campaign strategist Mike DuHaime said he expects “a new influx” of cash if Christie performs well in New Hampshire and at least some of his competitors drop out. But under several scenarios, all four candidates could think they’ve done well enough to continue on.

Come Sunday, fundraising reports answer the question which of the four is best financially prepared to do so.

As of Sept. 30, the last time the campaigns had to report, Christie had collected $4.2 million for the year, Kasich $4.4 million, Rubio $15.5 million and Bush $24.8 million.

Previous filings also hinted at a fundraising challenge facing them: They’re struggling to connect with low-dollar donors who can give again and again, replenishing campaign treasuries if the candidates survive deep into the primaries.

For Christie, Bush and Kasich, people giving $200 or less were barely a blip in their fundraising totals. About 20 percent of Rubio’s operation is supported that way, compared with 42 percent of Cruz’s.

That could be why all four lean heavily on super PACs to communicate with voters through paid media. While campaigns can raise no more than $2,700 from each donor for the primaries, super PACs can — and do — take million-dollar checks.

These outside groups have accounted for almost 90 percent of the $129 million in radio and television ads aired by the four establishment Republicans, according to CMAG.

But super PACs can only do so much, as Scott Walker and Rick Perry can attest. Both had well-funded outside efforts in their corner, but folded up their presidential bids when their campaigns couldn’t raise enough money to keep going.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Stage set for chaos as New Hampshire primary looms

Uncertainties are mounting in New Hampshire as Republican presidential candidates fail to sway the state’s many fence-sitters one way or the other, despite months of outreach by the various campaigns.

More than 40 percent are not registered with any political party, giving them the power to choose which party they’d like to vote with come Feb. 9.

Seeking to emerge as the establishment contender against billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, four of those candidates — John Kasich, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush — are scrambling to find anything that will set them apart. With Trump maintaining a commanding lead in the state, the battle has intensified among the rest of the pack as they look to elbow each other out for a second-place finish.

“What the hell is taking so long with you people?” New Jersey Gov. Christie half-joked at a town hall in Portsmouth last week. “I mean, c’mon now!”

Kasich, Ohio’s sitting governor, is the latest to claim momentum in the roller-coaster race, pointing to endorsements from several major New Hampshire newspapers and an uptick in preference polls. Once an afterthought, most polls show Kasich is among the candidates vying for second place.

He’s attracting relatively small crowds, but his rivals are taking no chances. The outside political organization backing Bush, called Right to Rise, has launched television ads declaring Kasich “wrong on New Hampshire issues,” citing his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio — something New Hampshire has also done.

“You also know that you’re rising when Jeb Bush’s operation starts throwing negative ads at you,” Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. “Three weeks ago they weren’t spending millions on TV against us.”

The jabs go both ways. Several of Kasich’s top New Hampshire backers scheduled a press conference Friday, right across from Bush’s Manchester campaign office in a clear attempt to steal the former Florida governor’s thunder.

The attacks are coming from all sides. The super PAC backing Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, is bashing nearly every other candidate on the air, while Christie’s campaign sends out emails almost daily highlighting inconsistencies in his opponents’ records.

Some differ in their approach. Christie blatantly goes after his rivals, while Kasich professes positivity, leaving the trash talk to his campaign staff and the outside group backing him.

But Mike Dennehy, a longtime GOP strategist in New Hampshire who is not with any campaign, said it’s a mistake for the candidates to launch their attacks at each other rather than Trump.

“They’re all shooting each other up so much that none of them are going to create any distance between themselves,” Dennehy said. “They’re all going to end up tied for third place between 8 and 11 percent, and then they’re doomed.”

And some voters say the negativity is a turnoff.

Judith McKenna, 66, said she emailed the Bush campaign to complain after receiving recorded phone calls promoting his candidacy and “trashing all the other candidates.”

McKenna added that she’s leaning toward Rubio or Christie, whom she’s already seen twice.

Despite having attended multiple town halls and candidate events, she said she’s still undecided — and she’s not alone.

Bruce McCracken, a 66-year-old retired teacher, has seen nine presidential candidates in recent weeks, including Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders. Yet, he’s still pondering whether to vote in the GOP or Democratic primary.

He says Rubio “shows more compassion” than other Republican candidates and feels Kasich’s experience as Ohio governor is a plus. But for now, at least, he’s leaning toward a vote for Sanders — senator in neighboring Vermont.

But if Sanders maintains his comfortable lead in New Hampshire over Clinton, McCracken said he’d rather use his vote in the more unpredictable GOP contest and vote for someone other than Trump.

“You do these calculations in New Hampshire,” he laughed.

Andy Smith, a political scientist and director of the UNH Survey Center, says voters such as McCracken, who are unsure which primary to vote in, are relatively unusual.

Not so unusual, however, are voters who wait until the last minute to make up their minds. Data from a recent UNH poll shows that just 31 percent of GOP voters have “definitely decided” on a candidate. And in the 2012 contest, 21 percent of Republican voters didn’t make up their minds until primary day, Smith said.

This late in the game, the candidates wouldn’t mind a little more certainty.

“There’s so many undecided people, and I wish they were all committed to me,” Kasich recently told reporters. “What am I not doing right?”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

For GOP, debate was glimpse of what could have been

For the Republican candidates for president, it was a glimpse of what could have been.

Front-runner Donald Trump‘s boycott of the final debate before the Iowa caucuses created space for his rivals to delve more deeply into their differences on immigration, foreign policy and their approach to governing.

And for some candidates — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular — Trump’s absence from the debate stage Thursday night appeared to ease some of the tension created by his sharply personal attacks.

A frequent target of Trump, Bush opened the debate by saying wryly, “I kind of miss Donald Trump; he was a teddy bear to me.”
Iowa voters kick off the 2016 nominating process with Monday’s caucuses, and they’ll provide the first indication of whether Trump’s abrupt decision to skip the debate will have any effect on his standing atop the GOP field. His lead in Iowa had already become more tenuous in recent days, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pulled in support from conservative and evangelical voters.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the debate over a feud with host Fox News was a gamble, particularly so close to the state of voting. But having defied political convention throughout his campaign, it was a risk the real estate mogul was willing to take.

He still looked to steal attention away from his rivals with a competing rally elsewhere in Des Moines, an event he said raised $6 million for military veterans.

“When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights,” Trump said in explaining his boycott. Broadening his point, he said, “We have to stick up for ourselves as people and we have to stick up for our country if we’re being mistreated.”

Trump’s absence put the spotlight on Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, as well, who needs a strong showing in Iowa in order to stay in the top tier of candidates.

The two senators were confronted with video clips suggesting they had changed their positions on immigration, one of the most contentious issues among Republicans. While each insisted the other had flip-flopped, both denied they had switched their own views on allowing some people in the U.S. illegally to stay.

Cruz accused Rubio of making a “politically advantageous” decision to support a 2013 Senate bill that included a pathway to citizenship, while the Florida senator said his Texas rival was “willing to say or do anything to get votes.”

“This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on,” Rubio said. “That he’s the most conservative guy.”

In a rare standout debate moment for Bush, the former Florida governor sharply sided with Cruz in accusing Rubio of having “cut and run” on the Senate immigration bill.

“He cut and run because it wasn’t popular with conservatives,” said Bush, who was more consistent in this debate than in previous outings.

Cruz was put on the spot over his opposition to ethanol subsidies that support Iowa’s powerful corn industry, a position that has long been considered politically untenable for presidential candidates in the state. The Texas senator cast his position as an effort to keep the government from picking economic winners and losers.

With their White House hopes on the line, the candidates worked hard to present themselves as best prepared to be commander in chief and take on terror threats.

Rubio struck an aggressive posture, pledging that as president he would go after terrorists “wherever they are. And if we capture them alive, they are going to Guantánamo.” Rubio also stood by his previous calls for shutting down mosques in the U.S. if there were indications the Muslim religious centers were being used to radicalize terrorists.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — back on the main debate stage after being downgraded to an undercard event because of low poll numbers this month — warned against closing down mosques. A proponent of a more isolationist foreign policy, Paul also raised concerns about the U.S. getting involved militarily in Syria, where the Islamic State group has a stronghold.

The candidates focused some of their most pointed attacks on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“She is not qualified to be president of the United States,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

Christie is part of a crowded field of more mainstream candidates who have struggled to break through in an election year where Trump, and increasingly Cruz, have tapped into voter anger with the political system. Party leaders have grown increasingly anxious for some of the more traditional candidates to step aside to allow one to rise up and challenge for the nomination.

Asked whether the crowded establishment lane was putting Trump in position to win, Bush said: “We’re just starting out. The first vote hasn’t been counted. Why don’t we let the process work?”

Bush also defended the flurry of critical advertisements his well-funded super PAC has launched against Rubio and other rivals.

“It’s called politics,” Bush said. “That’s the way it is. I’m running hard.”

Bush and Christie, along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are looking beyond Iowa and hoping New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary jump-starts their campaigns. In an election where a lengthy political resume has been a liability, Kasich defended government’s ability to tackle big problems.

“We serve you,” Kasich said of government officials and voters. “You don’t serve us. We listen to you and then we act.”

Cruz proudly claimed he was “not the candidate of career politicians in Washington.” Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has a small but loyal base in Iowa, said that even though he hasn’t been in government, he’s made plenty of life-and-death decisions as a doctor.

“I don’t think you need to be a politician to tell the truth,” he said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Poll contends Jeb Bush in 2nd place in New Hampshire

Jeb Bush could be staging a comeback, according to a new poll conducted by the Emerson College Polling Society.

The survey found that, among likely Republican primary goers, Bush is in second place, with 18 percent. Donald Trump holds on to his top spot with 35 percent support; while John Kasich is in third with 14 percent.

Marco Rubio is at 9 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at 8 percent. Chris Christie is at 5 percent, according to the poll.

The Emerson College survey likely comes as welcome news to supporters. The former Florida governor has spent a considerable amount of time and money in the Granite State, but has made little headway in other polls.

According to RealClearPolitics averages of New Hampshire polls, Bush is in fifth place with 8 percent, trailing Rubio and Kasich.

The Emerson College Polling Society poll was conducted from Monday and Tuesday. The telephone poll sampled 373 likely Republican primary voters. The poll has a margin of error of 5 percent.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, 52 percent to 44 percent. The poll surveyed 350 likely Democratic primary voters and has a margin of error of 5.2 percent.

Who’s paying for the presidential race? Some answers coming

Americans will soon get a look at the presidential picks of some of the nation’s richest donors and a progress report on the money flow inside the presidential campaigns.

Late Sunday, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses that mark the start of voting for the 2016 election, super political action committees will reveal their donors for the first time in six months, under a fundraising reporting deadline. Contributors to super PACS are allowed to give as much money as they want. The candidates’ official campaigns, which collect smaller checks, must also report their end-of-year fundraising and spending activities Sunday.

Through Sept. 30, donors to super PACs and the campaigns had already poured about $500 million into the race, in contributions big and small. That money is being used to pay for campaign employees, promotional commercials and, of course, attacks on other candidates.

Here’s a look at what we know about who is underwriting the 15 Republicans and Democrats still in the race – and some questions worth asking with voting to begin Monday.

THE DONALD TRUMP WAY

The consistent Republican poll leader, a celebrity businessman with no political experience, loves to say he’s paying his own way. It’s an assertion that sets him apart from the rest of the candidates, who aren’t billionaires and must rely on others to cover their election costs. Trump says his approach keeps him from being a “puppet” of big donors.

But Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t exactly matched reality. As of the end of September, the most recent fundraising reports showed that small-dollar contributors had chipped in enough to cover most of his roughly $4 million in costs in the three preceding months.

Trump has significantly increased his political spending since then. The $6.3 million he’s spent on television ads in the past few weeks is enough to put him just behind Marco Rubio – who began spending money a full month earlier – as the second-highest GOP candidate spender on paid media. When he began his ad buy, Trump said he’d done so because he felt “guilty” he wasn’t spending more on his campaign, which has benefited from a bounty of free news coverage.

Trump has asserted he’d invest whatever it takes to win, sometimes citing $100 million. Through the end of September, he’d loaned his effort $1.8 million and given about $100,000 more. How much more has he put up since then? Also of interest: Even though he has not emphasized fundraising, eschewing the typical donor dinners and limiting his email solicitations, are contributors flocking to him on their own?

SMALL-DOLLAR MOMENTUM

Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. These three have made public their end-of-year fundraising totals ahead of the deadline. What is the common denominator among Sanders, a Democratic hopeful, and Cruz and Carson, two conservatives seeking the GOP nomination? Loads of small contributions?

Sanders’ campaign said it raised about $33 million in the three months ending Dec. 31, competitive with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton‘s $37 million in the same period. For the year, the average Sanders contribution was $27. That’s one-hundredth of the $2,700 a donor is allowed to give a candidate for the primary election. Fundraising records for the first nine months of last year show that 74 percent of his campaign money came from donors who gave $200 or less – the highest rate of small-dollar donations of any candidate in the 2016 race.

Cruz and Carson also have fared well on the small-money front. Through the end of September, Cruz’s campaign raised about 42 percent of its money from these small contributors, and Carson’s, 62 percent. Those rates are expected to hold in the coming reports. Cruz said he amassed an additional $20 million through the end of the year and Carson, $22 million.

SIGNS OF GOP CONSOLIDATION

There’s been public hand-wringing among some Republican Party traditionalists that there are too many candidates in the race, enabling the unconventional Trump and the party-antagonizing Cruz to rise up. The fundraising reports for Rubio, a Florida senator, and the trio of current and former governors, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, could lend insight into whether donors have chosen among the four.

In the previous fundraising period, Bush, whose father and brother were presidents, was the standout among the four. He raised $13.4 million in the summer and early fall months while Rubio picked up $5.7 million, and Christie and Kasich each around $4 million.

But Bush’s polling numbers remain low despite millions of dollars in advertising by a supportive super PAC, and donors may have moved on. In the fall, Rubio seemed to be picking up steam among deep-pocketed money people. In late October, New York hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer wrote in a letter to fellow would-be donors that the Florida senator is “one of the best communicators the modern Republican Party has seen.”

Meanwhile, Christie and Kasich have enjoyed publicity bumps thanks to their steady focus on New Hampshire, where voters make their choice on Feb. 9. Perhaps donors have noticed.

BIG MONEY, SECRET MONEY

Most of the candidates are counting on outside efforts to supplement their official campaign treasuries.

Sunday’s super PAC disclosures come just hours before Iowans go to caucus, meaning those voters will need to study up if they want to understand just who is underwriting the candidates.

Christie, for example, benefits from a super PAC called America Leads, which reported raising about $11 million through June 30. However, America Leads has already spent or made plans to spend $17 million through mid-February. That means it has secured new donations in the past seven months.

A group helping Rubio, Conservative Solutions PAC raised $16 million in the first half of last year, and has a spending plan of at least $17 million. Clearly, some fresh donations have arrived.

Super PACs helping Cruz also have been landing big new donations, according to Drew Ryun, a GOP strategist assisting one of the groups. Dick Uihlein, founder of Wisconsin shipping giant Uline, ponied up $1 million at the beginning of the year, Ryun said. But because it arrived this month, that donation won’t appear on fundraising documents until mid-February.

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