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Saturday, August 19, 2017

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Is Paris making voters think more about the commander in chief part of the job of president?

If so, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are up.

Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders and governors are down.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France, some voters want a candidate with a strong foreign policy resume. Others appreciate those willing to express outrage and insist on keeping Syrian refugees out of this country.

“A sense of crisis elevates people with foreign policy experience,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

That plays well among Democrats, as Clinton has maintained her already sizable poll lead in recent days. Among Republicans, tough talk has boosted Trump and Cruz.

“Trump has been strong with his immigration views from Day One, and Cruz has taken that on,” said Ann Selzer, a Des Moines, Iowa-based pollster.

Cruz has surged into second behind Trump in Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus, according to a new Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday. Nearly one-fourth say Cruz would be best at handling foreign policy, followed by Trump. Carson is far back.

It’s too early to say the post-Paris mood will ultimately reshape the race, since the first votes are still more than two months away. But late fall is when top-tier candidates start separating themselves from the rest.

These are the candidates who have been helped:

Clinton. The day after the attack, she was asked during a Democratic debate to discuss a crisis that had tested her. The former secretary of state gave a very personal account of her “excruciating experience” as Obama administration officials discussed whether to kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, got the question next. “I don’t think that there is a crisis at the state or local level that really you can point to,” he said, that compares to what a president has to decide. Clinton’s big advantage was clear.

Trump. The real estate mogul’s stinging, often divisive rhetoric is likely to hurt his general election chances, should he get that far. At the moment, a lot of frustrated Republicans welcome his outrage.

He wants a national database to register all Muslims living in the country. He says it would be “insane” to allow Syrian refugees into the United States. And he charges Obama “doesn’t have any clue” how to defeat the Islamic State.

Selzer’s first national poll after the Paris attacks, taken for Bloomberg News, had Trump leading Carson by 4 percentage points. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Republicans said Trump could combat Islamic terrorism better than Carson.

Cruz. The senator from Texas is starting to climb in Republican polls, and he’s using the U.S. Senate stage to help. He engaged in a long-distance feud with Obama last week.

Cruz said he could accept barring Muslim refugees from Syria from entering this country, but not Christians. Obama, speaking at the end of the G-20 summit in Turkey, called such remarks “shameful” and “not American.”

Cruz, surrounded by reporters later in the week, fired back. “If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” he said.

And these candidates have been hurt:

Carson. A neurosurgeon for all his adult life, he’s taking hits for his lack of national security expertise.

Carson has repeatedly said he’s got much to learn about foreign policy, but he has also said he has better intelligence sources than Obama.

In Ohio, Carson tried to explain his diplomatic know-how to reporters, saying, “I’ve been to 57 different countries, I’ve lived abroad, and I have common sense and a brain.”

Sanders. He’s been in Congress since 1991, but has not been known as active on national security affairs. “Clinton benefits in the short term” from the heightened fear of terrorism, said Donna Brazile, a party vice chairwoman who’s neutral in the race.

Sanders is trying to show some expertise. He spent a big chunk of his recent speech explaining democratic socialism offering his world view, but it was largely lost as the media focused on the main topic.

Governors. This year already was a bad one for the long list of current and former governors seeking their party’s nominations. Their chief pitch, that they’re Washington outsiders but long on executive and political experience, has been an effective one for presidential candidates since the 1970s.

Not this year. Voters are signaling they don’t want governors whose foreign policy experience usually means little more than dealing with the National Guard or leading trade missions. Candidates this year need either the resume or the ability to pound their fist and feel constituents’ rage, and that rules out most governors.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson pauses as he speaks to the media following a fundraising luncheon in La Jolla, California  November 17, 2015.   REUTERS/Mike Blake