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GOP team addresses America Saturday

After frenzied, final decision-making, Donald Trump announced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate Friday, adding an experienced politician with deep Washington connections to the Republican presidential ticket.

Trump’s pick was aimed in part at easing some Republicans’ concerns about his temperament and lack of political experience. Pence spent 12 years in Congress before being elected governor and his demeanor is as calm as Trump’s is fiery. While some conservatives are skeptical of Trump’s political leanings, Pence has been a stalwart ally on social issues.

Yet Pence is largely unknown to many Americans. And his solidly conventional political background runs counter to Trump’s anti-establishment mantra.

The two men scheduled a news conference for Saturday in New York to present themselves to America as the Republican team that will take on Hillary Clinton and her Democratic running mate in November. The duo will head to Cleveland next week for the Republican National Convention.

As Pence arrived for a private meeting with Trump Friday, he told reporters he “couldn’t be more happy for the opportunity to run with and serve with the next president of the United States.”

In choosing Pence, Trump appears to be looking past their numerous policy differences. The governor has been a longtime advocate of trade deals such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, both of which Trump aggressively opposes. Pence also has been critical of Trump’s proposed temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States, calling the idea “offensive and unconstitutional.”

The reaction to the Pence choice from Republican officials was overwhelmingly positive — no small feat for Trump, given how polarizing he’s been within his own party.

“It was a pick that clearly shows he is pivoting to the general election,” said GOP chairman Reince Priebus, who was in the midst of an interview with The Associated Press when Trump announced his decision. “He is choosing a person who has the experience inside and outside Washington, Christian conservative, very different style that I think shows a lot of maturity.”

Pence, a staunchly conservative 57-year-old, served six terms in Congress before being elected governor and could help Trump navigate Capitol Hill. He is well-regarded by evangelical Christians, particularly after signing a law that critics said would allow businesses to deny service to gay people for religious reasons.

Clinton’s campaign moved quickly to paint him as the “most extreme pick in a generation.”

“By picking Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump has doubled down on some of his most disturbing beliefs by choosing an incredibly divisive and unpopular running mate,” said John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Clinton spent Friday holding meetings in Washington about her own vice presidential choice. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals and one of the Democrats’ most effective Trump critics, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, were seen in separate cars that left Clinton’s home. Housing Secretary Julian Castro also met with Clinton, according to a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private gathering.

Trump spent weeks weighing vice presidential contenders, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and only zeroed in on Pence in recent days. In fact, the selection process appeared on the verge of sliding out of control in the final hours before the announcement, sparking speculation that Trump might be changing his mind.

Word that Pence would be joining the Republican ticket began trickling out in news reports Thursday before Trump had made a final decision or called Pence to offer him the job, according to a Republican familiar with the situation. Trump was in California for fundraisers, separated from his closest aides, and was fuming about leaks that he viewed as an attempt to pressure him into the decision.

Still, Trump called Pence Thursday afternoon to offer him the job and ask him to fly to New York for a Friday morning news conference. Pence accepted and boarded a private plane, along with his wife.

A few hours later, a huge truck barreled through a crowded holiday celebration in Nice, France, killing more than 80 people. With Pence sitting in a New York hotel, Trump decided to postpone the announcement.

The billionaire businessman then went on Fox News to say he had not yet settled on his “final, final” choice. He also held a midnight conference call with his top aides to discuss the situation, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

By Friday, plans were back on track.

Trump sent out a Twitter message saying he was pleased to announce Pence as his running mate. Moments later, one of Pence’s aides filed paperwork with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office withdrawing him from the governor’s race.

Pence was up for re-election, and state law prohibits candidates from being on ballots in two contests. Trump’s formal announcement came about an hour before Pence’s noon Friday deadline for withdrawing.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, strongly rejected suggestions that the candidate considered changing his mind about Pence.

“Never waffled once he made his decision,” Manafort wrote in an email.

Gingrich, one of the finalists for the vice presidential spot, said he was “very comfortable” with Trump’s decision and praised Pence as someone who could help unite the party.

But as of Friday afternoon, Gingrich had yet to share his support with Trump himself. He told The Associated Press he had not received a call from Trump telling him he wasn’t getting the job.

Meanwhile, Trump did speak with Christie, according to a person familiar with their conversation. Ironically, Christie traveled with Trump to Indiana in April to help introduce the candidate to Pence when Trump was trying to win his endorsement ahead of India’s primary.

Pence endorsed Trump’s rival Ted Cruz instead.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Running mate Mike Pence: Conservative but not angry about it

As a conservative talk-radio host in the 1990s, Mike Pence described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”

Two decades later, Pence is the unflappable conservative governor of Indiana who’s being plucked by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump as his running mate.

Where Trump is impulsive, Pence is cool-headed. Where Trump makes conservatives suspicious, Pence has credibility. And where Trump struggles to draw evangelical Christians, Pence is well-regarded by them.

A favorite quote highlights how Pence might smooth some of the sharp corners of the Trump campaign and its supporters.

“I’m a conservative,” Pence says. “But I’m not angry about it.”

The former congressman also is a proven fundraiser with close ties to billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and their network of wealthy donors, many of whom have been dismissive of Trump.

“One thing you can say about Mike Pence is he’s got a very calm, steady demeanor that in some ways is a little Reaganesque,” said Christine Mathews, a Republican pollster for former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. “He’s a counterbalance to Trump in that way.”

Trump announced on Twitter Friday morning that he’s selected Pence as his running mate, capping a wild 24 hours of speculation interrupted by the truck attack in Nice, France, that left scores dead.

Not so long ago, their relationship was a little awkward. Trump met privately with Pence before Indiana’s primaries, seeking his endorsement. Instead, Pence, under pressure from national conservatives, tepidly endorsed Trump’s rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, while still lavishing praise on Trump. Trump won that primary. Before the night was over, Cruz had quit the race.

For Pence, a former six-term congressman, Trump’s selection offers a return to national politics after his embrace as governor of conservative social issues sidelined his own presidential ambitions. Pence describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” In 2015 he provoked a national backlash after signing a law that critics said would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people for religious reasons.

Even some Indiana Republicans have questioned his decisions, suggesting Pence has at times seemed more interested in appealing to national conservatives than doing what’s best for the state. Pence’s support of the state’s religious objections law led to a revolt from the business community, which joined gay rights advocates in successfully pushing for changes to the law.

Raised in Columbus, Indiana, in an Irish-Catholic family, Pence revered the Kennedys growing up and has said he voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. He later identified as an evangelical Christian and was inspired to join the Republican Party by former President Ronald Reagan, whose “happy warrior” rhetorical style Pence has since tried to emulate.

After attending Hanover College, Pence graduated from Indiana University Law School in 1986. He met his wife, Karen, around the same time and twice unsuccessfully ran for Congress before taking a job at Indiana Policy Review, a conservative think-tank. In a 1991 essay titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” Pence swore off harsh political tactics he used in “one of the most divisive and negative campaigns in Indiana’s modern congressional history” while calling for “basic human decency.”

“That means your First Amendment rights end at the tip of your opponent’s nose — even in the matter of political rhetoric,” Pence wrote, though he backtracked in the face of a difficult re-election campaign in Indiana.

In Congress, Pence sponsored a few bills that became law as amendments in other legislation. But he built a national following among conservatives for his willingness to buck his own party after opposing President George W. Bush‘s Medicare expansion and the No Child Left Behind education overhaul. During the early years of President Barack Obama‘s administration, Pence helped lead the opposition to the Democrat’s agenda.

“He has a particularly strong talent, a gift if you will, for being able to stick to principle while making his political opponents or those who disagree with him feel like they are being heard and respected,” said Ryan Streeter, a former Pence aide and George W. Bush staffer who is now a public affairs professor at the University of Texas.

Pence’s congressional experience is one trait that Trump, who has never held public office, wanted in a running mate.

Marc Short, a former Pence aide and top Koch brothers operative, elaborated: “He’s worked with (House Speaker) Paul Ryan. He’s worked with the team in House leadership. He’s somebody who has deep relationships in the evangelical movement, and he’s somebody who has foreign affairs experience.”

Pence’s one term as governor has drawn mixed reaction, and he has managed to alienate moderate Republicans over social issues.

Groups threatened boycotts over last year’s religious objections law and late-night television hosts mocked the policy, leading lawmakers to approve changes.

This year Pence clashed with the local Catholic archdiocese by opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Indianapolis.

Pence was also slammed for the planned 2015 launch of “JustIN,” a state-operated news service that was ditched after critics panned it as “Pravda on the Plains.”

But he has also presided over Indiana’s improving economy and plummeting unemployment rate, which Republicans credit to the state’s low taxes, limited regulation and pro-business climate.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Tim Tebow: Speaking slot at Republican convention ‘a rumor’

Thursday morning he was among the biggest stars featured on Donald Trump‘s convention lineup. Thursday night, Tim Tebow declared his attendance at next week’s Republican National Convention was nothing more than “a rumor.”

“I wake up this morning to find out that I’m speaking at the Republican National Convention,” Tebow said in a video posted on Facebook. “It’s amazing how fast rumors fly. And that’s exactly what it is, a rumor.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to questions about Tebow’s departure from a convention program the New York billionaire’s team had long teased would be an extraordinary display of political entertainment. But instead of sports stars and celebrities, as promised, the campaign is relying heavily on the party’s establishment for the four-day convention, which begins Monday.

The presumptive presidential nominee has approved a convention program featuring at least 20 current or former elected officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a primary rival.

Still, there is no shortage of political outsiders.

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, may be the first-openly gay speaker featured at a national Republican convention. His appearance comes as party leaders refuse to soften the GOP’s formal opposition to gay marriage.

Other speakers will include four of Trump’s children, Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin, and actor and former underwear model Antonio Sabàto Jr.

Mark Geist and John Tiegen, survivors of the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya, will speak.

“This impressive lineup of veterans, political outsiders, faith leaders and those who know Donald Trump the best — his family and longtime friends — represent a cross-section of real people facing the same challenges as every American household,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.

Some of the GOP’s biggest names are declining to participate in the convention.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and the party’s two most recent presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, plan to skip the event, as does Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another Trump primary challenger.

Shrugging off such absences, Trump’s team suggested the convention lineup would help highlight Trump’s outsider appeal.

“We are totally overbooked. We have great speakers, we have winners, we have people that aren’t only political people,” Trump told Fox News Channel on Tuesday. “We have a lot of people that are just champions and winners.”

He acknowledged in recent days that he’d stick a little closer to tradition.

“Look, I have great respect for the institution of the conventions. I mean to me, it’s very important. So we’re not going to change the wheel,” he said on Fox.

Tom Brady was initially floated as a possible speaker, but he won’t appear. Neither will former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight or boxing promoter Don King, a Cleveland resident and passionate Trump supporter.

The program will feature people such pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, retired astronaut Eileen Collins, and Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White. Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, author of the book, “Lone Survivor,” about a 2005 firefight in Afghanistan, will make an appearance, along with a Wisconsin sheriff, David Clarke, who is a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The convention will highlight religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Haskel Lookstein, the New York rabbi who converted Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, to Judaism.

Trump does not forget his business relationships, giving speaking slots to real estate investor Tom Barrack and even the general manager for Virginia’s Trump Winery, Kerry Woolard.

In a nod toward party unity, Trump will feature several former presidential competitors, including Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Two finalists in Trump’s search for a running mate made the list as well: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. The other finalist, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was not included in the program obtained by the AP.

Large number of GOP senators skipping Donald Trump’s convention

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana will be fly-fishing with his wife.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he has to mow his lawn (yes, he has one even in Arizona).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will be traveling her state by bush plane.

And Sen. John McCain of Arizona will be visiting the Grand Canyon, and joked that his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would be coming along and might even fall in (just kidding, an aide later clarified).

All are among the GOP senators who will be skipping next week’s convention in Cleveland where Donald Trump will claim the Republican Party presidential nomination.

A majority of Republican senators do plan to attend, and it’s not unusual for lawmakers to skip their party’s convention, especially if they’re up for re-election and need to spend time campaigning.

But the level of rank-and-file congressional defections from this year’s Republican convention is unusually high. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given the GOP establishment’s well-documented discomfort with the man who stands on the cusp of becoming their presidential standard-bearer. But in the halls of the Capitol this week, some senators seemed to visibly squirm when asked about their convention plans.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the party leadership, gave a lengthy series of responses to questions earlier this week that ultimately left his plans unclear.

“I think it’s going to be a different and unique convention experience. You know I’ve been to a number of them in the past, and this year is different, and we’ll see how it goes,” Thune said. “For most people they go because it’s the Republican convention, and it’s our party’s effort in a presidential election year to talk about what we’re for and what we’re about. So that will go on.”

The next day, Thune said he was still “firming up” his plans.

Confronted for months with uncomfortable questions about Trump, some senators can still seem aggrieved to get asked about the presumptive nominee, and uncomfortable giving an answer. But at this late date, just days from when the convention will start on Monday, nearly all have at least decided whether or not they’re going to Cleveland.

Nearly all, but not quite all.

“I’m not sure yet,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said Wednesday, adding there are “other things going on and I’ve got to weigh where I can do the most good.”

Of the Senate also-rans in the White House chase, only Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will attend the convention and deliver a speech. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Graham are skipping the event.

For the nearly two dozen GOP senators up for re-election this year, the considerations are particularly sensitive, and that’s especially true for the handful of vulnerable Republican senators in swing states. They must weigh sharing a convention hall with a nominee whose comments have offended women, minorities and others who can decide general elections. There are also concerns that given the “Never Trump” sentiments still nursed by some delegates, the convention could go off the rails and turn into a chaotic spectacle.

But few senators were interested in wading into such considerations on the record.

“No,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said tersely when asked if he was staying away from the convention out of a desire to distance himself from Trump.

Murkowski said she had only a month to visit the remotest areas of Alaska by plane before her Aug. 16 primary.

“For me, this was an easy choice” and “nothing to do” with Trump, Murkowski said.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the most vulnerable members, said he could not go to Cleveland because “I’ve got to spend as much time in Wisconsin as possible.”

As for his views on Trump, Johnson said: “I support all of the areas of agreement … I’m supporting him. Let’s put it this way, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Even Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator whose state is playing host to the convention, said he will only be dropping into the convention hall from time to time, but not delivering a speech or staying to watch speeches from others.

Instead, he’ll be spending his time on his own campaign events in and around Cleveland, including building a Habitat for Humanity home and holding a kayaking charity fundraiser, “Paddling with Patriots on the Cuyahoga River.”

“I’m not going to have much time to listen to ’em because I’ll be out and about,” Portman said of the convention speakers.

___

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

A lot of holes in GOP presidential ground game in key states

Presidential battleground states were supposed to be swarming with Republican Party workers by now.

“We’ve moved on to thousands and thousands of employees,” party chairman Reince Priebus declared in March, contrasting that with the GOP’s late-blooming staffing four years earlier. “We are covering districts across this country in ways that we’ve never had before.”

That hasn’t exactly happened, a state-by-state review conducted by The Associated Press has found.

With early voting beginning in less than three months in some states, the review reveals that the national GOP has delivered only a fraction of the ground forces detailed in discussions with state leaders earlier in the year. And that is leaving anxious local officials waiting for reinforcements to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the states that matter most in 2016.

To be sure, the national party actually has notched record levels of fundraising over the past few years and put together a much more robust ground game than it had in 2012. But officials acknowledge the real competition isn’t their past results or the chronically cash-strapped Democratic Party. It’s Clinton and what GOP party chairman Reince Priebus calls “that machine” of Clinton fundraising.

Some examples of Republican shortfalls: Ohio Republicans thought they were going to see 220 paid staffers by May; in reality, there are about 50. Plans for Pennsylvania called for 190 paid staffers; there are about 60. Iowa’s planned ground force of 66 by May actually numbers between 25 and 30. In Colorado, recent staff departures have left about two dozen employees, far short of the 80 that were to have been in place.

AP learned of the specific May staffing aims from Republicans who were briefed earlier this year; the RNC did not dispute them. Current totals came from interviews with local GOP leaders over the past two weeks.

The gulf between what state leaders thought they could count on and what they’ve actually got comes as RNC’s ground game is asked to do more than ever before. Presumptive nominee Donald Trump is relying on the party to do most of the nuts-and-bolts work of finding and persuading voters in the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds.

“This is a race we should win,” Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges said, citing a voter registration boom. “Now, we have to put the people in the field.”

In New Hampshire, a swing state that also features one of the nation’s most competitive Senate contests, the Republican National Committee’s original plan called for more than 30 paid staff on the ground by May. Yet what’s happening there highlights that even when the RNC is close to meeting its staffing goals, there can be problems. In this case, 20 positions have been converted to part-time, and local officials have been struggling to fill them.

“It’s a tall order to ask the RNC to be the complete field operation for the presidential nominee,” said Steve Duprey, a national party committeeman from New Hampshire. “We’re following through on the plan, but it was slower being implemented than we first would have hoped.”

Borges and Duprey, like Republican leaders across the nation, acknowledged that the national party has dramatically reduced its staffing plans in recent months.

“You discuss idealistic, you discuss realistic,” said the RNC’s political director Chris Carr. “Some people hear what they want to hear.”

The Democrats have been more focused. The GOP’s foes, says party chairman Priebus, “have built their program around a candidate.”

By that measure, Clinton and her Democratic allies appear to be quite far ahead, with roughly double the staff of the Republicans in Ohio, for example.

For anyone – party or candidate – ground operations are expensive.

The RNC’s 242-person payroll cost $1.1 million in May, federally-filed financial documents show. Additionally, the party transfers hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to state parties, which in turn hire more people.

Between direct RNC employees and state employees hired with the help of transfers, the party counts more than 750 staff members, including 487 spread across the country and concentrated in battleground states. By contrast, at this point in 2012, there were just 170 paid Republican operatives across the country.

Party officials say they are confident they will raise enough money to maintain – and very likely boost – the current level of employees until Election Day. Trump, who did not actively raise money during the primary season, touted surprisingly strong fundraising numbers in late May and June, including $25 million that will be shared with the party.

But it was the primary triumph of Trump in May – and the fact that he did not bring with him a hefty portfolio of donors – that derailed the party’s fundraising and hiring goals, party officials said.

The timing was important because a nominee typically serves as a major fundraiser for the national party, and having one in March or April would have given the Republicans a boost.

A sign on an office door in Sarasota, Florida, illustrates how critical the RNC will be to Trump’s bid for the White House. It’s Trump’s state headquarters.

“THANKS FOR STOPPING BY OUR OFFICE!” the blue paper reads. “Our office is TEMPORARILY CLOSED to the public, while our office works to prep for the National Convention in Cleveland.”

A phone call to the number on the sign ended with an automated message stating, “Memory is full.”

The Republican Party has 75 employees on the ground in Florida – a few dozen shy of Clinton – but they aren’t seamlessly integrated with the Trump campaign.

“I do see cooperation between the national party and the Trump campaign,” said Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP. “But that hasn’t materialized at the local level yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s a little bit of a late start, but I’m not nervous. Not yet.”

Like Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire, Wisconsin is a presidential battleground that features a highly competitive Senate race. That means national party staffers have the dual task of promoting Trump and a Senate candidate.

That can be tricky.

Wisconsin’s Republican primary voters chose Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the April primary, and local conservative talk radio hosts have been some of Trump’s toughest critics.

The RNC’s 49 employees are spread across 13 field offices under the command of the state director in Madison. That office is papered with re-elections signs for Sen. Ron Johnson. Trump yard signs are stacked in one corner.

On a recent evening, 18-year-old volunteer – and ardent Trump supporter – Andy Andrews left the state headquarters to knock on doors and collect voter information.

The only campaign flier Andrews handed out while knocking on doors was for Johnson. But one of the three questions he and other volunteers are asking voters either on the phone or when knocking on doors is about whether they prefer Trump or Clinton. Another is about the Senate race and a third is about whether they want to see President Barack Obama‘s policies continue.

Voters’ answers are fed into a database that Republicans use to better target their turnout efforts – part of a $100 million investment in data, party officials said.

In the span of an hour, Andrews talked to some voters who want a change in the White House and who support Johnson, but none who are ready to commit to Trump. That’s the way most people have responded over the three weeks he’s been doing doors, Andrews said.

“I’m a Republican but I just can’t vote for Trump,” said voter Steve Rhoades, of Fitchburg. “I don’t believe in his policies and point of view on most things. He’s just too over-the-top for me.”

The RNC ground force has a simpler task in states without a Senate race, and in areas of Trump enthusiasm. For example, in Virginia, where there are about 35 paid employees, a recent evening of door-knocking turned up numerous voters committed to Trump.

GOP volunteer Robert Frank got a quick, “Yes, absolutely,” when he asked Fredericksburg resident Elizabeth Skinner whether she’d be voting for Trump. “Why would I want that chaotic mess to continue?”

Even the state leaders who are disappointed the RNC hasn’t yet hired as many ground troops as it had hoped say the party’s operation is bigger, better and more experienced than four years ago. The party’s first 2016 employees got to work in 2013, and they’ve road tested voter identification and turnout strategies all across the country.

Party leaders are also training hundreds of volunteers to help paid operatives identify likely Republican voters and get them to the polls this fall, which is one way to offset the need for so many paid employees.

“We are so far ahead of where we were last time that there’s almost no way to compare it,” said Garren Shipley, the RNC’s Virginia communications director. “And none of what we’ve built will go away on Inauguration Day.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

With few political allies, Donald Trump plans celebrity convention

Donald Trump‘s team promises an extraordinary display of political entertainment at this month’s Republican National Convention, with the accent on entertainment.

The former reality television star plans to feature his high-profile children at the summer gathering in Cleveland, with the hope they’ll be joined by a number of celebrity supporters. Prospects include former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and longtime boxing promoter Don King.

“I’m going to be involved, definitely,” said King, who lives in Cleveland and is a passionate supporter of the presumptive Republican nominee. “He’s my man. I love him. He’s going to be the next president.”

While those bold-face names have yet to be confirmed, the fact they’re on Trump’s list is a reminder that many of the Republican Party’s biggest stars aren’t willing to appear on his behalf. The GOP’s two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, its most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, all plan to avoid the four-day event that traditionally serves as a powerful display of party unity heading into the sprint toward Election Day.

“He’s going to have to bring all his skills to bear to make this work, not just in Cleveland, but for the next four months,” said Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman. “It won’t be easy, but that’s what he’s got to do.”

Trump’s team says he’s up to the challenge.

“This is not going to be your typical party convention like years past,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. “Donald Trump is better suited than just about any candidate in memory to put together a program that’s outside of Washington and can appeal directly to the American people.”

When Hillary Clinton hosts her party at the Democratic National Convention the following week, she’ll face a different issue entirely: how to squeeze in the many popular, prominent Democrats backing her campaign.

Along with Clinton and her eventual vice presidential pick, there are sure to be speeches from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and, of course, the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

There’s also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of progressives and one of Trump’s fiercest critics. Warren is on Clinton’s running-mate shortlist but will surely be slotted for a prominent convention speech even if she’s not selected.

By necessity as much as preference, Trump’s team is crafting a far different lineup. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the likely speakers, praised Trump’s plan to use his celebrity connections to reach a broader audience.

“Trump understands that if he can appeal to consumer America, he drowns political America,” Gingrich told The Associated Press. He said he had little idea of what kind of show to expect, but recalled a recent conversation with a Trump family member who confidently told him, “We know how to do conventions.”

“My children are all going to be speaking: Ivanka, Tiffany, Don, Eric. They’re going to be speaking,” Trump said Friday during an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. “My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We’re going to have a great time.”

Trump’s campaign has also been in touch with aides to chief primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been trying to win a speaking slot. Other national leaders under consideration include former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Gingrich.

Some celebrities backing Trump have passed on the chance to be a part of the show. Among them: former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who told the Chicago Tribune last week, “I spoke with Mr. Trump this afternoon, and he invited me. But I don’t think I’m going to go.”

Clinton’s speaking program, too, isn’t without its uncomfortable riddles. There’s no public sense yet of what role she’ll give to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose surprisingly strong challenge in the Democratic primary has yet to officially come to an end. Sanders says he’ll vote for Clinton, but he’s yet to formally endorse her and is pushing for changes to the Democratic platform.

Ivanka Trump predicted in a recent radio interview the GOP convention would be “a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

“I think it will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen,” she said. “It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. It’s not going to be a ho-hum lineup of, you know, the typical politicians.”

And that will still leave room for complaints from Trump’s Republican skeptics.

“Whatever you want to say about Trump, he’s been a showman. And I expect something completely different,” said former Kasich adviser Jai Chabria. “I find it hard to believe that that’s going to be enough to put him over the top.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio leads Carlos Beruff 71% to 7% in new AIF poll

Marco Rubio holds a 60-plus point lead over Carlos Beruff.

That’s according to a new Associated Industries of Florida poll of likely Republican primary voters. The survey — conducted June 27 and June 28, one week after Rubio announced he was running for re-election — found 71 percent of respondents said they would support Rubio in the primary.

Seven percent of voters said they would vote for Beruff, while 18 percent said they were still undecided.

Rubio announced last week he was running for a second term in the U.S. Senate, reversing a previous decision to return to private life when his term ended. The decision cleared the field, with Republicans Ron DeSantis, David Jolly, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Todd Wilcox all bowing out of the race.

Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who has poured a significant amount of his own wealth into the race already, said he would continue to run for the seat. He has said he is prepared to put another $10 million to $15 million more into the race.

Rubio has received the backing of several top Republicans in Florida, including Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and former Gov. Jeb Bush. He’s also received support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. Ted Cruz.

One top Republican who hasn’t thrown his support behind him? Gov. Rick Scott.

In a Facebook post last week, Scott stopped short of endorsing Beruff, but said the “Florida voters deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Sen. Rubio and make their own decision.”

While the AIF polling memo notes Rubio’s entry into the race creates an entirely different field than just a few weeks ago, it also points out Rubio was leaps and bounds ahead of Republicans even before he got into the race.

When AIF conducted a similar survey in April, 50 percent of Republicans said they would support Rubio. The April survey found 5 percent of respondents would support Beruff, while 26 percent said they were undecided. Jolly was in second in the April survey by AIF, with 8 percent support.

The AIF poll is in line with another poll released this week. A survey conducted for News 13/Bay News 9 found 63 percent of Republicans would vote for Rubio in the Aug. 30 primary, while 11 percent said they planned to support Beruff. In that survey, 13 percent of respondents were undecided.

The most recent AIF poll surveyed 750 likely voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Many experienced GOP strategists unwilling to work for Donald Trump

Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that to best compete against Hillary Clinton he needs more than the bare-bones campaign team that led him to primary success. But many of the most experienced Republican political advisers aren’t willing to work for him.

From Texas to New Hampshire, well-respected members of the Republican Party’s professional class say they cannot look past their deep personal and professional reservations about the presumptive presidential nominee.

While there are exceptions, many strategists who best understand the mechanics of presidential politics fear that taking a Trump paycheck might stain their resumes, spook other clients and even cause problems at home. They also are reluctant to devote months to a divisive candidate whose campaign has been plagued by infighting and disorganization.

“Right now I feel no obligation to lift a finger to help Donald Trump,” said Brent Swander, an Ohio-based operative who has coordinated nationwide logistics for Republican presidential campaigns dating to George W. Bush.

“Everything that we’re taught as children — not to bully, not to demean, to treat others with respect — everything we’re taught as children is the exact opposite of what the Republican nominee is doing. How do you work for somebody like that? What would I tell my family?” Swander said.

Trump leapt into presidential politics with a small group of aides, some drafted directly from his real estate business, with no experience running a White House campaign. An unquestioned success in the GOP primaries, they have struggled to respond to the increased demands of a general election.

As in years past, the primary season created a pool of battle-tested staffers who worked for other candidates, from which Trump would be expected to draw. But hundreds of such aides have so far declined invitations to work for him.

They include several communications aides to Chris Christie, as well as the New Jersey governor’s senior political adviser, Michael DuHaime, who has rejected direct and indirect inquiries to sign on with the billionaire.

Chris Wilson, a senior aide to Ted Cruz, said the Texas senator’s entire paid staff of more than 150 ignored encouragement from Trump’s team to apply for positions after Cruz quit the presidential race. Wilson said that even now, many unemployed Cruz aides are refusing to work for the man who called their former boss “Lyin’ Ted.”

That’s the case for Scott Smith, a Texas-based operative who traveled the country planning events for Cruz, and earlier worked on presidential bids for Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“It’s very clear that none of us are going to work for Trump,” Smith said. “Even if I wanted to work for Trump, my wife would kill me.”

Smith, like many experienced strategists interviewed for this story, noted the intense personal sacrifice required of presidential campaigns. Many advisers do not see their families for long stretches, work brutal hours on little sleep and enjoy no job security.

With Trump, Smith said, “I would feel like a mercenary. I can’t be away from my young children if it’s just for money.”

Trump’s need for additional staff is acute. His paltry fundraising network brought in less than $2 million last month. He has just one paid staffer to handle hundreds of daily media requests and only a few operatives in battleground states devoted to his White House bid.

Last month, Trump fired Rick Wiley, who was the campaign manager for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former 2016 candidate, and was brought on to run Trump’s nationwide get-out-the-vote effort. On Monday, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who acknowledged he lacked the experience needed to expand Trump’s operation.

“This campaign needs to grow rapidly,” Lewandowski told the Fox News Channel. “That’s a hard job and candidly I’ve never grown something that big.”

Trump credited Lewandowski with helping “a small, beautiful, well-unified campaign” during the primary season. “I think it’s time now for a different kind of a campaign,” Trump told Fox.

Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the campaign’s hiring. A former adviser, Barry Bennett, played down any staffing challenges, suggesting the campaign should be able to double its contingent by the party’s national convention next month.

Trump announced four new hires in the past week, including a human resources chief to help with hiring, to supplement a staff of about 70. That’s compared with Clinton’s paid presence of roughly 700, many of them well-versed in modern political strategy.

Trump’s senior team, including campaign chief Paul Manafort and newly hired political director Jim Murphy, largely represent an older generation of political hands more active in the 1980s and 1990s. The campaign’s new Ohio director, Bob Paduchik, led state efforts for Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

A new generation of top talent active in more recent years has shown little interest in Trump. In Iowa, experienced operative Sara Craig says she will not work for Trump or even support him. “I am more interested in working on down-ballot races,” said Craig, who helped elect Joni Ernst to the Senate from Iowa and directed a pro-Bush super political action committee.

Ryan Williams, who worked on Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaigns, said he’s happy working for a consulting firm, where he’s involved with various other elections across the country, as well as with corporate clients.

“When you sign up for a campaign, you’re putting your name on the effort. Some of the things that Trump has said publicly are very hard for people to get behind,” Williams said.

But Paduchik offered the kind of positive perspective expected of a campaign on the move.

“It’s been great, the response I’ve gotten,” Paduchik said. “Republicans in every corner of Ohio are excited about Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Ted Cruz endorses Marco Rubio’s re-election

A onetime opponent is throwing his support behind Marco Rubio.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “glad to support” Rubio in his re-election bid. Cruz, a Texas Republican, was one of more than a dozen Republicans who ran for president earlier this year.

“Marco Rubio is a friend and has been an ally in many battles we have fought together in the Senate. I’m glad to support him in his bid for re-election,” he said in a Facebook post shortly after Rubio’s announcement. “Marco is a tremendous communicator and a powerful voice for the American Dream. At this time of great challenges, we very much need strong leaders in the Senate who will fight to restore economic growth, to defend our constitutional liberties, and to ensure a strong national security for our nation.”

According to Elaina Plott with the Washingtonian, Rubio reached out to Cruz to confirm he intended to run. The Washingtonian reported Rubio asked Cruz to send out a statement urging the Miami Republican to run for re-election, but Cruz declined because he didn’t want to be seen as pushing Rep. Ron DeSantis out of the race.

DeSantis has not said publicly what he plans to do, but many expect him to end his Senate bid and run for the House.

Rubio announced Wednesday he was planning to run for re-election, reversing a previous commitment to return home at the end of his term in January.

While Rubio said he made the decision at home with his family, not in Washington, he did have the support of several top Republicans.

Rubio also appeared to get support from Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, another one-time presidential opponent. In a tweet Wednesday, Kasich said “keeping (Rubio) serving in the Senate is good news for the people of FL & our entire nation. Good luck, Marco!”

DIVIDED AMERICA: Evangelicals feel alienated, anxious

Pastor Richie Clendenen stepped away from the pulpit, microphone in hand. He walked the aisles of the Christian Fellowship Church, his voice rising to describe the perils believers face in 21st-century America.

“The Bible says in this life you will have troubles, you will have persecutions. And Jesus takes it a step further: You’ll be hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” he said.

“Let me tell you,” the minister said, “that time is here.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of Divided America, AP’s ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions in American society.

___

The faithful in the pews needed little convincing. Even in this deeply religious swath of western Kentucky — a state where about half the residents are evangelical — conservative Christians feel under siege.

For decades, they say, they have been steadily pushed to the sidelines of American life and have come under attack for their most deeply held beliefs, born of their reading of Scripture and their religious mandate to evangelize. The 1960s ban on prayer in public schools is still a fresh wound. Every legal challenge to a public Nativity scene or Ten Commandments display is another marginalization. They’ve been “steamrolled,” they say, and “misunderstood.”

Religious conservatives could once count on their neighbors to at least share their view of marriage. Those days are gone. Public opinion on same-sex relationships turned against conservatives even before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Now, many evangelicals say liberals want to seal their cultural victory by silencing the church. Liberals call this paranoid. But evangelicals see evidence of the threat in every new uproar over someone asserting a right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages — whether it be a baker, a government clerk, or the leaders of religious charities and schools.

America’s divisions — right-left, urban-rural, black-white and more — spill daily into people’s lives, from their relations with each other, to their harsh communications on social media, to their decisions in an acrimonious presidential election campaign. Many Christian conservatives feel there is another, less recognized chasm in American life, and they find themselves on the other side of the divide between “us” and “them.”

Clendenen, preaching on this recent Sunday, reflected on the chasm between his congregants and other Americans.

“There’s nobody hated more in this nation than Christians,” he said, amid nods and cries of encouragement. “Welcome to America’s most wanted: You.”

___

For evangelicals like those at Christian Fellowship, the sense of a painful reckoning is not just imagined; their declining clout in public life can be measured.

The turnabout is astonishing and hard to grasp — for them and for other Americans — since the U.S. remains solidly religious and Christian, and evangelicals are still a formidable bloc in the Republican Party. But a series of losses in church membership and in public policy battles, along with America’s changing demographics, are weakening evangelical influence, even in some of the most conservative regions of the country.

“The shift in the last few years has really been stunning,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Lifeway Research, an evangelical consulting firm in Nashville, Tennessee. “Nobody would have guessed the pace of change. That’s why so many people are yelling we have to take our country back.”

The Protestant majority that dominated American culture through the nation’s history is now a Protestant minority. Their share of the population dipped below 50 percent sometime after 2008.

Liberal-leaning Protestant groups, such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, started shrinking earlier, but some evangelical churches are now in decline. The conservative Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 from its ranks in 2014 alone, dropping to 15.5 million, its smallest number in more than two decades.

The trend is reflected in the highest reaches of public life. The U.S. Supreme Court is now comprised completely of Jews and Roman Catholics. In the 2012 presidential election, the Republican nominees were a Mormon, Mitt Romney, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan.

“We’ve lost our home field advantage,” Stetzer said.

At the same time, the Bible Belt, as a cultural force, is collapsing, said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist public policy agency.

Nearly a quarter of Americans say they no longer affiliate with a faith tradition. It’s the highest share ever recorded in surveys, indicating the stigma for not being religious has eased — even in heavily evangelical areas. Americans who say they have no ties to organized religion, dubbed “nones,” now make up about 23 percent of the population, just behind evangelicals, who comprise about 25 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Christians who have been only nominally tied to a conservative church are steadily dropping out altogether. When Moore was growing up in Mississippi, any parent whose children weren’t baptized by age 12 or 13 would face widespread disapproval, he said. Those times have passed.

“People don’t have to be culturally identified with evangelical Christianity in order to be seen as good people, good neighbors or good Americans,” Moore said.

Politically, old guard religious right organizations such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are greatly diminished or gone, and no broadly unifying leader or organization has replaced them. In this year’s presidential race, the social policy issues championed by Christian conservatives are not central, even amid the furor over bathroom access for transgender people.

Clendenen said many in his church backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who had positioned himself in the Republican primaries as the standard bearer for religious conservatives. Chris Haynes, a church band member and communications professor, said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Some congregants now support presumptive nominee Donald Trump — a thrice-married, profane casino magnate with a record of positions at odds with social conservatism. “It’s like we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel,” for candidates, said Haynes’ wife, Brandi, who teaches at the Christian Fellowship school.

White evangelical voters remain very influential in early primaries. About two-thirds of Iowa caucus voters this year said they were born-again Christians. In Mississippi, eight in 10 primary voters were evangelical. And they turn out at high rates in general elections.

But white evangelicals can’t match the growth rate of groups that tend to support Democrats — Latinos, younger people and Americans with no religious affiliation. In 2004, overwhelming evangelical support helped secure a second term for President George W. Bush, a Christian conservative who made social issues a priority. In 2012, evangelicals voted for Romney at the same rate — yet he lost.

This is a far cry from 1976, which Newsweek declared the “Year of the Evangelical,” when born-again candidate Jimmy Carter won the presidency and more conservative Christians were drawn into politics. Four years later, Ronald Reagan famously recognized the emerging influence of the religious right, telling evangelicals in Dallas, “I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you and what you’re doing.”

No issue has more starkly illuminated conservative Christians’ waning influence than the struggle over same-sex marriage.

Evangelicals were “all in” with their opposition to gay rights starting back with the Moral Majority in the 1980s, said Robert Jones, author of “The End of White Christian America.” In the 2004 election, Americans appeared to be on the same page, approving bans on same-sex marriage in all 11 states where the measures were on the ballot. When President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, just four in 10 Americans supported gay marriage.

But three years later, support rose to more than five in 10. And now the business wing of the Republican Party is deserting social conservatives on the issue, largely backing anti-discrimination policies for gays and transgender people. Younger Americans, including younger evangelicals, are especially accepting of same-sex relationships, which means evangelicals “have lost a generation on this issue,” Jones said.

“This issue is so prominent and so symbolic,” said Jones, chief executive of Public Religion Research Institute, which specializes in surveys about religion and public life. “It was such a decisive loss, not only in the actual courts, the legal courts, but also in the court of public opinion. They lost legally and they lost culturally.”

Clendenen said he saw “a lot of fear, a lot of anger” in his church after the Supreme Court ruling. He said it made him feel that Christians like him had been pushed to the edge of a cliff.

“It has become the keystone issue,” he said, sitting in his office, where photos of his father and grandfather, both preachers, are on display. “I never thought we’d be in the place we are today. I never thought that the values I’ve held my whole life would bring us to a point where we were alienated or suppressed.”

Trump uses rhetoric that has resonance for Christian conservatives who fear their teachings on marriage will soon be outlawed as hate speech.

“We’re going to protect Christianity and I can say that,” Trump has said. “I don’t have to be politically correct.”

___

If culture wars and the outside world once felt remote amid the soybean and tobacco farms around Marshall County, Kentucky, change of many kinds is now obvious to Clendenen’s congregants.

Latino immigrants are starting to arrive in significant numbers, drawn partly by farm work. Muslims are working at chicken processing plants in the next county or enrolling at nearby Murray State University. On a recent weeknight, a group of women wearing abayas shopped in a Dollar General store near campus. Some gays and lesbians are out in the community, and Clendenen says he occasionally sees them at Sunday worship.

It was on the other side of Kentucky, in Rowan County, where clerk Kim Davis spent five days in jail last year for refusing on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples since the licenses would include her name. Gov. Matt Bevin recently tried to defuse the conflict by signing a bill creating a form without a clerk’s name.

In New Mexico and Oregon, a photographer and a baker were fined under nondiscrimination laws after refusing work for same-sex ceremonies. Daniel Slayden, a Christian Fellowship member and owner of Parcell’s, a popular bakery and deli near the church, has never been asked to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple but already knows how he’d respond.

“If a homosexual couple comes in and wants a cake, then that’s fine. I mean I’ll do it as long as I’m free to speak my truth to them,” said Slayden, taking a break after the lunchtime rush. “I don’t want to get (to) any point to where I have to say or accept that their belief is the truth.”

The problem, many religious conservatives say, is that government is growing more coercive in many areas bearing on their beliefs.

They say some colleges — citing a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that required school groups to accept all comers — are revoking recognition for Christian student clubs because they require their leaders to hold certain beliefs.

Some faith-based nonprofits with government contracts, such as Catholic Charities in Illinois, have shuttered adoption programs because of new state rules that say agencies with taxpayer funding can’t refuse placements with same-sex couples.

And religious leaders worry that Christian schools and colleges will lose accreditation or tax-exempt status over their codes of conduct barring same-sex relationships.

A 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed the IRS to revoke nonprofit status from religious schools that banned interracial dating. In the Supreme Court gay marriage case, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the government, was asked whether something similar could happen to Christian schools, which often provide housing for married students. He responded, “It’s certainly going to be an issue,” causing a meltdown across the evangelical blogosphere.

It has come to this: Many conservative Christians just don’t feel welcome in their own country.

They say they are either mocked or erased in popular culture. “When was the last time you saw an evangelical or conservative Christian character portrayed positively on TV?” Stetzer asked.

“The idea of what we call biblical morality in our culture at large is completely laughed at and spurned as nonsense,” said David Parish, a former pastor at Christian Fellowship and the son of its founder. “The church as an institution, as a public entity — we are moving more and more in conflict with the culture and with other agendas.”

How to navigate this new reality? Most conservative Christians fall into one of three broad camps.

There are those who are determined to even more fiercely wage the culture wars, demanding the broadest possible religious exemptions from recognizing same-sex marriage.

There are those who plan to withdraw as much as possible into their own communities to preserve their faith —an approach dubbed the “Benedict Option,” for a fifth-century saint who, disgusted by the decadence of Rome, fled to the forest where he lived as a hermit and prayed.

There is, however, a segment that advocates living as a “prophetic minority,” confidently upholding their beliefs but in a gentler way that rejects the aggressive tone of the old religious right and takes up other issues, such as ending human trafficking, that can cross ideological lines.

Clendenen is cut from this mold. Now 38, he came of age when the religious right was at its apex, and he concluded any mix of partisan politics with Christianity was toxic for the church.

A congregant once lobbied him to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual conservative effort to defy IRS rules against backing politicians from the pulpit. Clendenen stood before the congregation and endorsed … Jesus.

He prays for President Barack Obama, considering it a Christian duty no matter his opposition to the president’s policies. But Clendenen believes few Americans who support same-sex marriage would show him or his fellow evangelicals a similar level of respect. “On any front that we speak on, we’re given this label of intolerance, we’re given this label of hate,” Clendenen said. (He said evangelicals are partly responsible for the backlash, however, because of the hateful language some used in the marriage debates. “I don’t see the LGBT community as my enemy,” he said.)

He uses the word persecution to describe what Christians are facing in the U.S., even though he feels strange doing so. He has traveled extensively to help start churches in other countries, and knows the violence many Christians endure. A map of the world is posted in his office with pins in the places he’s visited, including Romania and Kenya. And yet, he feels the word applies here, too.

He ruminated on all of this as he prepared to head into his sanctuary to lead the Sunday service.

Some good may come of these hard times, he believes. Conservative Christians who have been complacent will have to decide just how much their religion matters “when there’s a price to pay for it,” he said. Christianity has often thrived in countries where it faces intense opposition, he noted.

Preaching now, Clendenen urged congregants to hold fast to their positions in a country that has grown hostile to them. And as the worship service wound down, he issued a final exhortation.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Don’t let your light go out.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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